4 Ways Principals Can Protect Enrolments

4 Ways Principals Can Protect Enrolments

The COVID-19 virus has certainly raised a few challenges for schools around the world with the need to quickly adapt to online learning. While Australian schools have shown incredible resilience and leadership during this time with the quick transition to online learning, school leadership teams are finding the need to shift their focus to protecting their current enrolments and ensuring that families stay with them for the long haul.
School Principals are asking what the long-term effects are going to be for their enrolments, how families will be financially affected and what they can do amidst the challenge. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already said that our social adjustments are going to be in place (to some extent) for at least six months and public schools have committed the first five weeks of Term 2 2020 to online learning.

What can be done to ensure the long-term health of our school? The first tool we have at our disposal is communication. Open, honest and regular communication is going to ease the tension that parents feel in this time and steer your school community through the crisis.

Open and honest communication

The first thing that Principals can do is ensure they have the infrastructure needed to keep communication channels open between parents and staff. Parents are primarily concerned with the impact that this is going to have on their child’s educational outcomes. As leaders, we need to show them that we have a plan and that we are thinking proactively for the benefit of our students.

Give parents a forum to raise their questions and concerns. It’s important that we have two-way communication happening over this time and that we are not just pushing out content to families, but that we are providing a platform for them to talk back and ask their questions. I advise school Principals to open every avenue of communication for the parents, including email, social media, proactive phone calls and having office staff available to answer calls throughout the day. I can’t tell you how many school offices are closed during this time.

What do we need to communicate? While updates on learning arrangements are important, it is also vital that we communicate how you are leading in this time and that your offering differentiating value above your competitors.

Communicate differentiating value

Differentiating value comprises of the resources, educational programs and infrastructure that is going to make your school’s online learning program stand out heads above the rest. Communicate how your school is providing additional value to that of state schools. State schools’ parents are especially concerned because state schools don’t have the budget necessary or the individual allocation to support students to the level that’s required. It’s time to show that independent schools are leading the way for the best student outcomes. This can be done through blog posts and articles that give families a look behind the scenes at how you are providing additional value. We need to show that our private school fees are going towards the infrastructure and teacher access that’s required to positively impact our student’s outcomes.

The first place to start on excellent delivery is our online learning experience. What does online educational excellence look like?

Provide an excellent online learning experience

Our online learning program is the main platform that going to set us apart during the next few months because schools cannot rely on their facilities to sell their school. To me, a great learning platform experience includes direct access to teaching staff, functionality like live chat where students can ask their questions to the teacher at any point during the day, synchronous content where staff are providing live lessons in a classroom like environment, and value add asynchronous content that also provides teachers the opportunity to have some down time and prepare for their lessons.

While we are focusing our attention on students and online learning, it’s important that we don’t forget to support parents in their role. Parents are asking for resources to help them educate their child from home. Provide resources, such as information sheets and videos from teachers, to grow their confidence and clarity on how they can help their child.

Resources and clear communication are a great help for families, but practical help is going to be needed for some families to stay with you for the long-haul. The COVID-19 virus is going to have a long-term economic impact on our families and while they are committed to their private school education, we may need to make some short-term accommodations for them.

Flexible fees

I would encourage schools to reward the loyalty of their current families by pausing fee increases for next year. We also need to make it clear to our families that we are open to the discussion when it comes to fee concessions, and that this is done in an honourable way and on an individual basis with each family. Openly communicate your desire to keep that family for the long-term and that you are willing to make short-term concessions to keep that family.

While the COVID-19 virus has certainly brought some challenges for our colleges, it is also an opportunity for innovation, creative thinking and team building. We’ll soon find that we have come out of this crisis stronger and clearer than ever before.

School Growth During COVID-19

School Growth During COVID-19

As Australia looks for a responsible response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), including restricting mass gatherings and reducing individual contact, many schools are looking to reduce their unnecessary gatherings and have cancelled their promotional events, such as open mornings and group tours. Many school marketers have shifted their attention to communication responsibilities to keep current families up-to-date with protection measures and date changes.

This will put enormous pressure on our marketing departments in the second-half of the year, when we find the need to catch up on lower than usual enquiry and enrolment numbers for 2021.

The current question for school marketers should be, ‘How can we keep the momentum going while having COVID-19 protection measures in place?’

We are working on strategies with our clients to maintain their school growth and have included a few recommendations to help you maintain yours:

  • Do not pull-back on your brand presence. If national isolation measures are implemented, our target audience will look to media for their social connection and the use of the internet and social media will soar. Think about ways you can increase your presence on social media and push out brand-defining content using video.
  • Try to find a replacement for families that would have attended your open event. This can include creating online Information sessions using webinar software. The focus of these online information sessions will shift from your facilities to your differentiating teaching practices, which as been shown to sell schools better than facilities in any case.
  • For many schools, it is uncertain when they will be able to reschedule their open events. Despite the date uncertainty, we advise our clients to build their audiences with remarketing lists so that when replacements events are announced, they have a warm audience ready to go for targeting.

This season has put a large amount of pressure on school marcomms departments. Through all the busyness, take the time to look after yourself and stay well through this season.

Virtual Open Events For Schools

Virtual Open Events For Schools

As a school marketer, you may be on the fence about how to respond in our current climate, deciding if you should wait it out or offer a virtual open day. There is no doubt that virtual open events are new for our schools, but as we’ve embraced the change for our clients, we’ve seen some fantastic results. The feedback has been that parents are asking a lot of different questions on their tours, that conversations are more relaxed and parents are focusing on what you are saying to them. Most importantly, parents feel they can still put in an enrolment application after having met so personally with the team.

A virtual open event can be run at a specific date and time or made available on demand. It provides you the opportunity to create an online experience with additional options, such as live or recorded presentations, a video gallery, live chat, and a resource download portal. Parents can choose the content they engage with and individual connection is encouraged with live chat. Virus or no virus, these are great tools that we can use to engage our families.

Our schools have built online experiences that will continue to be used when the COVID-19 crisis is over, as a warm-up to in-person tours and a tool to engage interstate families and boarding students.

Visit our ‘Virtual Open Events’ page for ideas on what your virtual open event could look like.

Building Your School’s Marketing Team

Building Your School’s Marketing Team

What does your school’s dream marketing team look like? In our quest to build our marketing capabilities, you may ask the question, ‘Should we try to cover areas such as website management, SEO and digital advertising in-house?’ The answer to this question really depends on the skills of your team and your school’s long-term goals. 

In a world with ever-expanding digital opportunities (and consumer expectations), it takes an ever-increasing amount of time to keep up with it all. We’ve gone from managing one school Facebook page to a world that includes so much more. Our digital marketing needs for schools have grown.

Great leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and have a plan of how they are going to achieve their marketing goals with their current team and capacity. In this article, we will try and help you make decisions about how you can cover your digital marketing needs using the skills and resources available to you. 

Shouldn’t Our Marketing Person Cover It All?

Often there’s the perception that once a school has hired a marketing team member that all their marketing needs are covered. Have you ever been called the school photographer, or been asked to arrange a parent get-together all in the name of marketing? Similarly, it can be an expectation that school marketers will do it all, from writing copy to taking photographs, event management, website editing, and digital marketing media buying on Facebook and Google Ads. Not to mention the day you spend trying to fix your SEO. We’re always learning as marketers, and while we can cover some of these areas to the best of our ability, we also need to realise when we may be hindering our schools’ growth by trying to do it all ourselves.

Once we have a clear understanding of what we can bring to the marketing department, we then need a plan on how to cover the areas outside of our remit. And the question remains, ‘Do we cover it in-house or outsource?’

Covering Digital Marketing In-House

Building an in-house team may sound like a dream come true and a few schools have afforded the opportunity to have most of their marketing needs covered in-house. Digital marketing is one of those areas where a qualified professional is needed for the role. If your school is looking to hire an in-house digital marketer to add to your team, there are a few considerations to bear in mind:

  • Great digital markers typically come with a price tag (expect to pay around $80,000 plus).
  • They’re hard to retain because of the demand for skills in this area.
  • They will have their own specialisation and you will have to work with each new hire according to their strengths to ensure you hire according to your biggest needs.

Having an in-house digital marketer on your team can be a huge advantage, however, it is not always possible to do so. Hiring a digital agency may be the next best step to ensure your school is proactively promoting through digital mediums.

Engaging an Agency to Join Your Team

So, what are the tell-tale signs indicating that it’s time to outsource to a digital agency?

  • Your digital projects keep being skipped on your list of things to do and you find yourself stuck in the day-to-day of the role rather than on your marketing.
  • You have a great strategy in place but rarely follow it or often find yourself off track.
  • You’ve had a brilliant marketing idea sitting on the ‘we should really do that’ pile for more than six months.
  • Certain issues within your marketing are starting to bottleneck the success of your overall campaigns, such as an outdated website or poor SEO.

An agency may be able to help you start to tick off some of this work. There are several advantages to hiring an agency:

  • Digital agencies will be able to offer you a wide variety of skills within their team for much less than the cost of hiring a marketing professional.
  • You’ll pay for a desired outcome and if that outcome isn’t met, you can choose a new agency. 
  • They’ll offer you flexibility and the ability to respond to market needs. For example, you could switch from SEO to digital advertising for a season, rather than being restricted to the abilities of your team.
  • You can save money by hiring an agency for what is needed, instead of employing a digital marketer and paying a salary. Time training a new employee is also saved as the experts are already prepared and ready to help you.

Whether you choose to go in-house or outsource, it is important to first identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team and the goals of your school, so that you can clarify what it is you need from a digital marketer. You will likely need to outsource at least some elements of the technical digital strategy to take full advantage of new technologies, so having a clear plan as to what you want to achieve and a budget, will help you find the right digital marketer or agency to fit your team.

Questions regarding this article? Please email me at mara@robertsdigital.com.au
Branding vs Call to Action Campaigns

Branding vs Call to Action Campaigns

Have you ever felt that you’re not getting the results you have been working so hard for? It’s like there’s an invisible barrier pushing back at you every time you advertise your open events or tour bookings? After all the effort, the photo shoots, the design and picking the best ad placements, you’re left with a handful of mildly interested families; NOT the result you were expecting.


I have the privilege of working with a variety of schools and the thing that always surprises me is that many of them are implementing similar strategies with the same amount of budget, but their results are vastly different. I love working with schools to uncover the missing link, and today we’ll explore how the right balance between branding and ‘call-to-action’ campaigns could be your solution for better marketing results. 


Branding is incredibly important. When I used to work in a school, I would often say that ‘it doesn’t matter if everyone knows about us if they don’t like us’. If parents are overlooking your school because of the perception they have about you, your ‘visit our open morning’ messages are going to fall on deaf ears. Schools can usually suspect branding issues if they’re consistently experiencing low performing ads. 

When asked, ‘What makes your school unique?’, many schools give a surprisingly similar answer. The key to answering this question is to dig deep and identify the uniqueness of who you are, what you do and how you do it in a way that appeals to your target market.

Now that we know how important branding is, how do we implement a branding campaign? Branding campaigns are usually targeted towards a broad audience, are distributed on mass and use mediums, such as radio, billboards and magazines. Every element of your campaign from the location, text and images, communicates a singular clear and distinguishing message to your audience that is complimented on your campus and website. 

Call-to-action (CTA)

Call-to-action campaigns request an immediate action in response to your advertisement. They are suited especially well to digital marketing mediums (banner ads, Google Search or Display advertising and Facebook ads) because they are so measurable for actions taken within 30 days (a 30-day attribution). However, local campaigns, such as leaflet drops and magazine ads, also do well. 

Common CTA messages for schools include ‘book for our opening morning’, ‘tour our college’, or ‘download our prospectus’ etc.

A successful CTA campaign requires a strong brand foundation and should not be over used or go too far ahead of your brand.

How branding and CTA campaigns work together

I often use the analogy of sowing and harvesting when it comes to marketing. Branding campaigns help you to build awareness and prepare your audience for action (sowing), while CTA campaigns lead your market to take action towards enrolment (harvesting). Many schools make the mistake of only sowing (they are big on their brand) and others only harvesting (appearing salesy and abrasive).

The beauty of CTA campaigns is that they are so measurable and because of that they get a lot of the credit for growing your school, but the truth of it is that your brand has actually done a lot of the heavy lifting to ensure that people care and take notice in the first place.

Common pitfalls to avoid

I often see schools advertising CTA campaigns on mediums more suited to branding. An example would be an open event advertised on a billboard. Often schools are disappointed with the result achieved with this strategy and they may have lost out on the opportunity to broaden their market appeal.

Many school mail outs have way too much information on them and no singular/clear CTA. You have 3 seconds to grab someone’s attention on a flyer before it lands in the bin and they aren’t going to read through your copy to find out why they should care.

Headlines on landing pages and brochures etc should be outcomes focused. Instead of having the headline ‘XYZ Open Morning’, rather say something like ‘Your chance to join our life-changing community has arrived’.

Establish your brand and achieve results

When you start to work through your marketing budget, ensure you’re allocating a reasonable amount towards branding. You may not see immediate results, such as a specific number of enrolments, but you’ll be setting the school up for long-term success. Create a platform, build a brand image and you’ll see consistent results in the long run. 

GDPR Data Protection For Schools

GDPR Data Protection For Schools

Schools marketers are feeling the tension with the GDPR changes coming into effect on 25 May 2018 and in this article, I work through practical data protection for schools. Before I get into it, take note that Australian Schools can take a deep breath because legally speaking it only applies if you are controlling or processing any data of people in the EU and UK. Practically though, we should be taking every measure possible to ensure that we are looking after our parents and prospects data and empowering people to choose how their data is used. Global online marketing is moving towards increased protection and transparency and it’s good practice to get ahead of the game.

Remember to join the discussion in the  Marketing Mastery For Schools Facebook Group.

I’ve covered the key areas that require attention including your email marketing, website and pay-per-click advertising:

Email marketing


  • Don’t subscribe people to a list they didn’t opt-in for: If people are opting in to receive a free resource but you intend to add them onto your marketing list to receive regular updates, then you should add a tick box where they can expressly opt-in to receive regular updates. See the example below (thanks to Active Campaign):
  • Having a link to yourprivacy statement in your website’s footer isn’t enough, you should also have it available at the bottom of the form at the point of sign up (see the example above).
  • Don’t use pre-ticked boxes, the user has to actually tick any form boxes themselves.
  • Opt-out as a means of subscribing people to your list is a no-no. For example, don’t say: “if you would rather not receive emails from us tick the box to opt-out.” There should rather always be a positive affirmative action taken by the user.
  • Always have an unsubscribe link in every bulk email (yes, even if the email to parents).
  • Don’t send bulk emails from your personal email account – they’ll have poor deliverability and don’t provide the option for people to opt-out.
  • Be careful about sharing email address and parent details with others – including parent volunteers and business that may want to contact your parents.
  • Don’t continue to email people that have unsubscribed from your list.
  • Remove people that have been inactive in your email list for the past 5 years.


Facebook and Google Advertising

If you are using the Facebook pixel you can continue to do so with a few precautions:

  • Make sure you have pixel policy within your Privacy policy linked in the footer of your website.
  • Use ‘lookalike’ audiences very cautiously. Technically speaking, the base data that is used o create a lookalike audience can only be used if there is express consent specifically for creating lookalike audiences. This is a grey area for the online marketing industry that needs further clarification.


Website Compliance

  • If you are using the Facebook Pixel or retargeting website visitors, have a header or footer bar that gives people the opportunity to expressly consent to their data being used. See the example below (thanks to Google).
  • Make sure that your remarketing platform (Facebook or Google) is set up to only retarget to people that consented. A useful guideline on how this can be done can be found here.
  • Make sure you have a privacy statement in the footer of your website (or visible on every page of your website) detailing which data you collect and how you intend on using that data.


Practical Application

  • Train Staff in data protection habits. Generally, they should not:
    o Take files containing personal information home
    o Download customers files to their personal pcs or delete any files directly after they are used.
    o Bulk email parents from their email address..
  • Make sure that any agencies that have access to your data are GDPR compliant as data processors. Give them the GDPR checklist that they should comply with. DO NOT use agencies that setup advertising outside of our ad accounts that you own and control.
  • Software that you use should also be GDPR compliant as they are considered data processor or owners. There is not yet a ‘certificate’ for GDPR compliance, but many of the large companies have issued GDPR compliance statements that you should look out for.

I’ve prepared a downloadable checklist for you to give to staff, suppliers and agencies; accessible in the marketing toolkit below.

I hope that this guide helps you put your mind at rest about GDPR compliance and also helps you take practical steps in protecting your data and community!