…other people will!!

For the first part of my life, I had a very difficult time talking about myself. When I was a young lad, we lived with my grandmother, and one of her favorite expressions was: “Names of fools are like their faces – always seen in public places.” The interesting thing about that is it was the first phrase that taught me about meter and rhyme scheme – but that’s another story. Certainly I didn’t want to be known as a fool, and growing up in a household that was entrenched in pre-Vatican II Catholicism meant that one should always remain humble. Being in sales, however, has taught me that I have to learn to talk about myself, especially when someone asks, “What do you do?”  Today, schools must tell their stories – and those stories need to be emotionally-charged ones about your school help to engage people with its mission and vision.  Further, your school’s constituent groups must be ready, willing and able to tell its story…AND ensure it’s the story you want them to tell!

Back in those pre-Vatican II days, marketing for Catholic schools wasn’t necessary. All Catholic schools were parochial schools. New parishes were obligated to build a school first before building a Church – which is why many churches today look like school buildings, or are located within buildings designed to be a school. Religious men and women staffed the schools and were paid next to nothing for their service. Catholic parents at that time were obliged to send their children to the Catholic school under the penalty of sin.

My how times have changed!

With half a century of learning under my belt, I’ve come to believe that it’s not so bad to be a fool, especially a “Fool for Christ.” Things that we do as a faith-filled people may seem strange or even downright foolish to those who don’t share our beliefs and faith traditions. Similarly, there are many in today’s society who would like to see faith-based schools disappear, believe that it’s foolish to continue to support them, and we are fools for keeping them alive. If that’s the case, then we simply must talk about our schools.

There are three reasons why we need to:
1) If we don’t, other people will;
2) We are a small voice in a sea of many; and
3) It will make people interested to learn more about us (but only if we speak properly)

If we don’t, other people will
There is little argument today that schools must have a presence on the Web because that’s where today’s parents and guardians go for information.   The reluctance that was present five years ago for schools to create a Facebook page or a Twitter account has disappeared, but now, school personnel are becoming more and more concerned about what people are sharing about their school on social media.  Up until five years ago, there were individuals who presented seminars at schools for parents to discuss the dangers of the Internet, and many of them recommend that schools don’t get caught up in the Facebook craze.  Unfortunately, those that remained “off the grid” are more than likely not around today.  While Facebook has succeeding in eliminating other social media applications like MySpace, the interesting thing about Facebook is that Facebook users tend to “stay” in Facebook, and now, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook).  If someone posts a comment on their personal Facebook page about your school with a link to your school’s Web site, that’s great. But Facebook is NOT your school’s Web presence.  It’s a discussion and sharing device.  Today, if school leaders post content on their school’s Facebook page, they should expect it to be shared AND discussed…and that could have unintended consequences.  It’s precisely this type of sharing that builds the “brand” of the school today, and how the school becomes known in the marketplace and beyond – to alumni and donors.

So why is it still important to have a Facebook page for your school?  If you opt not to create a Facebook page for your school, then someone else might. If they do, and post things that are not necessarily positive about your school, you’ll have a heck of a time getting rid of it since it’s not your account.  Social media, by the way, isn’t protected by our nation’s “freedom of speech,” but it is a publication platform, and is therefore protected by freedom of the press, since it’s material that’s published…not spoken.  In either case, it’s a double-edged sword, and some marketing tactics today are necessarily pre-emptive positioning against potentially negative publicity.

We are a small voice in a sea of many
With all the messages, media and means of communication that are available today, to remain disengaged from it equates to being lost. There are those that would say that they’re not wasting their time with all this technology simply because there are too many other voices out there today that they’ll never be heard. That’s the same argument we’ve all heard about why people don’t vote. However, it’s the power of the Internet that can make the smallest company seem huge; conversely, it can make a relatively strong school look like one on the brink of closure. Today, the quality of one’s Web site equates to the quality of the organization because it’s usually the first place where a parent or guardian turns for information about your school.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter how small you think your voice is. Beside, there’s nothing wrong with being a small voice – there’s one inside each of us. It’s called a conscience.

It will make people interested to learn more about us (but only if we speak properly)
There is a practice sales professionals must master called “The Elevator Speech.” It involves being able to relate what one does for a living in a matter of the time it takes to enter an elevator and travel to the destination floor. The interesting thing is that the length of this speech used to be two to three minutes. But some elevators are incredibly fast now, to the point that the challenge is to hone your message down to seven words or less, and then begin a conversation when the person responds with “Oh…how do you do that?”  Interestingly, seven words are about the perfect length for a marketing tag line. As an example, when someone asks me, “What do you do,” I respond, “Help schools form a firm financial foundation.” Of course, if I’m with my wife, she says, “For goodness sake, just tell them you’re in sales.” But I want the conversation to continue – perhaps this person is on the board of struggling school, or knows someone who is. If I say I’m in sales, I might be selling cars, advertising, recording services, or management training, and, since I’ve done all that, someone might respond, “What are you selling now?” Such a response keeps a sales professionals’ status equivalent to that of a telemarketers.

Interestingly, because there is such an aversion to the sales professional today, and because the Internet has changed the historical sales process, it really does make sense why many schools are experiencing enrollment declines.  The enrollment process is essentially a sales process.  Schools are going to have to change their mindsets about how they continue to engage members of the community, members of their current parent community, as well as those parents who interested in enrolling their children in a school – and changing minds is what marketing and education is all about.

The question schools need to ask is, “Who is the sales representative for my school?  Who is the person that ‘owns’ or ‘champions’ the enrollment process, and is responsible for meeting enrollment goals to bring stability to the school?”  If you’ve never thought about that before, that might be a great topic for consideration at your next staff meeting.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2011-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20110411)