Key timings for school marketing
Note: while his article focuses on marketing planning for primary schools, much of the advice is also applicable to secondary schools.
Mapping out your school’s marketing activities is essential to ensure that key timings are optimised across the academic year.
Due to the increasingly competitive landscape between schools, there’s a growing need for schools to raise awareness of their school and to boost their reputation within their catchment area. All too often however, school marketing is reactive or sporadic.
Creating a marketing plan
Schools are extremely busy places and marketing can get pushed to the bottom of the pile, only to be considered when a key story emerges or when there’s a spare second.
This ad hoc approach results in a lack of cohesiveness in building your school brand and is far less effective in helping you reach key goals, such as increasing first choice pupil applications by 5%.
For your marketing activities to be most effective, they should be executed across the academic year in a timely and planned fashion, all geared to supporting the school’s overall development plan and strategy. Creating a marketing plan helps to keep everything on track and to ‘glue’ everything together, ensuring time, energy and money are well spent.
In simple terms, a marketing plan is a spreadsheet listing your marketing activities and any associated costs against a timeline.
Plan term by term or across an academic year, considering key dates such as:
- term dates
- admissions deadlines
- open evenings
- offer day
- Inset days.
What are the key timings for your marketing activities?
It depends what your goals are. For many schools, marketing has the overriding goal of boosting pupil numbers.
When this is the case, there’s a tendency to focus marketing activity immediately around the pupil application period. For primary schools, this is the autumn term and early spring term (depending on location within the UK).
Reaching out to parents during the earlier part of their decision-making process means you’re building awareness of your school
A short flurry of activity such as this is not the most effective approach and not one that we would recommend.
By this stage, many parents will already have a firm idea about their school choices, so starting marketing activity at this point misses a large portion of the market as you will only be on the radar of those parents who would choose your school anyway.
Reaching out to parents during the earlier part of their decision-making process means you’re building awareness of your school with a more opportunistic audience across a longer period.
It will also mean you’re reaching them ahead of competitor schools. Always a good thing!
When should you start to reach out to prospective families?
The optimum time to reach your audience is when they’re ready to start listening. This can be as early as 6-9 months prior to the application period.
6-9 months prior to application period
This is an ideal time to introduce your school to parents if they are not already aware of your existence. Parents are likely to talk with other parents about school options, so it is a great time to start building awareness.
Position the school as helpful. Consider what dilemmas parents have at this stage and what you can provide to help, such as a guide to what to look for when choosing a school. Place these on your website and share via social media, clearly tagging the school name.
1-5 months prior to application period
Intensify activity slightly during this period, providing plenty of clear messaging about your school’s USPs and how these are demonstrated in school life.
- What’s different about your school?
- What makes it special?
- How do children flourish at your school?
Case studies of pupils, and parent and pupil voice are all powerful tools.
Promote details for open evenings and information sessions well ahead of time and make it easy for working parents to attend or get in touch. Ideally host such events in the summer term to get on the radar of parents ahead of the busy autumn application period.
The application period should form the peak of your pupil recruitment marketing activities. Parents will be weighing up the alternatives, visiting schools and finalising choices. Pull out all the stops to ensure prospective families are welcomed, well-informed, reassured and given helpful guidance at every touchpoint.
Second choice enrolments
Remember to welcome those families for whom you weren’t first choice to your school community straightaway. Reassure them that their child is a good fit for your school rather than automatically expecting them to go to appeal.
Top tips for effective timing of your marketing
- Create a marketing plan to see all your activities in one place.
- Plan primary school marketing activities across the academic year – don’t focus solely on the autumn term and application period.
- Consider timings from your audience’s perspective. When will they be ready to listen to your message?
For more on planning a pupil recruitment campaign, watch Emily's video.