When Marketing Fails in Schools

There are many ways marketing in schools can fail.

Banana skin

Marketing is one of the few business disciplines that can do as much in the future for a school as it does in the present.  Successful schools are aware that ‘planting seeds and tending to the crops’ will reap rewards down the line.  But, at the same time, those involved or leading marketing in schools can also bridge the gap of the ‘now-until-then’ and provide immediate benefit. That is when schools really win.  Too many long term activities with no short term view will cause failure.  The flip side is that if there is too much of a focus on the ‘now’, schools tend to wobble into the future with uncertainty.

So, what’s the right balance?  How do you know if you’re getting it right?

We’ve all seen it.  Sales’ driven schools like to pull marketing into what becomes frequently known as ‘sales-support’ (pupil registration or the proverbial ‘bums on seats’). With marketing attached to the hip of the sales team (admissions/registrars), they can provide great assistance with proposals, research, audio-visual presentations, and more equally riveting immediate activities.  If this becomes all consuming, then marketing becomes highly tactical however this can lead to strategic oversight on all sorts of critically important activities:  messaging, branding and positioning within the market.

Marketing that is only future-driven will lose perspective over what’s actually resonating with current forecasts. Currently independent education is going through massive peaks and troughs due to many economic uncertainties. Consequently they can miss out on critical input that can hone in on positioning and target numbers.  What’s more, and maybe more importantly, is that the admissions organisation and marketing tend to lose sight of each other.  Marketing within schools is often seen as out of touch and irrelevant to business generation (you just have to look at the relative lack of social media use in schools currently – by Heads, Governors and so forth). Those involved with marketing in this scenario are often confused because they are bringing in the leads – but sometimes many, many months too late.

Like all successful business functions, solid marketing teams put together marketing plans that specifically address both dynamics.  Their plans highlight the intended rewards and challenges.  They scope out resources and expectations.  They also identify Service Level Agreements for the business.  Nothing makes a Head happier than knowing ‘how’, ‘when’ and at ‘what speed’ they can rely on marketing.  Nothing makes a marketing team member happier knowing that they can do their “day job” and not be expected to drop everything on a penny to support pupil recruitment on an impulsive notion.

Marketing is a balancing act.  It takes strong leadership that can see the need to invest in marketing when times are hard (the last thing you do is ‘cut back’ when your chips are down…); rally the troops and enthuse when required; say “no” when needed; and have real courage of conviction.

The long term view of what marketing does for a school requires some internal fortitude to know that any bets placed will become realised.  The short view of marketing requires crystal clear expectations and the strength to pull away, or add more, at the right time.  Marketing departments fail when any one of these is not accomplished.  They also fail when the balance is not effectively achieved.

I have failed.  And, that’s the last thing.  Those successfully involved in marketing (and other disciplines associated with schools) have failed as often as they have succeeded.  I have learned to embrace my failures; learn from them, review and go forward armed with that experience to hopefully avoid further pitfalls where possible. Have you?

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