Anyone who’s been involved in Girl Scouts will probably be familiar with the song lyrics “Make new friends, but keep the old/One is silver and the other gold.”
It’s a timeless saying, and it applies to private school admissions, school marketing, and re-enrollment, too.
You’re spending an awful lot of time and attention these days trying to attract new “friends;” that is, new students to apply to your school. Putting your best foot forward, crafting the perfect messages, giving a memorable, top-notch tour - all to bring up those enrollment numbers for next year.
However, as we’ve said it many times before, tried-and-true business wisdom has proven that it is far more cost and time efficient to keep your current customers. So, in all this admissions season hubbub, what are you doing to woo your current families into reenrolling for next year? After all, if you increase retention, you'll make your recruitment work a whole lot easier.
We’ve got some suggestions for this reenrollment season to help you give families every reason possible to want to come back for next year, and to make the decision as quickly as possible.
enhancing your school marketing plan
1. Face Your Issues Head On
Have you got some common complaints among your school community? Are there issues that you’ve heard from parents that must be addressed (Outdated facilities? Too much homework? Lacking arts or athletics programs?) ? One of the most valuable things you can do for your school’s well-being is to make your parents feel like they are heard and respected.
You may not have all the answers to their problems here and now. Perhaps you are in the midst of figuring out solutions. But you can be open with your families and let them know that you care about their needs and that you’re doing what you can to provide the education experience that they originally signed up for.
Whether it’s through electronic communications, a mailed letter with a sort of “state of the school” update, or a forum at an event, find a way to address any of your “elephants in the room” to help parents feel better about the direction your school is heading. You may not be able to be perfect all the time, but you can at least be authentic - and that is something that’s highly valued.
2. Rally the Troops
You pull out all the stops and bring out the bells and whistles for your open houses; have you ever considered making a big event out of reenrollment?
Some schools have had success hosting re-enrollment rallies. These events can all look different depending on your school culture, but all have the same idea: give parents a reason to get excited about completing their reenrollment NOW.
Set up activities for the kids (think face painting, bounce houses, open gym), door prizes, tasty treats, and an incentive for parents if they complete their reenrollment at the event (a sizable discount off their reenrollment fee, perhaps). You can have computer portals set up on site so parents can take care of it all right there. This event should have a fun and exciting feel - so this probably isn’t the time for long, dry speeches or serious speakers. It is, however, a good opportunity to give teachers, students, and current parents a forum to provide testimonials to encourage and inspire attendees and add to the feel-good atmosphere. Make it a celebration worth attending!
3. Use Stories and Video
You can never underestimate the power of testimony. Find some of your most enthusiastic, satisfied families and bring them in for a video interview. Give them a few things to think about ahead of time (stories from their children’s classroom experiences, thoughts about family friends they’ve made during their time at the school) and then capture their stories on video.
Many of your well-spoken upperclassmen or alumni can also serve as fantastic video spokespeople. If some of them have some moving “success stories” to share (ways that the school has helped them overcome challenges and grow), give them the opportunity to tell your community.
Make sure you’re also taking videos of all of those inspiring, adorable, or engaging moments of the school day - hymn singing time with the lower grammar school children, a historical reenactment by your 5th graders, a thought-provoking science experiment by your 9th graders, or a lively debate in a senior classroom. There are moments in your school day and curriculum that are unique to your school - capture them and share them!
Once you get these videos, put them everywhere! Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, email newsletters, your website - anywhere that your school community will see them, appreciate them, and be reminded of what makes your school so incredibly, irreplaceably special.
4. Campaign Trail
Put your inbound marketing skills to use with a multi-faceted campaign that’s encouraging and helpful to parents. Choose a topic that hits home with your core community - such as child development, current cultural issues, spiritual discipleship, educational commentary - and create blog posts, a webinar, and ebook, and/or a live speaker event for parents.
One of our schools chooses a campaign for each semester to focus some of their parent content and events. They've done campaigns on developing and rediscovering the lost art of manners, managing technology and screen time, and even on encouraging biblical sexuality. Each of these campaigns featured a few blogs by members of their school community touching on aspects of the campaign topic, a webinar and/or ebook to which staff, faculty, and community volunteers contributed, and a live speaker event.
Not only do these types of campaigns help to draw in new potential families when correctly implemented, but they also affirm in your current parents’ minds that your school is in their corner, supporting them in all facets of their parenting endeavors.
Your campaign can last for weeks or even months, promoted with social media, email communications, and printed materials. Content that is relatable and shareable will engage and remind parents of both your school’s values and value.
5. Get Personal
It’s not too late to make some personal connections with those families you suspect might be “on the fence.” The Head of School and Admissions Director should get on the phone and touch base personally with parents to discuss their feedback and share your appreciation for their part in your school community.
While these calls would ideally come a little earlier in the process (think: November and December before it becomes obvious that you’re after their re-enrollment), a personal connection with a parent is rarely wasted at any stage when it comes to private school retention efforts. Going back to our first point in this post, just be ready to be authentic and receive what they have to say with your defenses down and mind open. Remember, you both want the same thing: to provide a holistic, quality education experience for their child. You’re on their team; this is the time to let them know that!