Your open house marketing plan is as important as the event itself. Today, prospective families have plenty of ways to learn about your school. Use them all to promote your open house.

In a previous post, we tackled the admissions open house itself to strategically and creatively breathe new life into this crucial admissions event. Here we offer innovative ways to market your open house to ensure that your event is packed with prospects who are excited about learning more.

Market to your families first.

Your internal audience of parents, students and faculty/staff are the best ambassadors to market your open house event. Tell them first, and when the event has finished, be sure to publicly (and personally, of course) thank any volunteers for their role in the event. Share the news with:

  • An email to all your faculty and staff with information and images/language for them to promote on their social media, if they choose:
  • Printed event postcard in every faculty/staff mailbox
  • Promotion in weekly emails
  • Email and/or printed invite to all alumni who live in your area.

Use incentives to encourage promotion — it’s fun for your internal audience and it’s a great way to track your leads. Purchase a block of tickets at a local movie theater or other venue (you can buy blocks of tickets online for less than at the box office) or valuable discounts to local restaurants. Hold a drawing at the open house event. How?

  1. Distribute multiple open house business-style cards to all parents, students, faculty/staff that explain the drawing and prize.
  2. They print their name on the card and give it to prospective families who attend. The family also writes their name on the card, which is submitted at the open house.
  3. Hold the drawing with both the prospective family and your school representative as winners on the selected card(s).

Go digital to spread the word.

Digital marketing is an incredibly effective way to raise awareness of your admissions event, to garner excitement for it and register attendees.

  • Create digital ads for the event, which are more effective than print.
  • Create a custom landing page with a unique URL for the event. You can track the effectiveness of your marketing this way. For Landing Page 101 ideas, click here.
  • Create a Facebook Event and promote it with an ad to get out the message. Include your custom landing page in the description along with a call to action telling viewers they must sign up to officially register.
  • Promote the event via a series of Facebook Live videos. Go live once a week for four weeks, each week prior to the open house. Use families, students and staff to speak about the event. Turn the Facebook Live into an ad 24 hours after it’s shown to keep the engagement rolling.
  • Create a series of Facebook and Instagram video and still image ads four to six weeks before the open house to boost awareness of the event and drive viewers to your custom landing page. Video ads should include current students inviting their peers to attend. Be sure to post it on Instagram — that’s where younger people mostly interact.
  • Use Facebook and Instagram Stories to promote the event. Stories have become extremely popular and are a great way to “spread the word.”
  • Schedule ads on Twitter if you are a regular user of the platform. But don’t spend too many dollars on these ads if you presently get little organic action. Save a majority of your dollars for Facebook and Instagram.
  • Ask current students to promote the event on Snapchat. Ads on the platform are very expensive, so the next best thing is to have your student ambassadors spread the word on this highly engaging site, used mostly by teens, with their personal Snapchat stories. Consider offering an incentive for students to follow through with this strategy and give them ideas to use in their stories.
  • Use Google AdWords for keyword search and display ads. However, to do this, we suggest going to an expert, as these types of ads may not get you the results you want if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing. Consider launching these ads at a minimum of two to three months before your open house to gain traction and position on Google.

Digital ad-savvy advice:

  • Use eye-popping images and fun video that highlight the value of your school’s education.
  • In the ad copy, offer a compelling reason that encourages prospects to register. Consider why your school should matter to prospective families, and how it can resolve a “pain point” they’ve encountered in searching for a school for their child.
  • Always include a call-to-action in the copy: Register here! or Register today!
  • If you create video for Facebook, you’ll need to optimize it to fit Instagram’s required video parameters. Test 15 seconds of video vs. 30 seconds of video to see what works best. In most cases :15 video is the optimal choice for success.
  • Carousel ads are a great way to incorporate multiple images and messages that speak to various people’s needs.

Take advantage of your Digital Ambassador program to promote it. Don’t have one yet? Use our tips to set up one.

Data is key.

Keep the online sign-up form in your custom landing page brief. This is not the time to ask about favorite books. Ask for:

  • Parent(s) name
  • Phone number and primary email
  • Name of child and age
  • Number attending

For walk-ins, capture information on an iPad or laptop, not a clipboard and piece of paper.

Old-school marketing tactics still work.

Don’t overlook the tried-and-true techniques to announce your event.

Outdoor signage — a banner, lawn signs, etc. — are very effective and inexpensive. Just make sure every sign, ad or social media post uses the same imagery and URL.

Send invitations/flyers to your feeder schools and ask them to share with their families.

And don’t forget to ask your local coffee shop if you can use the community bulletin board to display information. People read these boards.

Keep everyone on message.

Make sure your faculty, staff and current student and parent volunteers have talking points for the event. Yes, you want authentic conversations, but you also want your message to be shared. Make sure your volunteers have basic facts about the program you are highlighting.

Encourage volunteers to go “off script” by thinking ahead of time about what they want to share with prospects about their own experience. For parent volunteers, ask them to articulate why their son or daughter is thriving at your school. Ask student volunteers to be ready to talk about a favorite class or experience around your theme or brand. (If your school’s program centers on project-based learning, have students gather ahead of time to be ready to talk about a project they loved.)

It’s not over when it’s over.

What’s in the hands of people leaving your event? Yes, admissions materials, a list of contacts for the admissions office, upcoming events, how to schedule a shadow day, etc.

But what about:

  • A branded bag (think grocery bag) to carry it home in — and use over and over to remind them of your school?
  • The contact information for the parent volunteers they met to ask the kind of follow-up questions they might not want to ask admissions staff?
  • Swag! Spirit wear, a car magnet, water bottle, etc.?

Have your follow-up plan ready (in marketing vernacular, this is your drip campaign). The exact steps you take will depend upon your school’s culture, but we recommend the following:

Within the next few days, write a handwritten thank-you note to every student who attended.

Ask the volunteers who attend to write them as well to the families with whom they connected.  (TIP: ask your volunteers to write their initials by names on the registration list immediately following the event while new names and connections are fresh.)

Of course, send handwritten thanks to all your volunteers, too, and anyone who was listed by a prospect as recommending the school (and, if you have the budget, send something like a gift card to a coffee shop).

Send an email a week later with a downloadable (free) PDF about a topic of interest to prospects. Keep it short (3-4 pages) and include images and photos. Maybe it’s the “Top 5 Things that Make Your School Great” with choices and quotes from five people across your community; or it could be a roundup of young alumni doing great things under the title “How Our Students Change the World.” Again, you want to show how your school is distinctive.

Follow that up with a letter from your head of school inviting them to shadow or attend another event.

The goal is to inspire individual visits, tours and shadow days, which lead to applications and, hopefully, an enrollment contract. For many families, it starts with a great first impression and connection at the open house.

How will you make your best impression? We can help. Contact Kalix Marketing.

Sarah Achenbach is communications lead at Kalix Marketing. She has nearly three decades of experience in communications and advancement at independent schools and universities.

Missed Part 1 of this series? Click here!

Rethinking Your Admissions Open House – Part 1