For the second fall, and third school-year in a row, independent school admission/enrollment directors are wringing their hands wondering how their campaigns can possibly demonstrate all that’s special about their schools when prospective families still can’t fully experience the uniqueness first-hand.
How can you focus your campaign theme, messaging, and other tools to ensure your school stands out? Is it even possible to put your best face forward while continuing to adhere to the unique demands of these times? The answer is YES if you’ll follow these three recommendations. Read on to see how you can focus your admissions campaign for maximum effectiveness and appeal in 2021/22.
1. It’s Your Values That Matter
With regards to the pandemic, we’re a little better off than we were a year ago. Or are we? There’s talk of another isolating winter if trends don’t improve, which will trigger a whole series of political, social, and economic concerns. But if we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty! So, use this backdrop of uncertainty to lean into the fact that no matter what’s going on in the world, your school’s values are rock solid—and demonstrate how those values directly and uniquely benefit your students.
Last year when we launched the new brand and admission campaign for Curtis School in Los Angeles, we helped the school directly address concerns that were at the top of parents’ minds: the health and wellbeing of young children who were missing out on the many benefits of their beloved on-campus experience. The pandemic didn’t inspire Curtis to commit to putting the child at the center—that’s always been central to their mission—but by leaning into their values, Curtis School’s new website prominently features their admission campaign: Always begin with the child. What a relief that must be for families to be assured that it is—and always has been—true at Curtis. And notice how their new Belief Message on the home page reinforces for families that each lesson, exploration, and experience at Curtis begins with the child, and what each child needs to feel a true and lasting connection to their learning. By deliberately emphasizing what they hold dear—the values they live every day—Curtis School was able to reassure existing families and attract the new ones who share those values.
Similarly, our work with Flint Hill School in Oakton, VA (a suburb of Washington, D.C.) resulted in a powerful and differentiating brand idea. Based on Flint Hill’s fervent belief that when teachers model an innovative mindset, students are inspired to take meaningful risks and blaze trails of their own, the admissions theme: “Blaze the trail” was born. This fit beautifully into the national conversation because, at the time, many schools in Northern Virginia and the D.C. area were struggling to bring learning online for their students. But Flint Hill didn’t miss a beat and created programming that could be used by families whose schools weren’t as nimble. They dug deeply into their value, Blaze the trail, to model for schools (and students) what it means to imagine what’s possible and innovate.
Don’t be afraid to dive directly into the social fabric conversations that every family is having—that’s how you stay in touch and relevant. Instead, show families how you’re brave, vulnerable, or both by directly addressing the topics that concern them, how your values drive and differentiate your school, and how your values translate to benefits for students.
2. Going Exclusively Digital is Not Advised
Print materials continue to feel valuable right now. A tactile sensation carries more weight, literally and therefore emotionally. While digital experiences like virtual campus tours, and the chance to hear from current parents and students, will also be critical to your success, something families can hold in their hands and—and revisit during admissions season—will help ensure the ideas that distinguish your school remain top-of-mind.
3. Make Everything a Visceral Experience for Families
This is not a time for same-old, same-old printed pieces! Your viewbook should offer families a visceral experience that reinforces your school’s brand, including what truly makes your education unique. Ideally, your viewbook at any time offers families a peek into what being a part of your community really feels like. That will continue to be important this season.
Hopefully by now schools understand that the viewbook, printed or digital, is not a place to list all of the classes, extra-curriculars, and details about their school. Instead it should be an experience that carries families away into the feeling of the school, your community, and your unique approach to education. Making the investment in a stand-out piece will pay off. So this is your chance to demonstrate to families—in a non-standard way—how your students experience deep learning, meaning, and a sense of connection.
When we worked with Chatham Hall in Chatham, Virginia to build their brand strategy and resulting admissions campaign, the admissions search piece we designed was anything but expected. Leveraging the Chatham Hall’s brand positioning as the school that celebrates each individual as they discover and activate their unique power, our admissions theme invites prospective students to “step into your power.” Our search piece builds on this messaging strategy by integrating a spin-wheel on the cover that entices readers to interact with the piece. As readers turn the wheel, the language changes from “step into your power” to “jump into your power” and “play into your power” with corresponding imagery that highlights the many ways Chatham Hall students express their uniqueness.
So don’t just come up with something gimmicky to get attention. Think creatively about what you can offer families that will help them feel how special your school really is.
Director of Education Strategy Romayne Levee leads our education practice, working with independent schools and educational organizations to raise their profiles with strategies that benefit school leaders and their communities immeasurably. She has developed dynamic strategic plans and brand strategies for Mission Minded clients from coast to coast, including San Francisco Day School, Friends School of Baltimore, and Marlborough School (LA). Romayne is the founding Board Chair of Vistamar School, an independent high school in LA, and currently serves on the Board of Lewis & Clark College.
Whether or not you hire Mission Minded, we’re here to help. From nonprofit brand strategy best practices to tactical tips for digital and fundraising campaigns, you’ll find inspiration and resources on the Mission Minded blog.
Comment to let us know what you learn here that you put into action!