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Structure follows strategy.

This final part in a series of 3 blogs on the topic is only worth reading if you already have a marketing strategy! We now focus on the overarching structures for marketing and admissions in independent schools.

Let’s look at two concepts.


The Traditional Model


Years ago, school admissions were seen primarily as a financial transaction, and so most admissions personnel would report into the financial manager or the bursar. With the growth of inbound marketing and a far more strategic approach to school admissions, this structure is unlikely to bring growth, or at least not if you are looking at targeting specific markets, segmented with personas and taking a proactive approach to admissions.

In my experience, I have also found that having any sales function reporting directly into finance is not wise, due to the natural misalignment between these two roles. Marketing is an outward, relationship-building approach, whereas finance tends to be an inward, risk management approach. I have also seen marketers sitting in the same office as debt collectors, one person trying to sell to the same customer from whom the other person is trying to collect. Naturally, it was not a healthy environment for growth.

In the traditional model, marketing (including communications) and admissions were therefore not a part of the same team. They might interact regularly as needed, but there was no formal joint proactive plan to work together. If structure follows strategy, and your strategy entails a more market-driven admissions approach, then I believe this traditional model will not support the strategy.


The Advancement Model


More recently, the Advancement Model is being used in South African independent schools. It has its roots in faith-based non-profit organisations where sustainability is key, and fundraising essential. I have found that there are various applications of this model, depending on the school.

For example, the ISM Advancement Model (Independent School Management) used in American independent schools has been reviewed over the years and includes marketing/communications, admissions and development (donor funding). In some schools, alumni is included and in others, admissions is excluded. I am grateful to Brendan Schneider, Director of Advancement at Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh USA, for providing insight on this model for me.

What I like about this model is that it takes a much more strategic approach to the customer and removes some of the silos in the organisation. There is nothing more frustrating than being a customer and interacting with multiple stand-alone, isolated parts of a school, wondering if they ever talk to each other.

What concerns me about this model is that it may be too heavy an approach for some organisations who are younger, less bureaucratic, more entrepreneurial and more nimble on their feet. It may also confuse the call for funds with the call for sales. But it has been used successfully for years in many organisations, and has a lot of positive aspects to it.

ISM Advancement Model for Marketing Structure in Independent Schools

Source: Ideas & Perspectives, 21st Century Schools: The Advancement Model, Volume 37 No 6, published by ISM





Which structure to use?

I would recommend that schools use what works for them, making sure that the structure enables the best implementation of the marketing strategy. This may mean that you use a large departmental approach, or it may mean that you simply change the reporting structures and increase the engagement across the different functions.

Structure is a sensitive subject, because it directly affects people and how they work. It is always good to engage the team and build the understanding of the strategy, then seek to develop the ideal structure. Sometimes this is best in a phased approach, and other times it is best to make one big change. It will depend on the urgency, the culture of the organisation and the leadership style.

However, there is no doubt that a good structure makes for effective strategy implementation in independent school marketing!







I'm Keryn House

I enjoy writing on my niche in marketing strategy for independent schools. I’m inspired by global trends driving change in this sector – from consumer trends to educational trends to market and macro trends.

I like to draw from my background in strategy across multiple sectors as well as my personal and professional journey to craft short conversational and topical pieces.

I hope you feel informed, inspired and supported as readers of this blog from wherever you are in the world. I encourage comments and suggestions on content. Please also connect with me on my social platforms.