Marketing is unmapped territory

Bob Doe

Schools are investing to sell themselves but some need a clearer focus, reports Bob Doe

School prospectuses are the most common promotional vehicle used by schools, although some schools are spending 10 times more than others on marketing, according to a survey carried out among secondary schools in the Midlands.

The average spent on promotion by the 60 schools which replied was Pounds 4,800 a year, according to a report compiled by the educational marketing agency, Metafour. It is surprising, says the report, that fewer than half the schools (46 per cent) had a marketing plan though many more (74 per cent) had a marketing budget and were "thereby spending money without a clear focus and direction to their objectives".

Some schools carried out market research but had no plan; others had a plan but did no research. "A strategic plan which is not based on research and analysis risks making assumptions not substantiated in reality," says the report.

"With a marketing plan there are likely to be clear objectives and specific targets . . . without a plan evaluation risks being subjective and uncertain. "

Ten independent schools were included with local authority and grant-maintained schools in the survey. Four-fifths of the schools replying had a strategy or ethos they were seeking to promote and almost all (96 per cent) believed they were in competition with other schools - two-thirds "very strongly" so; 85 per cent consulted parents on their attitudes towards their school and 70 per cent asked parents for their reasons for selecting the school, though some did neither.

"No school can be all things to all people and it must seek to establish exactly what it stands for and what it is trying to achieve - its position in the market," says the Metafour report. "It must help people to say, 'I am going to send my child to this school because . . .'."

Academic achievement was by far the most common differentiating feature cited by schools along with good pastoral care and helping pupils fulfil their potential. But most schools and parents aspired to these, says the report, so "are they really useful as distinguishing features to differentiate one school from another?" it asks (see below right).

In addition to school prospectuses, two-thirds used brochures and displays to promote themselves. More than a quarter used videos. Open days or evenings were universal with some schools offering between six and 10 a year. All but one school actively sought good media coverage, with success rates varying from two to 40 items a year and averaging eight.

Nearly three-quarters had tried to measure the effectiveness of their promotional activities. Word-of-mouth, direct contact with the school and other informal means of promotion seemed to be more effective than printed material and media coverage (see left).

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) advertised in local papers, usually just once a year but sometimes four to six times. More than a quarter used on-site banners.

Four out of five schools reckoned their marketing was only "quite successful" or less due to lack of time (41 per cent), expertise (28 per cent) or funds (24 per cent).

Further details from Metafour, 52a Clarence Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham B13 9UH (0121 449 8214)

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