Using Webinars in School Marketing

Several weeks ago Brendan Schneider wrote a blog post about “Using Webinars in School Marketing.” Brendan is the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Sewickley Academy.

Whether you agree with Brendan or not about dropping your traditional open house format in favor of webinars (you need to read his post to understand why he did this), I believe that every school should use the online power of webinars to effectively reach your target population.

I was intrigued by his post and wanted to share it with you–my blog readers–in this guest post. Thank you Brendan for sharing this guest post from your blog (if you haven’t subscribed to Brendan’s blog, make sure you do so today).

Brendan Schneider:  One of the reasons I love inbound marketing is that I have the ability to measure our school marketing efforts. The key to having this data is then to be able to make marketing decisions based upon fact and not upon a simple hunch.

During the spring of 2012 we made a decision at my school regarding our Open House opportunities. With data backing me up we made the decision to not have Open Houses during the 2012-2013 school year but conduct webinars in their place.

Using Data to Make Marketing Decisions

Just so that we are all on the same page I’d like to define what I mean by an Open House. Our Open Houses were on Saturday morning from 9am – 11am. Families would come to school with only half of the faculty in attendance where they would meet families in their classrooms. Prospective families would receive a tour from a current student and then have the opportunity to attend sessions about college guidance, our academic program, financial aid, global studies, arts, and athletics.

I’ve been at Sewickley Academy for 5 years now and I’ve watched the attendance at our Open Houses decline over the past 5 years. I was increasingly becoming dissatisfied with the Open House being a family’s first look at our school. While our buildings and campus are very nice – they are not the point! Our school is the people, programs, and community that are more easily seen while classes are in session and not over the weekend in some sort of contrived academic day.

I then turned to the data and realized that our Open House attendance to application to enrolled student conversions were dropping to unacceptable levels. I was increasingly becoming frustrated with the amount of effort and money we were spending on our Open Houses. I made the decision to stop doing our Open Houses and approached my Head of School. He sat quietly while I made me case and simply answered, “OK. What are you going to do instead?”

Webinars in School Marketing

Be careful what you wish for!

My Head of School was right. What was I going to do instead?

I decided that we would take the programs from our Open House and offer them as webinars instead.

We decided to launch our webinar series to run on 6 consecutive Thursdays and they would run from 12:30pm to 1:00pm. Our idea is that we would create content that would last for 20 minutes and leave 10 minutes for questions. Our thought was that a parent could grab lunch and be back at their desk at 12:30pm for a 20-30 minutes presentation. While we promoted the webinar series we also promised that anyone that signed-up for the webinar would receive the recording by email after the event.

The content of the 6 webinars mirrored the content of our Open House programs: college guidance, financial aid, global studies, arts, athletics, and service leadership. We also had the person responsible for each area conduct the webinar, e.g. our Director of College Guidance conducted the college guidance webinar.

View the webinar recordings.

Do Webinars = New Students

Unfortunately I can’t share that data yet because we are still enrolling students and haven’t conducted our end of year reporting yet. What I can tell you is that we had about 10-30 people sign up for each webinar and have had many views since we posted the recordings on our website.

There were positive results outside of increased enrollment:

  • Our faculty were happy that they didn’t have to give up a Saturday morning but in it’s place I asked each of them to write a blog post for our school blog.
  • We had a number of current parents attend the webinars to learn about new programs at our school which could potentially help with retention.
  • Because we recorded the webinars we now have more content to use in our school marketing efforts next year.

Are Open Houses Dead?

The more I am involved with school marketing the more I realize that marketing is local. What I mean by that is what might work in one area might not work in another.

For us – Open Houses are dead.

For you – you’ll need to look at YOUR data and make a determination based on your area and your data.

Are Open Houses dead for you? Does your data support the continuation of Open Houses at your school?

What are your thoughts about Brendan’s move away from open houses to using webinars to reach prospective families? Could this approach work at your school?

Should you utilize webinars to communicate key content to reach prospective and current families?

I really think Brendan is on to something at Sewickley Academy.