When SSATB rebranded this fall and successfully rolled out The Enrollment Management Association at the annual conference, the new image was brightly and colorfully displayed throughout the entire hotel and on every piece of swag we received in our welcome bag; they even branded the front desk and elevators. They kicked off the conference with a marketing video that thoughtfully and clearly communicated their revised mission and, most importantly, their efforts reassured their constituents (both internal and external) that the new and improved association was still SSATB at its core, but an improved version -- 2.0, if you will. A large part of their successful rollout was due to the great efforts they made internally prior to the launch.
“At The Enrollment Management Association, we believe that the admission practices of the past will not sustain the independent schools of the future. Every day, we serve enrollment leaders, increasing their success through the best science, research, and training. Because when great schools enroll great students, everything is possible.”
Why prioritize your internal marketing effort? Whether you have been at your school for a while and you’re trying to re-energize your internal constituents, or you’re new to your school community, an internal marketing campaign is essential to the success of your admission effort and should be made a priority. Often, external marketing is the primary focus; however, internal marketing should not be put on the back burner. Schools have varying degrees of resources, there is no denying that fact. But each school has its own personality, unique features and value proposition and the only way to make all of that truly come alive is through the people living it day in and day out, your internal constituents - your students, faculty and staff, coaches, administrators, current parents and the board.
Control the buzz. Close your eyes for a moment and think back to one of your best events, or best visit days when everything was clicking. You know those days -- the sun is shining but it’s not too hot out, the students are focused and enthusiastic about their learning, your parent volunteers are actually “volunteering,” the campus looks stunning. Now imagine a family that just experienced that event all morning stopping at a local coffee shop on their way home. As they stand in line, still floating in their post-visit glow, they overhear some of your disgruntled faculty members venting out of context, or students unaware of their surroundings using profanity as they complain about some aspect of the school. That incident alone could have a ripple effect and undo all of the work you and your team did to get that family to campus.
Never underestimate the influence your internal constituents have on the success of your admission efforts. You want current parents/guardians talking about your school in their communities and social circles in a positive manner. You want your students speaking enthusiastically and positively about their school experience. You want your faculty and staff feeling valued and appreciated. To help with this, get ahead of what you can and be a presence in your school communities; be in the know. It’s crucial that you have your finger on the pulse of the school so any negative buzz is addressed and corrected. Buzz can be good - but only if it’s accurate and consistent. Additionally, when everyone is on the same page, your internal community is doing the work for you!
Get investment. Get it early. If a faculty member says, “What are you doing on this side of campus?” you know you need to get out into the community more. Everyone plays a role in the admission process. From your front desk receptionist and security guard to your food service and maintenance teams to the students, faculty, administrators, staff, coaches, and parents/guardians.
Take the time to understand the school from the perspective of your colleagues. Understand their workflow so you don’t schedule a prospective family reception on the night of a full day of teacher conferences and expect any of your faculty to show up. Avoid admission events during midterms, when no one is at his or her best. Keep your receptionist in the loop as they are the first point of contact when a family visits a school. Be organized, plan ahead, and do not ask your maintenance team to accomplish Herculean tasks the week before a major event. Put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues: respect their time and they will respect yours.
Your school is fortunate to attract incredibly talented, creative, and passionate teachers. In addition to putting yourselves in their shoes, get to know them as people. Identify their strengths so you can allow them to bring their best selves to the admission effort. This will not only incorporate them into the admission process, but get them invested in the process. Our dean of faculty put it this way: teachers build relationships with their students all the time; we’re just asking them to make it a five year relationship that begins in eighth grade. Avoid having a “one-size-fits-all” way for your colleagues to contribute.
All schools have some form of student ambassador program. Of course you train them on how to give a tour, you make sure they are walking FAQs, and know how to field questions on a student panel. But we encourage you to take it a step further - - help them master the art of storytelling so they aren’t just spitting out facts. Guide them in the fine points of an elevated level of customer service and look for opportunities to incorporate marketing and communication lessons for them. Connect their daily admission work to real-world future opportunities they could pursue. Create a system to evaluate and review their growth in all of these real-world skill areas throughout the year so they know you are invested in them as people, not just as ambassadors for their school. Remember to give your student ambassadors public recognition to emphasize the importance of their work for the entire school community.
Who is your internal market?
Faculty, Staff, Coaches, Administration
- Focus on building relationships (give back!) and partnerships (work together).
- Communicating stats and stories (see presentation “Stories and Stats,” linked below) from surveys or new families will go a long way.
- Avoid “doom and gloom” tactics to motivate your faculty - positivity is always more effective.
- If you’re wondering what they think, ask them, survey them
- Don’t underestimate the power of a thank you -- food and free swag go a long way.
- Is your Student Ambassador program strong?
- Are you teaching them how to tell their personal story?
- Are they culturally sensitive?
- Do you have students who speak different languages?
- Do you know your students? Do they know one another?
- Are you recognizing them in a public way to express the importance of their participation in your admission effort?
- Your current families can be your best marketing tools -- as long as they are communicating the right message!
- Provide FAQ’s or At-a-Glance, but encourage your parent volunteers to focus on telling their story. Give them some direction around tone and message.
Board of Trustees and Administrative Team
- Understand what they want and what they need.
- Be sure you and your head of school are on the same page.
- Give them just the right amount of data to back up your strategy and narrative.
- Another good way for them to understand the complex work we do is to give them scenarios that your admission committee might discuss.
Because external marketing tools are complex and ever-changing, prioritizing your focus on your internal marketing effort will ensure that you are able to deliver not only a clear and consistent message, but a genuine one. It’s not just about involvement in the admission process, it’s about getting investment in the admission process. Build your internal force so your external efforts will be consistent and clear.
Elevating the Profession from the Inside Out: The Power of Internal Marketing (Kat Sullivan and Eric Barber) Webinar
Developing a Personalized Inbound Marketing Strategy (Scott Allenby) Presentation
Hold your breath! Jumping into the Deep End of the (Marketing) Pool (Bruce Mutch) Blog
Stories and Stats: How to Educate and Influence (Kimberly Carter, Janis Clark, Carol Dougherty, Jen McGurn) Presentation