Is Your School One of the 9%?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to pick up a Sunday newspaper at the local gas station. I used to be a full-time subscriber, but now I get all of my news on my iPad. However, every now and then, I like to flip through the sections and review the Sunday ads.

In this edition of the Tampa Bay Times, I discovered a special insert section featuring the “2015-16 Pinellas County School Search.” As someone that helps school leaders with their marketing strategies, I picked this up with interest and flipped through the insert.

I remember this same school insert about 12 years ago when I was head of a school in St. Petersburg.

I remembered that it used to be a lot thicker. This insert only had 16 pages.

I also remembered that nearly every independent, private and faith-based school in the area had an ad. However, in this issue, I counted only 11 ads. In Pinellas County alone, there are 122 private schools. This means that only 9% of the private schools in one of the most populated counties in Florida submitted and paid for an ad in this insert.

As I consult with schools of all shapes and sizes, it is always telling to me where their marketing focus is by quickly reviewing their spending. As I probe deeper, it’s ironic that the school leadership knows that word of mouth and the Web are their main inquiry sources, yet they continue to focus their spending on these advertising strategies.

During the last several years, this shift from traditional, outbound strategies has occurred. As readership continues to decline, these outbound strategies are less effective (I actually wonder if they were effective 12 years ago when I was head of school?).

Think about it. In order for you to recoup your investment in the ad, a parent must purchase the newspaper, select the insert, flip through the pages, look at the ads, see your ad, and place a call or visit the website.

This scenario isn’t likely anymore.

So why do we hang on to these traditional, outbound strategies in our schools?

Sometimes it is a fear of being left out.

Sometimes it is the argument that your school is conspicuous by its absence.

Sometimes it is the only strategy we are comfortable with since we have always done it this way.

Sometimes it is a result of the grief our current parents or board members may give us for not being in the insert.

Rarely, and I do mean rarely, is the reason because these strategies generates leads. It could be argued that awareness can be generated from these ads, and if this is your philosophy, I would argue that you can build greater awareness through WOMbound (word of mouth) and Inbound (Web-based) marketing strategies.

So, here is my question for you.

Is your school one of the 9% that is spending your limited marketing dollars on print ads and other outbound strategies? Is this strategy really working for you? Are you generating any leads?

If you are one of the 9%, then perhaps this is okay for you, as long as you realize that the best you could hope for through one of these ads is awareness.

I believe it’s time that school leaders quit supporting an industry that continues to lose market share through declining readership and start spending your budget dollars on more effective strategies that will actually reach your target market.