The Role of the Head of School in Marketing


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What makes a marketing and communications office most effective? Solid organizational structure and strong leadership from the top. But unfortunately, many private schools fall short in the area and don’t even know it. 

One thing that the corporate world has learned and embraced, that many private schools have not, is the importance of marketing in its daily and strategic operations. At many top companies, marketing plays a primary role in leadership decisions, strategic planning and research and development. Launching a new product? Marketing is there to help determine if this venture is feasible and profitable. Thinking about changing the look of the brand? Marketing is heading up research and testing to see how the consumer audience will respond.

At schools, this usually isn’t the case, and marketing is brought in only to produce collateral rather than plan if and how a strategic endeavor will take place. And, marketing often is viewed as the servant of the leadership team, sometimes not even reporting to the head of the school, receiving their assignments from one department, despite needing to serve several. It’s not always the best organizational structure.

The most effective marketing and communications offices are usually those who report directly to the head of school and are intimately involved with all offices as a true partner, a shared stakeholder with some skin in the game. But all too often, marketing offices report to development or admission, which can be a challenge that limits their effectiveness in serving the full needs of the school. But, the reporting structure isn’t always viewed as a priority when it comes to school functionality. So, what do you do? The solution starts at the top.

The head of school needs to play a major role in promoting effective marketing and communications strategies, but that doesn’t mean he or she needs to be involved in the day to day aspects of the department. The relationship of the head of school and marketing director needs to be one of high-level strategic planning and support.

A Clear Vision for the School

You need to know where you’re going and what your objectives and goals are, which means there needs to be direction from the top. The head of school needs to have a clear vision for the school’s overall needs, and a school-wide strategic plan should clearly illustrate those 30,000-foot goals, with actionable steps to take to get there.

From this, a marketing plan that will support those goals can be generated. This approach allows for the creation of a long-term plan for growth in the marketing office and its initiatives, taking into consideration not only the production schedules, but also budgetary allowances and staffing requirements.

Adequate Resources for Marketing

The head of school and director of marketing should work together to closely evaluate the needs of the school against the needs of the marketing program to achieve those goals. That means, assessing current practices and funding resources, outsourcing allocations, staff competence and salary, and closely examining the ROI of major efforts. These findings serve as a vehicle for developing a long-term plan for growth and provide the structure needed to ensure the office is properly staffed both in terms of numbers and skills.

Taking this a step further, the head should conduct a full assessment of the school’s existing teams, not just marketing. Often, marketing tasks are actually completed by members of admission or development, many of whom aren’t trained in marketing best practices. This can range to running a Facebook page and updating website content to email marketing (any bulk email should be considered marketing), and even the managing of a magazine and writing of appeals and mass letters. This work takes away from the time that the staff has to develop personal relationships, which is crucial for converting an audience into donors and enrolled students. Reassigning those web, email marketing, magazine, social media, and print production duties back to marketing & communications. This allows the school to properly staff itself with marketing experts who can better advance the school’s initiatives.

Reinforcement and Support

A proper marketing and communications program will actually reduce the workload of other departments, if everyone follows the plan. In order to do this, the head of school needs to be a source of support and reinforcement. He needs to echo the same plan as the marketing office, provide reminders to administration, faculty, and staff, and make it known that change – even difficult change – is not only necessary but expected. The marketing team alone cannot be the driving force behind changes in marketing and communications operations.

Having a head of school who takes an active role in not only supporting but also promoting marketing policies and strategies makes all the difference in the world. Imagine a head of school who walks around every day, reciting taglines and mission statements, reminding school employees and even parents of these important aspects of brand development. This builds confidence in the brand, promotes word of mouth marketing and keeps catchy taglines on the tips of people’s tongues.

Have parents and faculty complained about not knowing what is happening on campus, despite sending them a weekly newsletter packed with information? What if your head of school’s instant response was, “Did you read the newsletter?” Having the constant support of the head of school in promoting the communications tools your school offers is one of the most effective ways you can set and manage the expectations of your constituents. In fact, at one day school in Massachusetts, the head of school played a major role in helping to increase readership of the weekly newsletter from less than 40% to nearly 80% in just one year! That’s right, the support of the head, whose response to every question and complaints about not knowing what was happening at school, helped drive constituents to actually read the weekly e-newletter. Not only did parents get on board and start reading, but also calls to the front office decreased, attendance at events increased and overall parent satisfaction grew. All this from one single newsletter that the head of school promoted at parent events, personal interactions and even on the sidelines of the soccer field.

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