Advent is a season of preparation.  But I will bet you anything that if you lead a Catholic school or a Christian school, you’re not just preparing for Christmas.  You’re planning for at least three things: Christmas, the next school year, and the week when your school celebrates its distinguishing faith tradition.

Chances are you’re consumed by Christmas since it’s less than two weeks away.  The next school year receives lowest priority because it’s not “next” on the radar screen.  And that’s okay – since when you start planning for the next school year, you enter a period of schizophrenic activity – that is, living in two different worlds at the same time.  We’ll discuss some ways to keep your sanity during that period in an upcoming Marketing Matters article.

For now, though, let’s focus on Catholic Schools Week and Christian Education Week.  I hope you’ll agree with me that the week is a time to, as the tag line states, “Celebrate Catholic Schools” or “Celebrate Christian Education.”   Many schools use this time to welcome parents of prospective students to open house events.  But…it’s probably a little too late to do that effectively.

Let’s use Catholic Schools Week as the example.  The week begins at the end of January, the same month as the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who is credited with originating the first free Catholic school in the United States.  Unfortunately, the January into February is usually fraught with snow and ice in the Northeast and through the upper half of the United States, which has routinely cancelled many of the events planned to celebrate Catholic schools.  It could be more than coincidence that Catholic Schools Week started in 1974 – which is the same year that the enrollment “slide” of Catholic schools began.

While it has been commendable to continue the national marketing campaign for Catholic schools, the marketing experts seem to have overlooked three facts which are important to keep in mind: 1) We are a “headline” society; 2) Our media-savvy society enjoys the double-entendre as a way to catch attention, a technique which has trained consumers to make creative connections on their own; and 3) Marketing must happen constantly – not just for a week.

Techniques that may have worked back in 1974 won’t necessarily work 46 years later.  “Fly the friendly skies of United” and “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick,” two of the more popular marketing campaigns of that era aren’t heard anymore, and the cigarette ads of the day are no longer seen.  Today, the shorter the slogan, the better.  That’s because “short and powerful” is easier to remember.  Back in 1974, there were only 3 television networks which broadcast commercials.  Now, hundreds of video programming networks don’t even occupy the broadcast spectrum due to digital signals and cable networks.  In print media, newspaper headlines usually place a subject first, followed by an action verb.  Let’s see what images come to your mind when you read these headlines.  Say them out loud so you really hear what you’re reading – “Biden Wins!”  “Incumbents Ousted!”  “Stocks Slide!” “Gold Soars!”  “Catholic Schools Week!”  See (or hear) what just happened there?

Even though we see “Week,” we can hear “Weak.”  Remember that Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month used to be only week-long events too, and became month-long events when a week just wasn’t enough – and a month really isn’t enough either!  “Catholic Schools Month” would even be better to use since 1) The homonymic confusion doesn’t happen, 2) More time could be given for the school to celebrate its achievements, and 3) Event cancellation due to inclement weather may have the possibility of being rescheduled during the month.  It also gives additional time to market the school.  Marketing should be a constant and never-ending process, but setting aside only a week to celebrate the achievements and remarkable educational environment faith-based schools offer sells the school short.

But who do we celebrate with?  Earlier in this article, I mentioned that most schools use this time to begin their enrollment efforts for the school year that begins in the coming fall.  This is time to solidify the commitment of parents that are considering enrolling their child in your school – not just start the process.

Since these week-long events are weeks of celebration, and we usually celebrate milestone events with our family, friends, and members of the communities we’re a part of, the same holds true for these celebrations.  This is the time to re-enroll current families and celebrate with them!  Indeed, and especially in 2021, celebrate the fact that parents want to continue to be involved with the community that is your faith-based school.  These are retention events –  re-enrollment events, if you will, and not necessarily enrollment events…and schools should prepare accordingly.

After all, good preparation is what Advent is all about!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original publication date: 20101213)