Make your school heard: Small marketing budget, big BANG

Simon Hepburn, founder of Marketing Advice for Schools, explains how you can make a small marketing budget go a long way and make your school stand out

Marketing Advice for School’s latest annual school marketing survey showed that state schools in England have an average marketing budget of around £10,000, an increase of five per cent over the previous year. This is a tiny part of the overall budget of a school, especially given that marketing is playing a more and more vital part in driving a school’s success.

Hang on a moment though – why do schools even need marketing budgets – or marketing at all? This is a question I’m often asked by school leaders to justify the very idea!

Part of the problem is that marketing for many is synonymous with PR executives swigging champagne (thanks Absolutely Fabulous!) or the sort of expensive advertising campaigns with dancing meerkats that bookend Coronation Street.

The fact though is that all schools face challenges – recruiting and retaining enough students to deliver a full budget, recruiting the best teachers in a highly competitive market, creating strong links with diverse communities and demonstrating the great things you are doing to gain the trust of parents. And that’s without considering new challenges such as fundraising from community groups and manging the reputation of a school or trust. All these are marketing challenges – especially if you consider the following definition of marketing, ‘The process of listening to and meeting the needs of your community’.

So, how can you make a £10,000 (or smaller) budget achieve these things? Here are some ideas:

  • Find out who matters to your school You can waste a lot of money targeting the wrong people. A quick way to do this is to list all the stakeholder groups that matter to your school and then identify the ones that aren’t listening to you, answering your calls or responding to your adverts. You need to focus your efforts here.
  • Find out what they want from your school You need to conduct research to inform what you do next. Small focus groups or surveys are a good way to start.
  • Make creative changes to meet their needs Don’t be frightened to try new things. For some schools this can be as simple as communicating what you do already better. For others, you might need to offer different subjects, engage with parents outside the school gates or share your expertise with feeder schools.
  • Share what you are doing creatively and cheaply All schools do great things every day but this is often lost. Setting up a student or staff news team, creating relevant social media accounts or introducing an email newsletter are all really cheap ways of enabling this – and don’t sign up to any advertising unless you’re really sure it’s needed, even if it involves meerkats.
  • Reflect and improve Don’t follow the route of Victorian industrialist Lord Lever, who famously said ‘half my advertising works – I wish I knew which half’. Digital communication gives you lots of data to analyse as a matter of course but you should also make sure to keep asking and surveying all stakeholders to make sure of value for money.

Can you do all this yourself? If you feel challenged, a good first step is to take a school marketing course – for as little as £200 you can get great initial advice. You might then want to hire external experts, such as photographers or designers, but if you have ambitions to move your school forward or to work towards a senior position in a MAT it’s well worth taking time to develop your own marketing skills.

About the author:
Simon Hepburn is Founder of Marketing Advice for Schools, a community of over 1,000 school marketers, and author of ‘Marketing Your School’.

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