WCBS and VSE have partnered up to make lives easier for marketing and admissions teams within independent and international schools.

In this blog Sophie Clark, School Partnerships Manager at Virtual School Experience, gives tips on getting more from your digital prospective parent marketing.

I speak with schools and their marketing and admissions teams on a daily basis both for Virtual School Experience and The Friday Club.

Over the summer I’ve been lucky enough to speak with world class school marketers who are putting together messaging and campaigns to share with prospective parents and students digitally around the world.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned in 2021 about what’s working for school marketers right now:

1. Content is king

Put the best content out there that you can. Parents are making one of the biggest decisions they’ll ever make for their children when they look at potential schools, so it stands to reason they’ll consider several different schools. Every school has a nice website, every school has a shiny prospectus – and it’s no wonder parents find that most schools ‘look’ the same.

Sharing authentic content, showcasing current students, parents, staff and even alumni tells a parent how it feels to be part of your school community.

Schools win when they make it their business to capture the everyday moments that students remember years later – eating lunch with the Head, rehearsing for their end-of-year theatre production, weekend outings with their fellow boarders and Housemaster. As Sarah Flaherty, Alexandra College Dublin told me recently – capturing the photo or filming the Instagram reel on an iPhone is better than not having the content at all! Parents and students love the insight into daily life that you just don’t get from a corporately lovely school website.

We’ve been really lucky to see some brilliant innovations in school content production this year. If you’re looking for inspiration, I recommend following Felsted School’s TikTok account (@felstedschool) and Jane Forster’s weekly school newsletter for NLCS Jeju.

2. Customer experience has to be an integral part of a school’s brand

Maya Angelou famously wrote “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Of course what we say and how we say it is important, but families who are visiting half a dozen independent schools will see and hear a lot!

Lucy Barnwell showed me that families remember the admissions team that put them at ease, followed up on time, remembered the niche interests of their child, and made the admissions process as easy as possible.

Experience is probably the fastest and most impactful way for a school to stand out from

the crowd. If you’d like some practical tips on best practice customer service for parent visits, check out the session I hosted with Lucy here.

3. Marketing happens at every stage of a student’s journey, from admissions to alumni

It goes without saying that communicating a school’s culture, ethos and news is paramount for student recruitment. But what about everyone else?

Parents bought into your school culture when they accepted a place for their child and a school needs to keep reminding them of their ‘Why’ as their child progresses through the school. A marketer can help their admissions team by delivering communications that help retain students year on year – and parents of course need more, different information as their child progresses from prep school into senior school and onto A-Levels.

I’ve been really privileged to meet with some brilliant advocates of retention strategy – Jason Hoppner told me all about Dulwich College Singapore’s metrics for measuring parent satisfaction and all of the work they do around understanding and modelling parent personas to vary messaging and qualify their admissions pipeline.

Alumni also play a vital role in a school’s branding and can be a school’s best advocates. School’s can keep in touch with their alumni through brilliant marketing and communications, as Nicole Rule of Fernleaf Community Charter School explained when we spoke on The Friday Club.

Alumni are invested in a school for the rest of their lives, and will often become supporters and even donors to the school if they find themselves in a position to do so. They can also help schools with great content about their journey, life and career as a success story for the school!

4. Advocacy is a growing recruitment channel

Word of mouth and peer referral is more important than ever. Parents are a school’s ‘buyers’ and they can also be an admissions team’s greatest asset. 

Making sure your parents know what your school stands for, and making it easy for them to show what their child gets up to all day means they can share with other parents and amplify the great work your school does.

I loved hearing from Eugene Low at The Grange Institution, telling us how he makes it his job to communicate what his school is and what his school isn’t to every parent – that way those parents can share that with other families looking to place their child. 

This means that inquiring families have a better understanding of the school by the time they speak with admissions and are more likely to be the right fit.  It shouldn’t be a scary thing to say that you might not be the right fit for a family – and the authenticity a school portrays in it’s messaging pays dividends in the long run.

5. “We are all marketers”

And lastly, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lines from The Friday Club Break Time with interviews to date – “We are all Marketers”. Stefan Tueger of Shrewsbury International School, Hong Kong shared his view on this with me in this episode, explaining that he wants every teacher and every team member working hard behind the scenes to understand the school’s mission statement and demonstrate those values.

I’ve also discussed and heard about how school marketing and admissions teams can use the expertise of subject heads to showcase the school’s accomplishments.

Sophie and Andrew from Virtual School Experience will be co-hosting a live webinar “Using data and personalised marketing to maximise your admissions” on 10th November at 10am UK time with WCBS’s HUBadmissions and our CEO, Stephen Bilboe. The expert session is FREE and will feature insights and top tips that will help you get more from you admissions pipeline through personalising your messaging to prospective parents and getting the most from your admissions data.

Having worked with independent and international schools for 5 years, Sophie has helped hundreds of schools find the right edtech for their school operations. Now a Schools Partnership Manager at VSE, and host of The Friday Club, Sophie uncovers emerging trends in school marketing and admissions, helping schools to become digital storytellers and improve their communications strategy.