Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

Proctor Academy Comms head nails marketing advice

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

GirlHandUpAs I’ve written before, the main issue with independent school marketing is their belief that they don’t need it. Second — once they realize they DO need marketing — is that they lack proper planning and strategy. You can’t know how to get where you want to be without a map.

In a recent podcast interview, Blackbaud K-12’s Peter Baron and Proctor Academy’s Scott Allenby discuss the latter’s excellent case study on how independent schools can use inbound marketing.  Aside from spot-on comments on the requirements to develop and maintain the website content needed to help tell your school’s story effectively, Scott avers that schools must start with understanding the distinctiveness of their offerings.

This sort of soul-searching (Who are we as a school?) is much more common in the business world, particularly in the service industries like banks and retailers.  The products most often are the same, and many are commodities. The “secret sauce” needs clear definition in order for the marketing and communications folks to do their thing.

In our work with schools (and other types of organizations), we start with the research and planning needed to set a proper course for the future. We want to know what makes you, you! Why families choose you, and why they take a pass. What truly is unique — which should be something other than selective admission, smart children and great history. If a school isn’t really distinctive, no amount of marketing magic is going to change that!

Take the 25 minutes or so and listen to the interview — it’s well worth your time.



3 reasons why independent schools must market

Friday, January 9th, 2015

CityOfLondonSchoolAn axiom in independent schools has been that marketing is unnecessary. Reputation, history and narrowness of market obviate the need to invest very much in the marketing effort, so the meme goes, especially in boarding schools. After all, when Presidents, Senators, and Captains of Industry graduated from your esteemed institution, why sell your school like soap?

Schools are finding, however, that a number of factors now are putting paid to the past preferences. It’s no longer nearly enough to buy a few ads in the local newspaper, and any effort to buy advertising in national publications carries a much bigger price tag than most schools are prepared to pay. But that’s a tactical problem, and the big issue is strategic; it’s the plans and thinking that most need to change, and here are three reasons why strategic and sophisticated marketing and communications are crucial for independent schools, especially boarding schools.

  1. Your alumni’s kids don’t live near you anymore. The demographic shift south and west has resulted in Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas as places your alums now live instead of New England, Pennsylvania and New York. While boarders might “come back,” they’re not doing so at the same rate as prior years. For independent day schools, it’s much the same story: there are fewer families to draw from locally, and many schools are located in older neighborhoods no longer favored by full pay families.
  1. There is competition never before seen. Charter schools. Parochial. Magnet schools. Independent day and boarding. Home schooling. There are many outstanding public schools. This places parents in the catbird seat for choice. Add to that a fountain of data, information and wisdom about education, educators and schools, and you’re just one piece of the puzzle.
  1. Changing trends in news are challenging communication strategies. Let’s not belabor the point, but suffice to say that people get their news and information differently today than just 10 years ago. TV ratings, terrestrial radio and newspapers have lost market share. People don’t have to rely on curators like editors to get access to crucial information, and that means your school’s story should be told in multiple ways in multiple channels. It’s more than just a website, because the story is told by more people than just you. That was the case before, too, but now social media has made it easier than ever. Mind you, this doesn’t mean eliminating other media — it just means being strategic and data-driven in your paid media mix, your public relations, your community relations and your admission contact strategy.

There’s no doubt that the independent school world is being tilted on its axis by these relatively recent developments. In many schools, there still is a sense of denial — but this is a world where even the top, elite boarding schools are banding together to share techniques, tips and strategy.

What is your school doing to prepare for the next disruption?


{Note: This post also appeared on LinkedIn.}


Post-election fatigue grips PR guy

Friday, November 9th, 2012

It’s Friday, and the U.S. election (otherwise known as our long, national nightmare) is finally over.  No longer are our communication media filled with some of the nastiest political invective since, well, since the last election.

We now have, however, the blather-sphere lending their inconsiderable analytical skills to telling us all what President Obama’s win actually means. The predictable spin that is so well-loved by politicals is making me sick all over again. Today, I didn’t read anything about the election, bailing out on CNBC’s Squawk Box in favor of Looney Tunes as my treadmill-bound entertainment.  Hm, not sure of the difference!

At some point, I’ll want to reconnect == there were a few things that cropped up this week that I found fascinating – including the county-by-county map of popular vote, shaded by margin. The President’s people will claim a mandate, the Republican leadership will point out the margin of victory and claim there surely isn’t a mandate.  Both sides seem to be heading for a game of Chicken over the “fiscal cliff.” Posturing, positioning, poppycock has already squirted into the news.

With as many really important issues to tackle, it all seems to come down to these two points:

  • “The wealthy need to contribute a little more so we can do the things Americans want their government to do.”
  • “Socialism is a great system, until you run out of other people’s money.”

I’m just too tired to write anything more about it.


PR Learnings from Mobile Marketing

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Michael Schwabe, thunder::tech

For the marketing folks, the advent of sophisticated handheld devices like iPhones, Blackberrys and tablet PCs is an irresistible draw to push messages out. Michael Schwabe of thunder::tech, an integrated marketing agency, made that abundantly clear at the May 12 meeting of the Cleveland Chapter of IABC.

Schwabe covered a high-level set of interesting uses for smart phones and always-on Internet geegaws — provided your main goal is to sell stuff, one way or another.  This is no knock on Mike, he did a great job — the title of the talk , after all, was “mobile marketing.” Applications for your iPhone to facilitate ordering.  Websites optimized to look good on a Blackberry screen, QR and AR codes that make it easy to snap information off a flyer or add content to some kind of arrangement that isn’t there beforehand.

Perhaps most fascinating (and a bit disturbing) were the applications that use GPS to tailor sales appeals — you’re at the mall, and American Eagle texts you, saying: “Hey, Sean, check out the sale on jeans we’re having at the AE store?”  Holy Phillip K. Dick!

Amid all of this talk about relevancy, situational marketing, search optimization, SMS, Web display ads, and in-application advertising, I just had to ask about application to public relations (broadly defined.) Mike’s response was a good one, albeit a little limited. He talked about reaching media members where they want to be reached — pitching via text or email, etc.  He’s right, but my follow-up questions are more targeted. Here’s what he said in an interview by email.

Sean: I get the mobile applications when it comes to media relations – but what of reputation management, or issues management?  What about using these tools for building stronger relationships among our stakeholders?

Mike: It’s a very interesting and complicated question and I’m glad we have this chance to discuss it more. Reputation and issues management in a mobile world really translates to PR practitioners being available 24/7/365. Because so many people have their mobile device by their side both day and night, it’s seemingly expected that we are open to communicating at any time. There’s positives and negatives to that.

Positively, a perception of always being available is a great client relationship point. It moves PR practitioners from being vendors to trusted advisers. The other side is that PR professionals need to find a personal and professional balance in their lives (as I believe every professional does). We need to ask ourselves when “accessible” becomes too accessible.

Right now, the effect of mobile on the core concept of media relations is that it speeds it up – accessibility, surveying, RSS reading, etc. Also, the 24/7 nature of the job that mobile technology allows us really plays into the true nature of crisis communications.

However, I can easily see more dynamic impacts in the future – dedicated applications and websites for pushing information and taking inquiries, for example – imagine if we could easily mass email a news release from our phones. The problem isn’t so much that the technology doesn’t make all of these things possible; it’s that no one has blended them together to make an ideal tool set.

S: The entire “integrated marketing communications” universe puts public relations into a box beneath marketing, with all our activity required to offer sales support. How does the mobile explosion affect all of the things that aren’t direct sale support?

M: I would respectfully disagree that “integrated” means PR must support sales. If PR departments allow themselves to be put into that box, then they need stronger leadership. However, aside from that possible tangent, it’s really the same comparison offline as it is online – which I think gets lost much of the time when you start to think about tackling an online campaign. Consider the reputation of the company or the products and services you are promoting. Each company or client has plenty to offer in traditional media relations, mobile just accelerates the access to the information.

To make these efforts effective, consideration must be given to how you are found online. If you want to rely on mobile to drive conversation, you have to have a mobile-ready website that’s easy to navigate with easy to find contact information. Further, the proliferation of social media and it’s accessibility on mobile devices mean you have real-time access to your consumers. Find out what they want and use that informal method of research to drive immediate messaging reactions or possibly multivariate testing opportunities. For some fun reading, I think the list presented here is interesting, and while it may not provide “must-use” tools as the title says, it does a good job illustrating how PR pros can use mobile technology and apps to get things done quicker and on-the-fly.

S: What sort of interest in internal communications applications have you seen? (and if not, why not? )

M: The best examples have been the mobile-enabling of company calendars and sales and support materials. Where there’s been a shortcoming is in mobile-enabling branding and media documents.

As your employees travel or are on the road for a day, the flow of information is still going – the media cycle does not stop – something your readers are no doubt aware of. With mobile networks getting faster (3G and 4G technologies), there’s no reason to limit anything you would get on a desktop plugged into your company’s network to just that desktop. Make it mobile, but do it intelligently. Make sure files are easy to download and content is easily findable. The best examples I’ve seen are executed on a tablet like the iPad where companies will develop a tablet- ready website and password protect it to give only internal groups access to as much of the same information that their intranet or local server does. Another way to Web-enable and protect a lot of the needed information is through cloud computing, which is a subject in and of itself.

There is hesitance to Web and mobile enabling much of this information and that hesitance usually comes from IT departments – we love them because they keep us running, but we turn and stomp out of their offices when they throw around their weight with arguments like, “It won’t be secure so we can’t put it online or give you access to it outside of the office.”

While that is a valid point, it’s also frustrating. All we want to do is serve our customers or not have to worry about coming into the office to get that file we forgot, but the security risk is sometimes too great. What if you could access all of your company’s financial and trade-secret information on your phone and then you lost your phone or it was stolen? There are numerous reports of it happening with laptops and mobile devices can be an even easier target. While I can’t disagree, I think there has to be a happy medium to give PR pros on-the-go access and still keeping the information secure.

S: Thanks Mike – I appreciate you taking the time!

What I surmise is that if we see PR only in the media relations or sales support view, we’re going to lose, not just our credibility, but also our jobs. We’ve seen lately more evidence that building relationships across our constituencies is more important to our organizations than simply increasing the volume of opportunities to see our messages.  Regardless of relevancy, message fatigue and competition are going to put a lot of stress on the traditional marketing environment.

I can see how exploiting the two-way (or multi-way) capabilities of mobile could lead to discussion between our clients and us — as well as between end-users and organizations. All of that gets not only to sales opportunities, but also to brand-wide communication. The ability to put such a powerful tool in employee hands alone means much for the cause of collaboration, at lower cost and more efficiently overall. Bringing customers, prospects and employees together by the palms of their hands is a very intriguing prospect.

This week on #icchat, we’ll tackle video in internal communications — still relevant or old hat? Join us Thursday, May 19 at 10 a.m. North American Eastern Time on Twitter. Just search for #icchat (though using TweetDeck or TweetChat makes Twitter chats much easier to handle…)