Making a mark in the market

Schools, like all commercial and industrial organisations, are starting to face the fact that they must become more market-oriented. This is the conclusion of a report by the educational marketing agency Marketing Direction.

Of 101 LEA-controlled schools surveyed, 85 per cent believed marketing was essential, with competition from sixth-form colleges and increased parental choice cited as prime factors in the decision to engage in promotional activity.

Marketing is usually seen as a senior management responsibility. But Marketing Direction argues that too many schools have a limited vision of the subject. Fewer than one in two of the schools evaluated any marketing activity, despite an average spend of Pounds 4,000. In some schools, marketing was equated with selling. In others it was delegated to business studies or technology teachers.

One school said, "We are oversubscribed, therefore need spend no money on marketing."

The report says marketing is a specialist function, and that teachers without the necessary training or back-up will not benefit schools. "Every school with more than 1,000 pupils needs at least one professional marketeer," it claims.

Spending on marketing activities often centred on a brochure, although three in four of the respondents also produced a video. More than half had carried out some research into parents' perceptions of their school and 46 per cent had analysed the service offered by competing schools.

Few schools used external consultants. Those that did tended to limit their brief to brochure design and production. Many of the brochures showed room for improvement, the document concludes. "Too many schools," it says, "had messages from the chair of governors and headteacher."

The report argues that promotional material should focus on the experiences of pupils and that "all too common" jargon should be avoided. Pupils should be named, with captions explaining why the pupil chose the school and what he or she has achieved.

Marketing Direction suggests schools identify their strengths - their "unique selling points". These should be communicated intern-ally as well as externally.

Other tips include displaying press releases to celebrate achievement, training front-line staff, such as receptionists, in customer care and signing up for initiatives such as Investors in People.

The report acknowledges that marketing can be costly in the short term, but its authors claim marketing is not just about selling, but about putting pupils first - "moving from a provider-centred to a customer-centred approach".

Marketing Activity in Secondary Schools in England is available from Marketing Direction, tel: 0151 342 6482.

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