This is a confusing time for those responsible for independent school marketing & communications. There is a dizzying number of webinars, courses and podcasts that have been made available. And each of them has its own bulleted lists of indispensable best practices. Implementing all the do’s and don’ts while struggling to meet the demand of everyday communication is daunting. It’s so easy to get mired in the tactics and lose sight of the more strategic, intentional approach. So, as you decide which lead-gen initiative is best or the ideal topic of your next webinar, here are four common sense principles to guide your efforts.
Be authentic. Be sure that you communicate in a way that aligns with your school’s brand and is true to your school’s voice. As mentioned above, there is a plethora of best practice examples available to independent schools these days. Many of them are great ideas. But you have to resist the temptation to simply replicate. Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery but it’s also a path to hollow initiatives that miss the mark. If you have an existing brand strategy, be certain that it shapes your COVID communication and marketing efforts. If not, think about what makes your school unique, the key points you emphasize during tours or in recruitment collateral and make sure they are reflected in everything that emanates from your school.
Be generous. Share your initiatives with the broader community. Now is not the time to be proprietary. Public schools may not have the same capacity as independent schools and yet parents are clamoring for resources that offer some support and ease the burden. Your school may also have a unique perspective on the current situation. Making all of that widely available may provide parents with something refreshingly different and will also reinforce your brand. And don’t be competitive by worrying that you are making your intellectual property available to parents of other independent schools. Taking the high road at this time is a competitive advantage and is an unparalleled way to differentiate your school. There is only an upside to being generous.
Don’t be tone-deaf. Your communication has to reflect the current COVID realities or at the very least not be at odds with parents’ perceptions. This is not business as usual. Consider taking down or modifying the online ads you had running a month ago. Messaging that references activities that are not COVID compatible will be met with cynicism and may be regarded as insensitive. For sure, it will not be memorable or actionable. The opposite is also true. Communication that preys on people’s fears or is sensational will not be well received. The key is empathy. Your parents’ experience is still critically important. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about what those people are feeling.
Be hopeful. This is a time for schools to lead. Schools are inherently focused on ensuring the best possible future for students, families,and society. COVID hasn’t changed that. Yes, there are realities that must be communicated and I’m not suggesting you look at the world through rose coloured glasses. But schools have been incredibly agile to this point and there’s every reason to believe that they will successfully overcome the challenges imposed by the after-effects of the virus. Radiate that confidence and communicate that optimism.
Clearly, all of this may appear to be easier said than done – particularly amidst the fog and fatigue of the current situation. What you need to do is stop for a moment, take a deep breath and think about what you are trying to accomplish. Consider how best to enhance your school’s relationship with current and prospective parents as well as other stakeholders. You may just find that a little common sense goes a long way.