School budgets are under pressure; when it comes to securing funding for projects schools are having to look consider alternative income streams, and perhaps reconsider the value that their reputation holds and the worth of their status as an education provider. Marie Cahalane speaks to Ryan Green, CEO of Pebble, about what a school’s brand can do to attract people to invest – be that financially, or in terms of choosing to hire their premises
Tasked with delivering more with a budget that’s contracting, schools are, inevitably, having to hone their business acumen. The education sector has started to consider approaches and techniques previously confined to the business sector – approaches that those in school business management might not be so well acquainted with.
Setting out your project
One such is brand positioning. “Understanding what your value proposition is, how to articulate that – clearly – for the audience that your information is aimed at,” Ryan Green, CEO of Pebble, explains. Ryan’s not talking about internal stakeholders – teaching and support staff or governors – but, rather, how you articulate your vision – what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re trying to do it – to an external audience.
“One of the first things that we do when we work with a school is to ask them to tell us about their vision, what they’re trying to achieve at the school, why others should care and why the school matters. Why? Because, ultimately, purchasing decisions are never fully based on pricing, it’s also about empathy and how they can relate to an organisation,” Ryan says.
Due to the position schools hold in the community – as an education provider – they have an advantage over other organisations – they have the empathy-factor, or what is called a ‘value proposition’. There is a sense of altruism that comes with supporting a school that is attractive to consumers – it’s just a matter of articulating it.
The best way to do this, Ryan advises, is to take your vision, and rewrite it for an external audience – help them to understand why you do what you do. “This will help people engage and empathise with you,” Ryan counsels.
Make a case for your project
“If your vision is to improve the numeracy and literacy skills of children – well let’s tell people that! If we want to build tighter relationships between father and sons, because in our community we have a lot of broken homes, then let’s tell people about that. If we want to give children greater aspirations so that they understand that they have the ability to go to a Russell Group University then let’s articulate that!
A picture says a thousand words
Vision articulated, your next move must be to illustrate how you’re going to achieve this. Importantly you need to help people understand what your project will actually look like. Take the Russell Group University example, you want to encourage children to have greater aspirations by running an internal programme that builds self-confidence.
Make yourself a force to be reckoned with
Schools can’t compete on price when it comes to service provisions for various reasons – additional overheads, premises not being purpose built, quality and age of resources or equipment, etc. So, they must find their competitive edge and that, Ryan says, is the social impact that can be made by choosing to purchase or hire a facility from a school. “If you go and hire a facility from the Hilton, are you really going to be making a social impact?”
Ryan points to a report conducted by Cone Communications, which surveyed 10,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, the States, Canada and Brazil. The research found that 91% of consumers expect businesses to act responsibly and address issues, as well as making profits. Further, it revealed that one in two people don’t believe that companies are acting responsibly until they heat otherwise; 84% of consumers seek out responsible products where ever possible; nine out of 10 people would switch brands to another associated with a more social or environmental issue; 34% of people share positive information about businesses that address issues they care about on social media and that eight out 10 consumers will buy products from an unknown brand – if it has a strong social or environmental commitment.
“What we’re saying to schools is that consumer behaviour has changed in the last 20 years, people are more altruistic – they’re looking for products linked with social and environmental causes and that’s where schools have an exceptional lead over standard business organisations,” Ryan explains, adding that if schools harness this, they can sell anything.
At the moment, Ryan says that schools are not using, or building value, with the consumer before they take their product to market – whether that be facilities lettings, or other – and that schools are trying to compete on price and facilities. These are both areas that they might not necessarily have a competitive advantage in, while what they should focus on is working out their value proposition.
What they need to be doing, as already mentioned is articulating their vision, explaining how they’re going to achieve that and why people should go to them.
Hitting the mark: knowing your audience and developing a coherent message
The best way to communicate your school’s message is to build a platform from which you can efficiently spread the word – for example, via social media, newsletters, email, etc.
The issue for many schools in this respect is collecting contact information and building relationships through social media, networks, or with people other than parents. “If you were a business you would have a huge marketing data base, whereas schools will just have a list of their parents,” Ryan points out.
The course of action? “Build databases and market information clearly and concisely to people.”
Championing your message
Ryan also recommends that schools develop champions within schools – who understand the vision, the goals, the projects – and who represent the school externally.
“So, if you’re headteacher or SBM can’t get off site often, there are other people who can work with/in the community and who can have these discussions on the school’s behalf – or at least make introductions,” Ryan says. But he advises that the foundations – the brand positioning, the vision and the message (an elevator pitch, so to speak) – must be in place for this to be successful – “You can’t just say get out there, start shaking hands with people and come back with a sponsorship contract!”
“Part of that planning is having a clear communication strategy, understanding who the stakeholders in your community are, who you want to speak to and what the best communication channel for them is – is it social media, face-to-face, etc. – and then empowering the appropriate people to have those conversations on your behalf.”
The big take-away
“The biggest kick back that we find is that people feel it’s too time-consuming,” Ryan reveals. But, while it is a time-consuming exercise, making your school financially sustainable is a very worthwhile exercise.
Get your plan together; understand what value you offer your community; articulate it clearly and appropriately for your audience; identify stakeholders and then come up with a clear communication strategy. After that most of it falls into place.