Why School Marketers Matter

Title: A Guide to Effective School Marketing
Author: Keryn House
Published by: ISASA
ISBN: 978-0-9921760-2-0
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

Keryn House has authored one of a trio of resources published by ISASA to provide expert advice to relevant stakeholders in independent schools. The other titles are: A Guide to Effective School Transformation and Diversity Management and A Guide to Effective School Governance: Second edition.

In A Guide to Effective School Marketing, House explains why the role of the school marketer has become so important. She says: ‘The development of the marketing department in schools is an indication of the shifts that are under way in the education sector.’ These shifts, she adds, are

  1. the move of schools into a more market-driven schooling environment in South Africa,
  2. schools being in the public eye owing to educational challenges that receive media attention, and
  3. the fact that school marketers contribute to the sustainability of schools and are increasingly part of a larger advancement, development, or administration department.

House goes on to say that, given these factors, the role of the school marketer is to increase awareness of the school in the target market; build the school’s brand image; grow and sustain admissions; manage the retention of existing students and maintain a healthy alumni base. The school marketer also ‘interacts externally and internally, with agencies, social media, press and the wider community, as well as the school management, students, past students, staff and parents.’

Up front in this compact guide is a chapter on best practice for school marketers, which will be a lifesaver for those in smaller less-resourced schools, who may be in desperate need of assistance during a period dominated by COVID-19 socio-economics. In this crucial chapter House considers the concept of advancement in school management and marketing, saying: ‘Advancement is essentially an all-encompassing term for the crucial systems that are essential to any well-run school, and it has its roots in the financial sustainability of the school.’

The advancement concept must be understood from a number of interrelated perspectives. It involves building awareness of the school in the target market, which causes parents to be interested in enrolling their child, which leads to the hope for the child to continue attending the school.

It also involves helping to manage the tuition fees a parent has to pay, and contributing to the school’s assets through, for example, fundraising, and telling the school’s story as often as possible. According to House, the core business of marketing is encapsulated in the key concepts of ‘enrolling’, ‘retention’, ‘asset management’, ‘development’, ‘community’, and ‘parents’.

House knows that the job of school marketer can be both joyous and onerous. She reminds readers of important issues that need to be tackled, like reporting structures, budgets, transformation and diversity and performance management. She offers advice on exactly how these matters can be tackled in a school where marketing is taken seriously.

Subsequent chapters to the first deal in detail with basic marketing concepts, what a marketing strategy should look like, why planning is crucial to school marketing, and the seven ‘P’s of marketing: product, promotion, price, place, people, process and physical evidence. I particularly like the fact that House never forgets that small schools, which may be operating on restricted budgets, need additional advice. I also like her concise style and comprehensive coverage.

My favourite chapter in this guide is chapter nine, entitled ‘People’. It deals with everyone related to the school marketing effort. ‘Essentially, all school marketing is about relationships,’ House says. She then goes on to introduce the reader to customer relationship management, saying: ‘[It] is the process of building and maintaining healthy and profitable customer relationships by delivering superior value and satisfaction.’

In an information rich table, House outlines each of the groups of people important to the success of the school marketer. These are the management team, the marketing team members, school reception/administration, the governing body, students, parents, alumni, prospective parents, prospective students, feeder schools, other school marketers and community. And, of course:

A Guide to Effectice School MarketingTeachers convey the largest percentage of the service delivery to the customers (the parents and students) through their daily interaction, listening to and discussing topics, clarity of instruction, warmth and understanding, plus the professional manner in which they transfer knowledge to the student and assess the level of comprehension.

A teaching body with the ability and enthusiasm to share classroom stories, convey expertise and seek out opportunities for fun while learning can provide the school marketer with an advantage in showcasing the school.

At the end of this chapter (each one ends similarly) House provides some topics for further discussion and reflection, asking: ‘Who are the people involved in the marketing of your school?’ ‘How many members of staff buy into the idea that all staff play a marketing role for the school?’

At this point I find myself agreeing vigorously with House, whilst adding to her point. It’s never good to have reluctant members of staff on board. If their daily purpose is not aligned to a passion for the ethos of the school, it will make everyone’s job harder.

All schools should acquire this guide and staff development sessions should be devoted to a close study of it. If staff can’t find time to get together, then, because of the skilful way the book has been written and designed, smaller groups of teachers can tackle various chapters. A list of further resources at the end of the book can easily be sourced to enrich further discussion.

Let’s leave the last word to House:

Education is the foundation of any society. From a purely marketing perspective, education is one of the key indicators that investors consider in order to assess whether a country is functional, stable and safe. If it is not seen as such, then we lose much of the market-base for independent schools, for it is largely the families who have the financial ability to leave the country who are major customers of the independent schools.

Keryn House is the owner of Houseway Consulting, based in KwaZulu-Natal and specialising in marketing strategy for independent schools. She presents a popular workshop for ISASA entitled Effective School Marketing in a Digital World. Her other work includes online coaching and training as well as onsite workshops and projects. She was a member of the judging panel for the international school marketing awards, the Brilliance Awards 2019, and is a guest expert for an international school marketing blog.