Donovan Group Insights

School District Marketing 101: Why?

For many businesses, the purpose of marketing is very clear: to create messages that persuade consumers to purchase their products or services. But school districts don’t function like regular businesses. Their goal isn’t to turn a profit or increase their sales—it’s to educate children. And for that reason, district leaders may see little reason to invest in marketing.

Marketing does way more than convince consumers to buy a product or service. You may not realize it, but marketing is critical to the success of your school district. A comprehensive marketing plan can help your district in a multitude of ways, from gaining stakeholders’ trust to establishing your district’s brand in the public eye.

Let’s explore the many reasons why your district needs to step up its marketing efforts.

Define the District’s Brand Identity

You know what your district is all about. You have a good understanding of its mission, values and overall purpose. However, your stakeholders might not know all this. Marketing can take what you know about the district’s identity and project it out into the world. Stakeholders need a clear picture of your district’s brand so they know what makes it unique compared to neighboring districts. Establishing your district’s brand in the public eye can also get stakeholders on the same page about district standards and expectations.

Let’s look at a specific scenario. Many district leaders have dealt with parents who’ve expressed their disapproval about how the district handles bullying and harassment in the schools. Their disapproval often stems from not knowing the district’s values about bullying or what you’re doing to address the problem. Marketing can make it clear that your district doesn’t tolerate bullying and that you seek to promote a kind, uplifting environment for students.

Your district’s brand identity should be present in all its marketing materials. Whether you’re designing a webpage, writing an email or posting on social media, the content should remain consistent with your district’s values and mission statement. Stakeholders should view these marketing materials and get a clear idea of what your district stands for.

Bring in New Students and Job Candidates

A solid marketing plan has the power to draw prospective stakeholders toward your district. Marketing increases visibility outside the usual bubble of teachers, students, staff and other current stakeholders. It can strengthen your district’s presence on multiple channels, whether that’s digitally or through print mediums. Your district has to appear on people’s radars if you want to expand the current school community.

For example, school district marketing plays a big role in bringing new students to your schools. Marketing is your opportunity to show what parents and their children love about the district. You’re competing with other districts, so be sure to highlight characteristics that’ll help your district stand out. That way, parents will remember your district when it’s time to enroll their children.

Marketing can also help you attract job candidates. Your district will need to post job advertisements for open staff and teaching positions. What’s even more important than attracting candidates is attracting the right kinds of candidates. Use marketing materials to let applicants know you want someone who aligns with the district’s core values. You don’t just want someone who’s qualified for the job. You want someone who will uphold the district’s brand.

Keep in mind that marketing works differently for current and prospective stakeholders. To draw in new people, you have to meet them where they are. Release marketing messages where people outside your school community are most likely to see them. They probably don’t know too much about your district, so focus on messages that would make them want to join your community.

Shape Public Opinion of the District

Marketing can improve how people view your district. There’s often a disconnect between how school leaders want to portray their district and how stakeholders actually perceive it. A strong marketing campaign can ensure the district’s image remains consistent across teachers, students, administrators, parents and community members. But more importantly, marketing ensures that image is a positive one.

Let’s say people are upset because a group of students vandalized school property. They’re saying the district’s standards are too low and that students can get away with anything. The way you see it, this isn’t true at all. When negative news circulates about your district, marketing can help reiterate the district’s core values and explain what you’re doing to prevent future incidents.

To change public opinion for the better, create marketing materials that highlight the great things happening in your school community. Your marketing team could write a spotlight piece about a different teacher every week. On social media, you could share photos from recent fundraisers, open houses or awards banquets. Those little moments add up to form your district’s reputation.

Keep Current Stakeholders in the Loop

Marketing can also be purely informative. Stakeholders want to stay informed about big decisions and the district’s plans for the future. More often than not, too much communication is better than too little. Keeping stakeholders in the loop can win their trust and help them feel appreciated.

For instance, maybe the school board has decided to increase mental health awareness. Marketing can help you be more transparent about what the district is doing to boost awareness surrounding the mental health challenges students may face. Tell stakeholders about the programs and resources you’re implementing at the schools. Invite families to PTO meetings so you can listen to their feedback about the district’s efforts.

When you want to share updates with stakeholders, make sure your message is published on the appropriate channels. Ask yourself, “Who am I talking to? Which channels do they use the most?” The message has to be timely, too. Announcing a policy that went into effect weeks ago isn’t very helpful! Stakeholders want to be informed about important decisions well in advance.

Turn the Community into a Powerful Ally

Community support is critical to district success. There will come a day when you need the community to stand in your corner. The public’s perception of your district can change over time, so winning their support has to be an ongoing effort. Marketing can show stakeholders why your district is worthy of their support.

Let’s say your district has put a referendum on the upcoming ballot. You don’t want the referendum to pass with 51 percent approval. You want it to pass with a resounding “yes.” You need to start garnering support for the referendum long before election day. In the months leading up to it, send out marketing materials that educate community members about the referendum and how it would benefit the schools.

Outside of election years, marketing can secure the community’s support on a day-to-day basis. Use marketing materials to communicate how your district is addressing issues that are important to stakeholders. Invite them to take part in the decision-making process so they feel like their voices are being heard. Show stakeholders the same trust and respect you want in return.

There’s no limit to what you can gain from school district marketing. It’s an essential tool for drawing in new students, shaping the district’s reputation and gaining the community’s support. Whatever challenge your district is currently facing, marketing is sure to be part of the solution. Devoting time and energy to your district’s marketing efforts can lead to immeasurable benefits now and in the future.

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