I’ve heard some principals and other educational leaders express concern that they “need to be creative” in order to be a good marketer, or state that they “just can’t do it.”  That’s a lot of hooey.  If you are a good teacher, you are a good marketer.  Teachers are many times our best marketers, as they communicate with parents about their children; meet prospective parents, and through their meeting, convince parents (through their words and/or actions in the classroom) that this school is where they want to place their children; communicate with members of the parish when they attend Mass or participate in a parish activity; and represent the school when they are in public (at a supermarket, home improvement center, restaurant or concert).  A teacher’s very actions are reflections of the school at which they minister to our children.

Teachers “market” every day – they get children to be open to new ideas, and create lesson plans to help them do that.  A good lesson plan will touch the four learning domains – cognitive, affective, kinesthetic and conative – in order that a learner will learn, it have an impact on his or her life, he or she will be able to demonstrate the learning, and will make the learner want to continue to learn.  The same is true of marketing – marketing simply replaces the audience of children with adults.

Since marketing is education, a good marketing plan must touch three (cognitive, affective and kinesthetic) of the four learning domains to be able to get to the fourth (conative).  It is at this point that development efforts will start to take root.

Marketing to the cognitive domain makes the appeal to logic.  It is based on facts, figures, and begins the process of “thinking” about changing.  Appealing to the cognitive domain will prompt the parent into making the phone call to get more “information” – more facts answer their queries and affirm their considerations – and schedule a tour.

Marketing to the affective domain requires an appeal to the emotions.  It is based on how someone feels when an action takes place.  The impact of an appeal to the affective domain is evident when a parent tours the school, which is why the “mood” of the school is important.  The mood is the “non-verbal” that a parent experiences when they come to the experience the school that will solidify the decision, even though a parent may still need that last bit of “experience” to “seal the deal.”

It is important to note that tuition has not even entered into the picture yet.  Starting to talk about tuition at this point provides, for many families, an obstacle to becoming part of the school (or, more bluntly, provides a “We can’t afford it” excuse to parents, allowing them an “out” before becoming thoroughly attached to the school).  Before sitting down with parents to review tuition policies, you need to market to their third learning domain.

It should also be noted at this time that even mentioning what full cost tuition is, or saying “Most of our parents pay an average of X, but we’ll talk about that later,” puts a number into a parent’s mind even before they’ve had the full experience.

Marketing to the kinesthetic domain is an appeal to the physical.  It is based on “being”… being a part of the school community, and working to accomplish a task or goal that will benefit the school.  For instance, a parent could be invited to attend a “Good Neighbor” breakfast and act as part of the community (rather than simply “feeling” they are a part of the community).  Schools must be aware of what someone can “do” for the school, and then ask the parent to do it – even though the parent might say “no.”  It makes that parent “think” and “feel” that they will be an important part of the school community because of what they can “do” for it.

After contacting the parent to follow-up with how the parent liked the event, the parent can be invited back into the school to discuss the tuition policy.  Bring them in – never have a financial discussion over the phone. The parent always has the ability to hang up.

When all three domains are marketed to, and the child becomes part of the school community, the parent also becomes part of the school community, and begins to involve others because they become engaged about the possibilities and potentiality of the school, and how such dreams will benefit their child.  This aspect is conation – the desire (or want) to learn more, do more and become engaged in the mission of the school.  Engagement can also lead to passion within the parent.  We all know those parents who will do absolutely anything for the school – THEY have passion.  Passion, interestingly, makes a parent open to opportunities which satisfy the wants and desires of the school.  Such is the basis of relationship building.  It is only after the other three steps that engagement occurs and begins the process of building a relationship.  It is not coincidental that the step before marriage (a life-long relationship between two people) is called “engagement.”  Both individuals want to become more involved in the life of the other.  In fact, the goal of marriage is unity – for two to become one, as Jesus states, “Just as the Father and He are One.”  Deepening that engagement to a level of passion can also be understood when we consider Christ.  Every Lent, we commemorate the Passion of Our Lord.  Many people define the Passion as the act of Christ’s suffering and dying for us on the cross.  While this is a correct definition, here is a more powerful one – the Passion of Our Lord is his willingness to do whatever must be done.  Just as we define our parents that will do absolutely anything for the school because “they love the school so much” as passionate, Christ’s Passion is to do whatever needs to be done in order to secure our salvation – even offer himself to die so that we can all be saved, and live with the Father forever.

The mindset change brought forth by marketing and enrollment process becomes the foundation of all development efforts.  Developing relationships made with various constituencies will provide the stewardship necessary to sustain the school.  One must remember that in order to get what you, as a school, want, you must be concerned with what others want.   As St. Francis told us, centuries before Steven Covey said it again, “Seek first to understand…then be understood.”  Listen to what the parents want for their child – if your school can provide the type of learning atmosphere they are seeking, then and only then can you help them to understand your tuition structure.  As they become more and more involved in your school, their engagement will turn into passion.  In turn, these people become not only your best stewards of their time, talent and treasure, but they will bring others to your school, where you can start the marketing process all over again.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007