Marketing a Good Independent School isn't the Same as Being a Good Independent School

Forging School Strategies Blog | September 11, 2014

Schools rightly and beneficially consult the best practices for operating a school developed over the years by NAIS, TABS and other organizations. However, just because a school builds and maintains itself according to those admirable standards doesn’t mean that it has done all that it needs to do to compete for new families. It hasn’t.

Of course any independent school is aware that it competes for enrollment with public, parochial and other private schools. Nonetheless, schools often get trapped in an independent school “bubble,” convincing themselves that, “If we operate as a good independent school is supposed to, the rest will take care of itself.” In your financial operations or your crisis management practices, yes. In your positioning and marketing, no, it’s not enough. Best practices within the independent school universe don’t address what your school needs to do to compete in your market.

For that you need to get beyond an independent-school mindset and get into the minds of the parents and students in your community. You need to look squarely at the options they have to consider, find out what they’re thinking and looking for, and then figure out your own “best practices” for competing for them.

Nor is marketing an independent school about marketing independent schools.

For example, we know of a school that, by virtue of the fact that it’s the only independent school in its region, was convinced that its marketing task was to explain the benefits and advantages of an independent school. But, to be certain, it decided to survey parents choosing schools for their children. Turns out, taking that tack would get the school exactly nowhere. Knowing about independent schools didn’t matter at all in parents’ decisions. The parents weren’t choosing a type of school; they were choosing a school.

Many of the qualities and programs that made that school a terrific independent school were what it needed to promote — not the fact that it was an independent school.