Here are two of the most common frustrations I hear when speaking with those working in enrollment or marketing in schools.
“Every time we have to write something about the school, whether it’s for an email, the website or a digital ad, it’s so hard. It’s like we’re reinventing the wheel”
“Ask any staff member to talk about what really distinguishes our school and you’ll get a different answer. That includes our head, admin team, teachers and even the advancement office. It’s crazy that we can’t get everyone on the same page.”
There’s no question that consistency in messaging is critically important to the success of a school’s enrollment marketing efforts. But the reality is that when a parent says, “tell me about your school,” there are a plethora of potential responses. Collecting them all into messages that are repeatable and memorable can seem like an overwhelming task.
What’s the solution? Buckets. When I work with schools to develop a Messaging Guide, one of the first things we create is buckets. It’s not a very technical term, but it is definitely the key to messaging success.
What are buckets? Buckets are the small number of categories into which you organize all of the ways your school can be identified or described. Buckets are the key messages that tell the story of your school. They can relate to curriculum, methodology, experience, values, philosophy, or results. Buckets become a system of organization that is the backbone of your school’s messaging. Every word of copy or piece of content supports one of the key messages. Buckets both define and differentiate your school.
To illustrate, here’s an example of buckets from a school that I worked with recently:
“Anything is possible” mindset
Individuality and the pursuit of passion
Community and responsibility
An educational experience that promotes critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity
How do you determine your buckets?
Figuring out what your buckets are takes lots of listening. You need to speak with as many people from as many different groups within the school community as possible. Try also to include opinions from those outside the school – parents who considered your school but chose another, educators at feeder schools as well as those at the schools to which students go when they graduate. The more consultative the process is, the stronger the results will be.
These are some of the questions you’ll want to ask each person or group of people you involve:
What are the educational offerings, guiding principles, results and other characteristics that define KayTwelve School?
What makes KayTwelve school different from other schools?
What defines the KayTwelve experience?
What makes KayTwelve, KayTwelve?
The key message buckets should begin to emerge from those responses. You will need to do some collecting and categorizing to arrive at the final buckets. That process should involve the school’s leadership team, faculty and parent representation. While buckets should be consistent with core beliefs, they should not be a reiteration of mission and values.
Buckets can also be aspirational, reflecting goals or direction. They can be a powerful statement about what a school strives to be.
Here are some examples of buckets being used by other schools.
Second Baptist School, a PK-12 Christian college prep school in Houston used a broadly consultative process to arrive at these key messages:
Think Critically. Live Biblically. Lead Courageously.
They now use them not only as a way of consistent communication but as goals or principles that educators are using in developing curriculum and learning experiences.
The Anthony School, a PK-8 school in Little Rock developed the ten pillars of TAS that include buckets like:
Number Sense, Computational Thinking, Perseverance, Self-Knowledge, Financial Literacy and Philanthropic Nature.
They too are using them for many purposes not the least of which is bringing focus to messaging.
Enrollment and marketing directors that I’ve worked with in developing buckets have told me that once these key messages were in place, creating various forms of communication was so much easier. They said it was as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. They also reported that they were beginning to see and hear more consistent messaging being used by others throughout the school.
Having buckets in place will have a positive, holistic impact and will improve more than just marketing material. It will have broad benefits, including:
Social media editorial calendars
Speaking notes for open houses and events
Educational focus and goal-setting
Developing a Portrait of a Graduate
Whether you choose to do it on your own or engage professional help, developing messaging buckets will allow you to feel more confident about your school’s messaging and make it far more effective.