In a candidates’ market, schools have to do more than ever to attract good teachers.
A couple of decades ago, marketing may have involved painting the front gate or attending a careers fair. A website may have existed but, with Google still in its infancy, the chances are that few people would have found it.
In 2020, the landscape is very different. Teachers have entered the world of social media, and schools need to engage with them there. But doing so means rubbing shoulders with billion-pound brands in a world of polished content.
The changing face of marketing
Anna Pedroza runs a PR agency that has worked with schools for more than 10 years, and has seen up close how candidate marketing has become increasingly important for headteachers.
“I think candidate marketing has moved up their priority list,” says Pedroza. “They’re experiencing at first hand how more traditional methods of recruiting in local newspapers and sector media are not necessarily enough for them to find the right candidate.”
Lauren Taylor is marketing director for King’s Group, a chain of international schools that employ around 1,250 members of staff across the globe. She has also seen a huge shift in the amount of energy put into marketing to candidates.
“Recently, we’ve done a lot of work around teacher recruitment,” says Taylor. “There’s a teacher deficit and we need to make sure we get the best candidates.”
So, what does it take to market a school to candidates?
Find your USP
For schools, the same rules apply here as they would to any brand entering a crowded market place. You need to offer something different and unique.
“You want the story of your school, whether someone is reading it in a newspaper article or seeing it in a tweet, to have something of a niche to it,” says Petroza.
“Knowing what your niche is means you can target your marketing or your PR to exactly the people that you think are most likely to thrive in your school.”
Sell the benefits
Once you know your target audience, it’s much easier to communicate with them in a way they can engage with. You’ll also understand their values and exactly what they want from a school and their career.
“Schools have to work better at selling the benefits rather than just the features or the practical details,” says Petroza. “There is a tendency within education for people to describe things with lots of words, and to focus on explanation rather than the resulting rewards.”
For Taylor, going beyond practicalities is also key.
“We have to sell a lifestyle,” she explains, “because [at an international school], where you live and the people you interact with on a daily basis – your colleagues – are going to become your family. You need to be happy in your setting.”
Team up with HR
A huge part of marketing is timing, and when it comes to candidates, you’ll need to know exactly when those recruitment peaks arrive.
“Marketing for the recruitment of teachers comes in cycles,” says Taylor. “Working closely with HR, they know their needs and when to turn it up a notch.
“I worked with them on the process and got them to talk me through the process they go through when a candidate is beginning the recruitment process. Then we put together a framework, tying in the continuing professional development, wellbeing and how it feels to work at the school.”
To someone new to social media, it might seem like a minefield, but Petroza argues that this facet of digital marketing offers a cost-effective option.
“The cost of marketing for a school has reduced significantly,” she argues, with good news stories now able to spread far beyond the school gates through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
“Word of mouth has always been important in recruitment, and if we’re thinking of changing jobs we’ll often talk to friends about where we’re thinking of going.”
“Word-of-mouth marketing is a massive part of where we get referrals,” agrees Taylor. “That’s essentially what social media is; a digital version of word of mouth.”
Although this sounds like a straightforward case of spreading good news, Petroza argues that proper use of social media is something that needs to be well resourced.
“School leaders need to realise that if you’re responsible for social media marketing, that isn’t something that just takes an hour,” she explains.
“There is a common thinking within leadership teams, and not just in schools, that social media doesn’t take long. That isn’t the case and giving someone an hour a week to do this would be very ineffective.”
Make content count
Once you’ve entered the world of social media, you’ll need something to share.
In recent years, brands have moved away from gimmicks and transactional messages, and have instead favoured genuine stories from customers or founders.
“At every level, people ’buy‘ people,” says Taylor. “We do it [content marketing] with our founder, with our alumni and our graduates. Percentages are very nice – how many A*s you got – but people want to see a face and a name, and for you to tell them a story.
“How many people follow Virgin on Twitter, and how many follow Richard Branson? People follow Branson because he’s a person and he’s got an interesting story.
“It’s about authenticity but it’s also about pride. We’re proud of our classrooms and our pupils.”
Work on your website
School websites often appear to be aimed very much at the parent community but, as Petroza explain, most candidates will visit the school site before thinking about submitting an application.
“Schools are people businesses and the majority of their budget is spent on teachers,” she says. “So the sense of what it means to be a teacher at that school should be coming through.”
When you look at a website on a regular basis, or have helped in its design, you might become blind to some obvious mistakes.
“Ask some friends and family to do some ‘mystery shopping’ on your website,” says Petroza.
“Find out how easy it is to find the job that you’ve advertised; put your feet in the shoes of someone who is looking for a job and has heard that your school is good. How easily can they find your role on your website and how easy can they find a role via Google?”
“On our website is a section called ‘work with us’, none of which existed before December 2018,” says Taylor. ”Since then, a significant amount of work has gone into recruiting the best teachers.”