Tough times – how should a school’s marketing respond?
There is no question that the squeeze will impact on us all in some way.
But the quality of child’s educational journey is a crucial factor in a their development. In spite of the squeeze, parents will be reluctant to compromise on doing their best. They will look hard for the school that can most effectively nurture their child. They will research the market, scrutinise the website and prospectus to make the right choice on values they see as important. Decisions on the most appropriate school are made on the assessment of positive information. How do schools compete in a culture of 5% inflation?
It is my opinion that there is a case for prioritizing and taking the long-term view. There are two approaches which both have currency. The first is not to compromise on quality because excellence will always resonate with discerning parents, the second is to exercise a conscious policy of prudence. Put simply, in two words: spend wisely!
Many years ago I was involved in the promotion of Milton Keynes New City. The vision for a City of that scale had to be long term and yes there were downturns in the economy, but the evolution of that City was in excess of 25 years. When a recession occurred the vision was not compromised because projected recessions were built into the original financial projection, on the assumption that the pendulum would swing. Today, in spite of a few cynics, Milton Keynes can claim to be one of Britain’s most successful New Towns, not least, because the stakeholders didn’t loose their nerve in lean times.
Similarly, a child’s education can take around 15 years before a student has completed his/her education. It would be a sad day if parents withdrew their children from an excellent school because of a financial squeeze.
Parents have only one chance to expose their children to the education system and most want the best for their children. Each school has its own unique skills and atmosphere. Inevitably there are schools which might not suit some children, whereas, others might be a perfect match for their child’s character and academic skills to grow.
In deciding on the right school is important for parents to discover what schools have to offer, and what makes each school special. For parents to have choice and make the right decision is vital that the prospectus has grasped the unique flavour of the school. It is the subtle differences that can make a school appropriate for one child. One school we were involved with had been perceived as being a ‘hot house’. But on further scrutiny, in fact, it was not only highly academic but offered students a generous choice of interesting opportunities, including overseas visits, exceptional music and arts facilities, furthermore the students had a great time. Other schools may have a bias towards sport or debating/drama. Some schools have majored on redeveloping their boarding houses and have special facilities to make boarding a home from home experience
It is essential that prospectus/web designer tease out these qualities so the process of choice for both parents and children is made easier. It’s not ideal for children to change schools because the information given proved inadequate or misleading. A quality production does not mean lavish, but it needs to be informative, it needs to convey the spirit of care and a give a clear idea of the school’s objectives. Compelling text and well observed, engaging photography help to convey the unique character of a school. The information the prospectus and its information booklet provide should enable the reader to distinguish it from other schools. Yet, at a marketing conference I attended recently one head said to me, “Why do so many prospectuses look identical”?
It is a paradox that the very schools that advocate a culture of excellence continue to be persuaded by design groups who are prepared to offer free pitching. A practise where a “quick fix” solution is tabled as a serious proposal.’ It undermines the integrity of the design industry and treats design as a style business, relegating design to a magic wand. What I fail to understand is why perceptive stakeholders are driven by such an unprofessional practise. How can a superficial, pitch solution represent an in-depth understanding of a complex institution? Yet, contracts continue to be awarded to those companies who exercise free pitching. If parents are to make informed decisions they need high quality information and yet schools persist in underselling themselves.
In our experience, it is not until you have a good understanding of a school that you are in a position to make an informed proposal on how a design solution for branding or a prospectus might work. Our design solutions endeavour reflect the life and spirit of each school they promote, it’s because every school has its own distinct character that the different.
Spend wisely; it costs no more to do things well than it does to do them badly.
In this period of tough times we owe it to the parents to make informed choices, we at JWA would like to be a part of that process.
We were one of the exhibitors at the ISC Marketing 2008. It was an early start. I think I arrived at the Russell Hotel at 6.45 am!
But in the frenzied excitement of the day, meeting friends, colleagues, attending the stimulating seminars, our effectiveness in reaching those who were interested in knowing more about JWA might have become eclipsed!
JWA is a small, but well-established, successful design company, that likes to see itself as a mirror! Why, you may ask, should we identify ourselves with a mirror?
Quite simply, we at JWA see our primary task is to design prospectuses that not only inspire the reader, but also accurately reflect the life and spirit of each school, and in doing so, aim to make the difference.
There is a well-tried exercise to test the accuracy of any prospectus and that is to exchange the name on the cover for another school. If the prospectus still works, (and there’s a very good chance it will!) then the prospectus designer has failed to understand his brief.
We frequently discover that many design companies have a stronger sales team than they do design team, and their products can suffer from being clones, failing to differentiate one school from another! The implication of a prospectus that does not effectively expose the true benefits of a particular school has profound repercussions. It is both misleading for the parents; a disservice to the school and not cost-effective.
Many believe that today the real marketing for a school is achieved by the web site. We of course believe this to be too simplistic. The web site needs to work in conjunction with and be complimentary to the prospectus. The prospectus provides a quality, tactile insight to the school, whereas the website provides detailed and up to the minute information. A good web site can complement a good prospectus, especially if their design is well coordinated.
Every school is different. It serves distinct target groups, and inevitably every school has its own character and profile. We see it as a major part of our brief to find what makes each school distinctive. The objective of many schools could be shared, empowering the child to discover his potential and the value of community. But it is the different ways schools choose to undertake the educational process, which distinguishes one from another. Yet, too many prospectuses look the same, a criticism levelled to me only last month when a friend of mine had worked his way through a pile of prospectuses, looking for a suitable school for his son. Parents and children need to be able to make informed choices.
We are convinced that it takes quite a degree of understanding before you can design a prospectus that honestly reflects a particular school. A charming marketing lady told me she thought she would like to see page layouts/style sheets of a school prospectus before she would appoint a design company. This is a little premature. It is unrealistic, in my opinion, to hypothetically work up a design until you are familiar with the life and spirit of a school. We don’t do it. Informed design solutions can only be arrived at through relevant knowledge of the school. Therefore I find it counterproductive that so many prospectuses are marketed by style rather than content! We suggest that it is preferable to inspect the design company’s portfolio and then check with the school, to confirm how successful the publication has been.
For marketing to be effective, it is essential to convey the real benefits, distinct purpose and vision of each school in the prospectus, if it is going to have any impact on an informed decision making process. In fact, in this economic downturn, to avoid miss-understandings, it is important to communicate the ethos and objectives of a school as accurately as possible.
In the bustle of manning our stand at ISC 2008 this is difficult material to discuss, but it may help you understand why we are here again!
Schools are as exciting, dynamic and individual as the people in them and the objective to convey that will remain the challenge.
We are given to believe the quality of academic education at the majority of independent school today is as good as it ever has been. There seems to a growing confidence that their own staff can not only teach but tackle the most ambitious projects beyond the classroom. Schools can draw on a wealth of in-house talent. Staff can now be responsible for raising 3 million for a new teaching block, designing the new website and prospectus, to taking a group to explore the Chinese Wall!
This “can do” philosophy is something worth applauding, admirable, if the school can save by utilising “in house” talent. Enthusiasm, confidence and convenience are words which came to mind when schools appoint their own staff to undertake projects beyond their prescribed remit. But a word of caution needs to be shared when that commission ventures into the school’s marketing strategy. There appears to be a number of reasons why a school may choose to use their own staff; we can do it better, we can save money, we will have better control, but in reality, there have been a few pitfalls!
There are examples where the initial enthusiasm of the staff to take on projects has subsequently faltered because staff have been overwhelmed by the demands of their core activity. There is an increasing number of schools whose IT staff have volunteered their expertise to construct and maintain the school’s website, only to discover that they took on a project which demanded a larger share of their time than they had anticipated.
Many teaching staff own high resolution digital cameras and their images are appearing in school publicity. This can be helpful particularly when an event occurs off site or overseas. But when these pictures are published there are frequently problems.
A number of schools continue to use ‘well meaning’ staff with limited knowledge of design or typography or the ability to buy good printing.
The real issue here is that schools prefer to be perceived as centres of excellence. Not only in the possession of academic results, but in all that they do. The dilemma is that we have an increasingly visually articulate public who are scrutinising all that a school does. This includes anything that enters the public domain.
It is difficult to dampen the enthusiasm of staff eager to get involved. But there are still too many websites which are out of date, under construction or fail to work, merely because the in house staff are too busy. There are too many school publications which fail to conform to the school’s branding ethos, or suffer from poor repro.
The solution is to be well informed in the first place. Involve your design company in advising on how the talents of the school’s staff can be constructively used. In terms of web site management, use an efficient content management system. This will enable the schools to easily update the site. Whilst its design remains consistent to the school's corporate identity.
Consistent use of the corporate branding is vital if a school is going to convey an impressive public profile. To achieve this use a standard set of corporate guidelines. These need to be issued by the design company. This would cover the correct use of colours, typeface specification and logo and the use of (recycled) paper.
There are still too many excellent schools that have misunderstood the importance of effective branding. The visual links between the school’s website to the prospectus, the stationery and school livery should consistently reinforcing marketing strategy. It’s worth checking your school’s public profile to see how well co-ordinated the Corporate identity is being implemented. If it is managed well, then the public have a good clue that the school is being well managed.
Good schools need to be seen as excellent in all areas that impact on the public.
If you would like to explore cost effective ways of co-ordinate school branding, the Prospectus, the website, the fund raising programme JWA would be pleased to hear from you.
We are an established design consultancy who relishes the challenge of finding creative solutions for their clients. We have over the last 20 years built good relationships with commercial property clients and independent schools. A clear understanding of the brief has provided fresh solutions for our clients.
We have produced creative design solutions for the marketing of commercial property for over 20 years. The use of imaginative photography has helped to keep our solutions memorable and competitive.
Pre-Prep, Preparatory, and Senior Schools/Colleges
Our approach to promoting independent education is professional, personal and enthusiastic. We aim to reflect the character and spirit of each school. We do not have a standard design format that is imposed on each school. On the contrary, we evolve individual solutions that tease out the distinct character of each school; its own, unique benefits.
There is no doubt that in visiting a school a number of times, our own photography gives us an insight and understanding which enables us to shape our ideas, and develop meaningful design solutions, built by first hand experience of the school.
We are aware that today's school stakeholders are visually articulate and highly critical of a school's corporate identity. We are advocates of coherence in the implementation of a school's branding and design corporate guidelines to ensure consistent implementation.
We will always fight for cost effective, creative excellence, from the initial concept right through to the final production. We promote the use of recycled stock in our productions and find ways of reducing a client's carbon footprint. The scope of our work embraces fund raising material, signage, website design, school promotional material, associated marketing material, photography and prospectuses.
We continue to find inspired solutions that respond the distinct character of each brief. In working closely with the client, each solution has a compelling, resonance.
We are driven by cost effective, creative excellence, from the initial concept right through to the final production. We promote the use of recycled stock.
Our work includes design for print, signage, website design, promotional material, well observed photography and corporate branding.
To find out more about us please visit at www.jwaltd.com
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Tel. 01753 646 300