Speeding into oblivion

I worry about the overburdened school marketer. The marketer who works hard, is full of creative energy, drive and passion, is dedicated and willing to learn and grow. But there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like being on a train that’s going faster and faster, yet has no stopovers, no destination.  

I have come across many of these overburdened school marketers in my work in independent schooling. In this article, we take a look at why this is happening and what we can do about it.


What is the cause?

The scope and composition of the role has changed

I recently attended the Independent Schools Marketing Association (ISMA) School Marketing Conference at the magnificent Spier Estate in Cape Town. Over 150 school marketers were privileged to hear from a host of talented speakers, starting at a strategic level on Day 1 and progressing to an operational level by Day 3.

What was clear to me was the vast range of issues facing school marketers today.

Fragmentation of the marketer’s role, driven largely by accelerating digital marketing activities, has meant that marketers feel that they need to be constantly online. 24/7 every day of the year.

A multitude of school activities is communicated on multiple media platforms. This means gathering stories and quality images, along with concerns about privacy issues, transformation and reputation management. The latter is particularly important in schooling, given the recent spate of online public relations crises linked to issues of bullying, racism and violence. These are emotive issues that quickly go viral.

Marketers are expected to be skilled and up to date on trends in tactical (both digital and analogue) and strategic areas, while resource allocation in schools has not necessarily expanded accordingly.


The decision-making power does not reflect the role importance

Worldwide, the role of the marketer in the Boardroom is currently in the spotlight. Impressive research done by Kimberly A. Whitler shows that Boards are not yet taking marketing seriously enough to allocate it a seat on the Board. And yet the voice of the consumer must be heard, and the marketer is best placed to represent this when there is vital strategic decision-making for the company regarding the sustainable growth of markets and products.

In independent schools, there are some marketers who have a seat on the Board of Directors, but it is in the minority. Schools may have a Marketing Portfolio on the Exco, the Board or the Parent Association, but I see most school marketers reporting into an administrative role or a senior management role, without having an executive role themselves. In a highly competitive buyers market, I believe schools are likely to review this structural anomaly in the future.


What can we do about it?

I’d like to suggest there are two ways to help the overburdened marketer. Either assist the marketer to manage the load or change the loading.


Changing the loading

I see many school marketers working without a strategic plan. Historically, this may have been acceptable, but it tends to result in a highly operational, very busy work day without a clear focus of where the marketer is heading. Creating a marketing strategy is best done with some independent support on a project basis, just to get the unbiased market research and analysis on which to base the strategy.

Strategy is by nature a choice of alternatives. This means that some areas of the market are omitted intentionally. Hence the marketer’s job becomes more targeted and less frantic. Decision-making becomes easier. Performance metrics (ROI included) can be applied, with more time for strategic conversations and refining the competitive positioning and messaging for the school. This enables assessing the profitability of segments and the benefit of automating or optimising activities for better results.


Load management

In this solution, the structure and resources are reviewed. Since structure follows strategy, it is advised that load management is done based on an existing school marketing strategy.

Here, the processes the marketing team is using are mapped and reviewed for areas of improved efficiency. This might be through adding new technology, training or support such as an assistant or outsourced expertise. It could involve benchmarking against the marketing and admissions departments of other schools, both locally and internationally. The focus is the achievement of the marketing strategy, so processes are aligned to the strategy and assistance provided to best achieve that.

In line with the load management is training and motivating the marketer. One area I find particularly useful is joining online Facebook groups for school marketers and subscribing to international blogs and webinars on school marketing. For example, Rick Newberry’s blog Enrollment Catalyst provides great pointers on admissions and retention, Brendan Schneider of SchneiderB Media is an expert in inbound marketing, while Mara Roberts’ Marketing Mastery for Schools blog or Facebook group is especially valuable for practical help in digital marketing. And of course, ensure your marketer is attending the biennial ISMA School Marketing conference.


Towards effective school marketing

Boards of schools should be aware of the health of the marketing department and the voice which the school marketer has on an executive level. I would encourage directors and management teams of schools to ask questions about the marketing strategy and how well the marketing department is resourced, trained and supported to achieve this goal effectively. A happy marketing team makes for a happier school!

I'm Keryn House

I enjoy creating marketing anecdotes and visuals related to my horse as there is a lot to be learned from animals, and this provides a unique context to my writing. My horse Slick (aka Sports Express) has been with me for many years and is a source of inspiration and relaxation for my strategic mind. He lives on a friend’s farm in KZN and I see him twice a week.

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