What I’ve Learned This Year – 2017

Since one of my strengths (according to a great book called “Teach With Your Strengths”) is “Learner,” I thought, as the last Marketing Matter for 2017, I would continue the tradition I began in 2007 and share with you what I’ve learned this year.

I was just going to edit and update the article from 5 years ago, but then thought, “Wait a minute. If I do that, then I’ll eliminate the record of those things that I learned 5 years ago. These articles were begun in 2007, and, upon reflection, I realized that’s when things started to change for me. Perhaps beginning a Web site of your own to start the new year will bring some changes to your circumstances. More about that in a bit as item #5.

Since one of my mantras is “3 Leads to 4 Leads to 5,” I’ll offer 5 items since we need to hold 5 ideas in mind constantly at the same time. Steven Jobs said most people can only hold 3 things in mind at the same time, and some people can hold as many as 4. But 5 is the number that we all must aspire to if we really want to think systemically rather than linearly to have a profound effect on what we do.

First was learning that one of the the biggest marketing trends of 2017 needs to be interpreted correctly. “Surprise and delight” was discussed constantly as a way to make not only customers happy but to keep employees enthused about their work. The learning is that BOTH of those things must happen simultaneously. You can bet the people from AT&T who were told that they would be losing their jobs at the end of 2017 were surprised but weren’t delighted. While that may sound like common sense, I’m sure you’ll agree that common sense is becoming more and more rare today. I’m personally surprised that the marketing world didn’t come up with a term to show how necessary the combination is, and call it “surpright,” or even “surprisedelight.” There are those individuals who don’t like surprises, so even just to say “surprise” first sets up a wall to their openness to any words which come after it. That mindset needs to the second item.

Second, we need to be open to shift our thinking. We’re always hearing about change, and how people hate change. That’s because change is always thought of in a “macro” sense. Change is big, it’s going to cause all kinds of grief, and it’s immediate. But if we just “shift,” then we can see that a shift can be small, it can lead to better things, and it implies a period of transition. Just as a transmission of a car needs to shift so that the engine doesn’t burn out, we need to be able to shift our attention to the different aspects of our lives. Otherwise, we could be labeled as “obsessed.” Everything in moderation is important, and a shift of a mindset (let’s call it a mindshift) can make great things happen.

Third, while schools are becoming more open to the concept of marketing (recently termed “edumarcom” to designate “education marketing communications,” and the need for marketing, to spread the “good news” about the school into the community it serves (dare I say, “evangelize?”), they need to realize that just having a Web presence is not good enough. Your school CANNOT use Facebook as its Web page. Schools need responsive, modern-looking and inviting Web sites since it IS the face of the school to parents of prospective students. There is one thing that schools continually do with their Web sites that is causing their enrollment to decline, and consequently, their tuitions to increase, creating a downward spiraling vortex. This seems like the typical “cause and effect” pendulum that fuels the rate of decline, but adding that “one thing” mentioned above to the mix acts as an accelerant. If you’d like to know what that is, send a email to schooladvancement@gmail.com with the words “Vortex Accelerant” in the subject line.

Fourth, while schools are cognizant of the need to market their schools, that enrollment is mission-critical since all the funds in the world won’t do you school a bit of good if there are no children in the seats, and that the need for fund development (since parents paying tuition can’t bear the financial burden alone, and effective engagement of parish, community and businesses are crucial to the stability of the school), school leaders CANNOT focus on a particular area of the advancement process, and then move on to the next one once practices are developed, implemented, and processing nicely. Sadly, this type of approach won’t work – everything has to work together, so everything must be implemented at once! It is a living system that’s being formed. It’s just like the formation of the entire person, which is what our schools are purported to do.Since the words of Scripture tell us “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and your whole strength,” we have to make sure we are the best we can be emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically in order to carry our the mission for which He has designed us. It’s OK to focus on particular areas, and shift those foci as necessary, but one can’t say they’re going to make sure they focus on their physical aspects, but only after their mental abilities are completely formed. Further, there needs to be someone to “own” the processes and ensure goals are being set and progress is being made toward achieving them. If you don’t have an advancement director for your school, put one in your school’s budget for the 18-19 school year. In fact, put in two people, so that when your board tells you you can’t add two positions, you can compromise to get one. And this leads to the fifth learning:

Fifth, tuition-charging K-12 schools are probably the only business in existence which believes they can offer a product by charging less than what it costs to deliver it with the excellence that’s expected from its customers. If your tuition is less than the cost of education at your school, and you simply “hope” that funds will miraculously appear so that your school can remain open for another year, please know that the parents of the children in your school won’t stand for that type of mentality. If you’re of the mindset that thinks, “Well, that’s the way it is in my school,” and you’ve already read this far, go back and read first learning in this article. All these items work together systemically. They all impact one another. To say that you agree with some of them and continuing to do the things you already do that may not be working for you may cause you to experience the same results you’re getting now.

That’s not to say that everything needs to be “changed.” Everything needs to be “optimized” so that they’re working the way they were designed to work, or need to work to be aligned with not only with the expectations of your customers, but also with the goals you have for your school. This is one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to 2018, since I believe I’m being called to bring some FRESH perspectives to schools. That’s a word – an acronym, actually, that you will be hearing more about.

Here’s hoping 2018 is a prosperous one for all, where we are blessed with the peace of Christ.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement 2007-2017 (Original Publication Date: 20071231)