I recently met Simon Hepburn virtually, through LinkedIn and his excellent website, Marketing Advice for Schools. Simon is a teacher and schools marketer who set up his website to help those looking to make their school stand out in today’s increasingly complex market. He is also the author of ‘An Introduction to Marketing for Schools‘, an excellent e-book which summarises the key issues involved through all areas of marketing a school.
I regularly visit Simon’s website and enjoy his articles. He is, I think, one of the first to identify that with over 2,000 academies and nearly 100 free schools, it is just a matter of time before they realise that they are all competing both with each other and with private schools. And while schools with the status of, for example, Eton, are likely to continue unhampered, sooner or later schools of all types are going to have to turn to all aspects of marketing – including a mix of traditional and 21st century channels like social media, blogging (perhaps story-telling is a better description) and digital PR.
Simon very kind agreed to let me reprint his article on how to find engaging stories in a school – the perfect subject for our Tuffill Verner blog which looks to share information, content, and encourage stories, information and engagement. My personal view is that schools simply don’t yet make the most of this opportunity, though I have seen some excellent examples of school blogs, particularly from Heads. But I have to say that I take particular enjoyment from the blogs that are written by or in combination with the pupils – and I’d love to see more schools engaging in this type of activity – it gives a real insight into what goes on in a school. This is one of my favourites.
Without further ado, here is Simon’s article.
What would persuade you to buy a new car? You’d probably want a test drive. But that wouldn’t be enough. You would want to hear from people who had used cars of the same make and model, read reviews, and compare specific facts with other cars.
Choosing a school is a much more important decision than a new car – and so evidence becomes even more important. A school can claim to do many things – to be academic, caring, exciting, inclusive – but without actual evidence this will not be trusted.
How do you find and present this evidence in a school? Perhaps the best approach to take is that of a local journalist and find the stories that show your school in action. Here are a few tips…
1. Ask face-to-face – in a school community there is a lot of exciting news every day – but much is happening well away from the centre. You can ask in a number of ways but the best is to attend department or year group meetings and talk face to face about what you’d like to hear about. Email is much less effective – although you can follow up meeting with emails.
2. Make it easy for teachers and students – don’t insist on fully written stories. All you need is a brief tip-off that something is going to happen.
3. Keep a news diary – record everything in the future with a date against it. This allows you to communicate in advance, when the event is happening (live Tweeting?), and again after you’ve recorded it.
4. Focus on a few top stories – once you’ve got information coming in, filter it and choose the stories that best meet your school’s key messages to work on. (But make sure to thank everyone who sends you ideas!) You will have your own idea of how many stories you can work on.
5. Involve students – ask participants in an event to write down their stories or take photos or videos. You could ask them to keep diaries or blog from a trip (with moderation of course!)
6. Use a range of media to record stories – using photos and video as well as words is vital. The good news is that almost everything will be photographed and videoed on a smartphone – ask for people to email you the best pictures!
7. Interpret jargon and data – a lot of school news (especially when student assessment is involved) can appear dry and be full of acronyms. Take time to remove this and tell the story in a way that a parent or student can understand (and check with a real parent or student!)
8. Encourage sharing of stories. Nothing will encourage more people to tell you stories than seeing themselves featured – whether on the school website, in local papers or on Facebook or Twitter. Creating a ‘news page’ on your website with links to social media is a great way of starting this. Here’s an example from the US.
Simon Hepburn, November 2012
As always we welcome views and debate on all subjects – I hope you found Simon’s article helpful, and that it provides food for thought – don’t hesitate to comment if you have any further thoughts or questions. And we recommend that you hop over to his website yesterday to get even more information from him!
And if you’d like some help marketing your school, please get in touch.
Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – firstname.lastname@example.org
01787 277742 or 07967 148398.