Wednesday, 11 May 2011


The media is not the message!

Only recently I attended a brilliant concert held at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. One of the most captivating pieces was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 4, performed on early instruments. It would be wrong to suggest that any one instrument was more important than another because they all worked in harmony to be faithful to the musical score. Similarly we have an increasing number of ways to communicate the virtues of our schools and it would be too simplistic to say one is more important than another. But there are some new initiatives, which are beginning to seriously impact the conventional

methods of defining the school’s profile.

Probably the most traditional is still by personal recommendation. Someone who has had first hand experience of the strengths and weaknesses of a school is going to be able to give you informed advice.

There are also the published academic results; but a school that is driven by its place in the league tables will not suit every child.

Then there is the all important prospectus, which, if well designed, will give a balanced overview of the school’s life, culture and ambience.

But we now live in the 21st century and all we need to know is available on line. Some would argue that prospectuses are obsolete and have now been replaced by the school’s website. Actually, I don’t think such people understand the need for breadth and depth in conveying the quality of a school, and the good prospectus has a vital part to play!

In recent years we have seen the colossal growth of social media sites.

Put simply, social media incorporates the online technology and methods through which people can communicate, give personal opinions, swap different perspectives and insights into issues they feel important enough to share.

A striking example of this was a whisky distillery in Scotland which has now dropped its website in favour of a permanent facebook entry.

Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Because in this age of social media it is the positive comments about their product posted on facebook which has persuaded the company to drop their website altogether. Their conclusion was that personal testimonials speak louder than contrived advertising copy.

Recently I attended an eye opening conference at the Microsoft headquarters in Victoria, London. The objective was to expose the importance of social media sites in marketing. I found this whole area had grown beyond my imagination in such a short time.

As a rule, independent schools tend to be suspicious of this phenomenon. But I don’t think it is time to put our heads in the sand. I notice that in the US there is already a social media site called Great Schools, designed to guide parents to find the right school for their child. It has been driven by parents’ opinions of schools rather than a school’s opinion of itself.

In England there are numerous social media sites (websites that allow you to create a personal profile about yourself then chat, discuss and share information with others.) Typical examples of social networking sites include MySpace, Twitter, Bebo and Facebook. Slowly these sites are becoming increasingly powerful in driving public opinion. Perhaps it is still early days for these sites to penetrate and change the existing reputation of schools but parent power is growing fast and conversations are no longer confined to the school gates!

It might be worth having links from your existing website to prime social networking sites. Furthermore Google search engines are now crawling through these sites to position your school in its search engines.

OK people will always discuss and share the virtues of your school , but if, as the players at the concert I attended at Kings, your school is motivated by excellence, then you have nothing to fear!

Media and marketing techniques will continue to change and evolve, but whatever yardstick is used when a school aspires to excellence, its quality will remain a constant.

Jon Willcocks

Managing Director JWALTD

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


A question that crops up more regularly today than it did in the past

"Have we got our strategy right?"

“Do we need to stand out from the crowd, it must mean we need a new strategy a new goal!”

Professor Marshall McLuhan used to say the “media was the message” it’s not what you say but the way you say it.- Are we on facebook. The Linkedin Blog have we got this on twitter, how is our IT profile, are we fully maximising the media?

I was at a Schools Marketing conference recently and a designer told me his strategy was to ditch what had been done before and advocate the new. His sales strategy was simply to promote a “new product”, complete with seductive packaging and a new logo. Packaging for him, in his opinion was the best way to increase his business strategy and hopefully the school’s profile.

What’s this all about, what’s going on?

It would seem to me there are a number of issues here that are getting out of balance. Only yesterday a newly appointed marketing lady said to me: “send me some of your work, but I’m only interested if it’s different”.

Why dose “different” make it any more successful in the market place?

We are in the middle, of a financial squeeze. Parents want the very best school for their children, and schools are trying hard to win their attention. They cannot afford to take risks with designer’s fantasies in this highly competitive climate.

Yet so many he marketing teams continue to persuade the head and the governors that “whiz” is the elusive panacea that will get the parents jamming the school’s phones.

But the brutal reality is that even though an application of ephemeral whiz can hide a poor school, it can be detrimental to the integrity of a good school.

More than ever, parents want clarity so that the task of comparing the merits of one school with another are simplified. A marketing strategy that promotes staged smiling children is most un-helpful in defining what takes place in the schools curriculum. Parents want to know what goes on both inside and outside the class room They want to know about the facilities, the ambiance, the location pastoral care the qualities that make a child’s life at that school special.

In essence, each school needs to deliver substance, the marketing material should be seen as the vehicle. The packaging is important, but the tail should not wag the dog! It is important to be IT savvy, but do ensure there is quality in the message. It is vital that in any production there is meaningful content, which constructively informs the inquisitive parent and student.

Only recently I saw a designer had persuaded his client to buy into some very expensive display cases that once opened, revealed a. small and diminutive prospectus inside. One needs to strike a balance between recognising a good creative idea, and one that looks too keen to capture your attention, I dread to think what the school is being charged for postage! Schools are exciting places where the culture of teaching and learning creates sunning images use them! If only the pizazz has been generated by the core business of the School, rather than the wrapping, that would be impressive!