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 Some would argue that prospectuses are obsolete and have now been replaced by the school’s website.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