It’s back to school time, and many forward-thinking, well-run independent schools are implementing highly coordinated, strategically directed admissions engagement and marketing strategies to target prospective families and students. Budgets have been set. Digital marketing goals and objectives have been clearly articulated. And defining the school’s value proposition to the target audiences is well underway.

External and internal threats to your marketing strategy.

Today’s independent schools are complex educational ecosystems that need to be run with the shrewdest of for-profit best practices combined with a deep respect for the mission of educating children. And these ecosystems face numerous external and internal threats.

Externally, stronger public schools in some markets, charter schools and the ever-rising cost of tuition have greatly influenced parents to choose the alternative over an independent school for their children’s education. Internally, the biggest threats to a school’s success are poor financial stewardship (both professional and Board leadership) and a lack of a robust marketing budget.

Why make the investment?

There are those school leaders who understand the need to invest in a combination of market research, brand positioning, digital marketing and ongoing awareness advertising. They also get that a typical admissions engagement funnel won’t simply fill itself and that their job is to continuously invite families into the funnel.

Then, there are schools that simply can’t afford to make the investment in the foundational marketing that is so critical to success. They seem perplexed that the “If we build it (the “it” being a good school), they will come” mentality simply no longer works. Often, these schools have totally overlooked the need for a strategic marketing investment as a necessity to not only grow but ultimately to survive.

Over the past seven years, I’ve counseled a wide variety of school heads, directors of admission, communications and marketing and board chairs. As a passionate supporter of our nation’s independent schools, I’m always troubled when school leaders tell me that they are facing an enrollment crisis. Then they tell me that their entire marketing budget is only $20,000 to $30,000.

Investing in a “new” strategic approach

Filling the admissions funnel with qualified, interested prospective families – and seeing them through application and admittance – requires a multi-year, strategic marketing strategy that is supported by a healthy budget with annual increases. Schools that simply won’t, or can’t, make a commitment to the highest standards of marketing innovation, combined with outstanding fiscal stewardship, sadly run the risk of going out of business.

This time of year always marks a new beginning for those of us who work in the educational arena. What will your new beginning be this year? And what could you accomplish for your school if you had the budget?