As education marketers, we can be tempted to think that our brand presence, local advertisements, and billboards do a lot of the heavy lifting for us to get families and students over the line. And while it all plays its part, a great marketer knows that hearts are really won over through active engagement rather than passive advertising. While it’s true that a garden that has not been watered will yield less fruit, the same is true for a community that has not been invested in – it will yield less enrolments from its marketing efforts.
It is important that we take up our role as living and contributing members of our communities, rather than institutions with closed doors and a message to push. If you invest in your local community correctly, you will become:
- A school that shapes the long-term economics of your local community by increasing local real estate demand and local business.
- A school that is connected to the heart of our communities and able to build long-term partnerships.
- A school that is a valuable contributor to its community, a giver rather than a taker, and one that locals will advocate for.
- The go-to school of choice for your area.
Community engagement has long-term benefits that will secure the viability of your College and is an especially important part of your marketing strategy. Let us look at a few ways you can start to engage your local community.
Engage local business by taking up sponsorship opportunities, participating in their events and negotiating signage and brand presence. Investing directly in local business engagement opportunities can often be more cost-effective than other advertising platforms and often provides more direct engagement opportunities.
Get involved with community organisations such as local sports clubs, churches, youth groups and holiday programs. Again, look for ways where you can participate in their programs rather than just having your logo on their wall.
Spend some time with your team (and parents) to identify key influencers in your local community. These may include local real estate agents, political figures, community advocates and pastors. Build meaningful connections with these people and start to involve them in your community events.
Events such as Fete’s and Fairs reach far beyond immediate prospective families and are a great way to connect current parents with the local community and to give back. Be strategic about getting the local community involved in your event by inviting local community members onto the planning committee, sending invitations to local sporting groups, businesses and organisations, and including them in your entertainment program for the day. While growing enrolments will be one of your strategies for the day, the feel-good message from the day will make your event a local highlight that the community looks forward to each year.
So many schools have state of the art facilities that can be used strategically to engage the community. I’ve seen many schools open up their facilities to their communities through public access to after hour gyms, hosting local events such as chamber of commerce meetings, community vegetable gardens and venue and facilities hire and sports coaching.
The world of social media has opened up increased access to local community forums. Look for opportunities through local web pages and community based social media groups where you can get involved in the discussion.
Now that we are engaging our local community, it is important that we have an intentional strategy to drive enrolments This can be done through:
- Your Outdoor Presence – Ongoing local presence is particularly important (we don’t want to hear any more of the cringe worthy comments “I didn’t even know there was a school here”). My favourite way of maintaining presence is through the use of great campus signage, outdoor signage and flagpole banners.
- Leaflet Drops may be an oldie, but it is a goodie. They are very effective in driving local awareness, especially when following our formula for success.
- Referral incentives are a great way to leverage members of the community for mutual benefit. Try to build referral schemes with people of influence such as local real estate agents and businesses that work with families and children.
- Local childcare centres and mums and bubs groups present a great opportunity to hold evening events on the transition to Primary school.
- Driving people through your Digital “Funnel” is a huge strategy that will help you to catch any community members that are looking for a school.
Community engagement that is done correctly will secure the long-term viability of your school. It may be daunting to start, and it takes so much more than the marketing department putting aside an hour a week (see my video on how to grow your marketing team), but your College will flourish in every direction because of it.