I’ll bet you are still creating print ads, and that’s a good thing. Where you’re placing them is another. What you’re placing them for is the big question. Is it for growing enrollment, or is it for publicizing an event that you want the whole community to know about?

And today, an even bigger question is, “What are you putting on them?”  But let’s hold off on that for a moment.

Since we’re at that time of the year when you’re busy enrolling children for Kindergarten for next year, let’s choose growing enrollment.

Are you placing them in your local hometown newspaper? Or in the newspaper of the big city that’s near you? If a Catholic school, in your Diocesan newspaper? Or (gasp) in the Yellow Pages?

Given those choices, which would you rank as first, second, third and fourth priority? The answer is – it depends.  It depends on your marketing strategy.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, when I first published an article similar to this one, I said the Yellow Pages was a great choice if you want a stand-out presence where people can easily access your school, but with the explosion of the Internet and the up and coming use of “Smartphone” technology, Yellow Page advertising would soon be ineffective.  Interesting, a couple of years ago, there were a series of memes on the Internet that displayed products with “different” slogans appropriate for our current times.  One of them showed a phone book with the tag line, “Throw this away.”

Fifteen years ago, if you would have asked my then 15-, 18- and 20-year-old children to look up a telephone number though, the first place they went to was the Internet.  Today, they’re 30, 33 and 35 respectively, and THAT’s the age of parents who are looking at your school as an educational possibility for their children.  They might ask Siri, Alexa or say “Hey Google” to their AI device to give them some information about your school.  And if they’re interested, they may be visiting your school’s Web site on their mobile device and not their desktop or laptop computer.  If they are, you had better hope your school’s Web site is responsive and doesn’t look like it was created in 2013.

In fact, today’s young parents don’t even go to their mobile device first to find information about your school – they’ll go to their social media community and ask their friends where they send their kids, and how they like it.  They won’t go to your school’s Facebook page…they’ll go to their Facebook page, and ask if anyone can tell them about your school.  And whether the feedback they get is true or not, it will help to form their mindset about your school.  This has powerful consequences if you’re looking to rebrand your school.  And, interestingly, today’s branding process mirrors how Jesus branded himself.

Historically, schools determined their “brand” as a logo that becomes identified with their school.  A number of years ago, that concept shifted to the things that were done by the company/organization/entity which were unique were the things that “branded” them, such as the warm chocolate chip cookies a guest received when they checked in at a particular hotel.  Many big box retail outlets now employ greeters to welcome them and make them feel good about choosing to shop there (since they really can’t offer personalized attention to every customer in the store).

Today, the “branding” process has changed again.  It’s not what you say about your school that matters…it’s what parents, alumni, and community members say about your school that matters.  Your customers determine your brand.  It’s their experience of your school that will be shared in the marketplace.  Remember that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do they say I am?” and “But who do you say I am?”   With that in mind, what kind of things do your constituents say about your school?  If it’s not positive, that’s not just “complaining” anymore…it will become part of your school’s branding.  And that may be a wake-up call for your school.

Your Diocesan newspaper is a way to reach Catholics – but are parents of young children reading the Diocesan newspaper? Quite possibly, if it’s still being published!  Your local newspaper also might be a good place – just make sure the paper has research which confirms that parents of young children (25 to 39 year-olds) read it. As for the big city newspaper, ask yourself if the return on investment (ROI) is worth it. If your full-page newspaper ad costs tens of thousands of dollars, you’ll have to get a number of new enrollments to create a positive ROI. What’s the chances of doing that on one ad that might be buried in the third section of the paper?  If you can do a series of ads, that’s better (spaced/patterned repetition is the mother of education), but if you do smaller ads, not only could they be buried, but they might not be in the same place from day to day or week to week. Consequently, the effect of spaced/patterned repetition is lost.

Fifteen years ago, I would have suggested creating a big banner ad on that hometown newspaper, and doing it for several weeks. But today, if you’ve got $10,000 to spend on advertising, invest it in creating awesome Web site for your school. You can spend from $2,000 to $20,000 on a Web site today. and that’s just for the design!  Many school schools have exclaimed, “That’s a lot of money!”  So, let’s go back to last week’s “Marketing Matter,” titled, “An Abundance Mentality.” If your school’s tuition is $4,500 per student, and you invest that in a Web site, or in any kind of tool to increase your enrollment, then just two new students provides you with a positive return on investment.

And if your goal is to grow your enrollment, that’s an expenditure that will pay off.  The key to Web site success is what you put on that Web site (and that’s a topic for another day).  Otherwise, if you’re not planning on growing your enrollment and making plans to do so, then what are you preparing your school for?

As for that print ad, if you’ve got a development event coming up, that’s what print ads are for.  Cardboard signs in the local community either in storefronts or front yards.  If you want to create door hangers and follow-up postcards to assist in your enrollment efforts, that’s great.  But newspapers?  Who reads them today?  For enrollment growth, are they young parents age 25 to 39-year-olds?  Survey your current parent community with a two question survey on SurveyMonkey.  Send an email to [email protected] with the words Newspaper Survey in the subject line, and I’ll give you the questions to ask.

As for what you should have in your print ad, I’ll be you’d say a phone number, website URL or an email address are very important.  But remember to include a QR code that connects to your Web site, like the one to the left.  Just last month, I saw a poster for a school’s open house in the window of a local coffee shop.  There was no phone number, there was no Web site address, and there was no email.  Just a line that said, “For more information, scan this code.”  It took the viewer right to a page with all the information they need, so that a phone call was just a tap away.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2023 (Original Publication Date: 20080211)