If you’ve heard me speak this year, you’ve likely heard me touting some disappointing statistics that show declining demographics for private school admission. Not only are private schools, in general, seeing slight decreases, but boarding schools, in particular, are seeing some substantial losses, to the tune of 400 students a year. That’s the equivalent of about 15 million dollars in lost net tuition revenue, according to stats from the folks at TABS/NABI.
That doesn’t mean days schools are in the clear, either. Yes, many day schools have managed to infiltrate markets that were previously dominated by boarding schools, growing their target audiences. However, it’s important for day schools to realize that this wasn’t done in secret. In fact, boarding schools are coming back in full force to take back their students.
In this competitive market, no one is safe.
So what’s a school to do? Develop new target audiences. You have to go after the people who don’t know about you or even want to know about you. That means, convincing someone who wants nothing to do with you to start interacting with you. Easier said than done, I know. But it’s not impossible.
This is where a strong inbound marketing program can really help a school’s admission office shine and start being seen by folks who may never otherwise want to ever hear from you. Send out information into the world that will connect with your readers and make them trust you and want to work with you.
The catch is, you can’t talk to this new audience the way you normally would your current target audience. These new folks don’t want to talk to you about your school. But, you can find a new way to connect.
You’re essentially making a new friend.
Think about this in terms of how we tell children to make new friends. While some kids have no problem making friends with anyone and everyone, others need to be coaxed. You need to find common interests and hobbies, something to bond over. It may be a similar home life situation, being a new student at a new school together, or simply the fact that both children like to read books. But, you have to discover this shared passion.
That’s what schools need to do with these new target audiences they are trying to develop. Find a way to connect with your new parents and students by finding commonalities and engaging in a conversation. That may come in the form of sharing programs that you offer, naturally, but if they aren’t interested in private school, your programs will only go so far. So, that means, you have to talk to your audience about something that will be meaningful to them that doesn’t necessarily have to do with your school.
You could go with a general “applying to private school” type focus, but if they aren’t interested in private schools already, you’ll need to dig deeper. Topics like “how to get into a good college” will reach a wider range audience, and allows you to tout a variety of tactics, including how your school helps students get into college. But, a great way to connect with your families is to find a problem that you, the school, can help solve.
Solving a problem can help you build trust and loyalty.
I recently wrote a blog for Cheshire Academy that does exactly this. Wanting to help a new family solve a problem, I wrote a blog about bullying. I offered tips on what a family and student can do to combat bullying, ranging from the obvious seek help from a teacher, administrator or other professional, to the more brutally honest truth that sometimes, families need to consider switching schools. That’s where I can plug Cheshire Academy as a safe space for students to feel welcomed, where they can embrace who they are and follow their passions. Check it out.
It’s important to remember that this likely won’t be an instant friendship. Schools are going to have to prove themselves to their new friends, repeatedly. You have to build trust, show your expertise as a leader, and encourage your new friends to not just apply to private school, but apply to YOUR private school. And, it doesn’t stop there. You need to convince these families to invest a substantial amount of money in your private school.
The building of this relationship is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to start early and continue throughout the various stages of the relationship. Think about the topics that will be important to your target audience, before they even consider applying to you, and what information and advice they will need throughout their journey.