Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Smile Please

“Say cheese!”

Here we are in a severe recession and parents need to make informed decisions about the most appropriate school for their children. Yet too frequently Independent School prospectuses and web sites resort almost exclusively, to images of smiling children! Yes it is important that children enjoy the process of learning, but “cheesy snaps” are not going to convey those distinct ingredients that make each school special.

In fact to reveal the true benefits of a school takes time and a well thought out strategy. Images that reflect the character and spirit of a school will involve careful planning and research. Furthermore, there is a rare skill in being able to understand the real benefits of a particular school. Is it highly academic, does it major on extra curriculum activities, is it highly artistic or musical, dose in maximise on its unique location, near water mountains or centres in a major city? The process of accurately reflecting the life and spirit of a school is more complex than it first appears! Nonetheless this is very important if we are going to give parents and future children the ability to exercise choice.

Pretty pictures are one thing, but even more demanding is how do you effectively communicate the very qualities that make one school different (or even better) from the next. It’s all too easy to confuse school photography with wedding photography, spreads, festooned with smiling attractive children. In fact many photographers commissioned to handle schools are in fact wedding photographers. But this photographic culture can have a limited scope and even demeaning effect in communicating the real advantages of a particular school.
 All too frequently parents and staff are getting short changed because schools’ marketing material looking superficial and identical to promotional material of competitive schools.
The question, which needs to be addressed, is “how can prospective parents make informed choices for the most suitable school for their children, when the marketing material is identical to other schools?”

The answer is simple – “with difficulty!”

In this time of a financial challenge, parents, more than ever need to be able to make informed choices. The importance of clear information to avoid confusion when selecting a school for their children.
There are a few basic questions that when addressed, will help schools to shape and create effective marketing material. Why are we producing a new prospectus or web site? Who is it for, and who are we aiming at? Who are we competing against? What makes our school distinctive? Do we implement a different culture to other schools that appeals to a particular group? The benefits of a school designed for single sex education, compared with co-education. Consideration should be given to the school’s environment as well as its demographics, which both have a bearing on the choice between boarding and day. Can a creative use of photography enable the school to convey these benefits?

For a school marketing initiative to be effective, parents need to be able to have an insight that reveals the school’s individual character.  Each school must aim to convey why it is different; the quality, the breadth, the unique benefits, the ethos. Inspired photography and clean design can play a pivotal role in enabling parents and their children to make more enlightened decisions about a school. Aim for high quality, no gimmicks, no tricks. Saying “cheese” will not convey the right message! Transparency and clear thinking are the essential ingredients for an effective marketing strategy.

Getting your strategy right will put a smile on your face!

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