To celebrate back-to-school season, Kalix is kicking off a new monthly series of conversations with independent school communications, marketing and admissions leaders. These in-the-trenches experts live and breathe the evolving, exciting world of enrollment marketing and school communications.
We launch our series with wise advice from Cami Colarossi, Director of Communications at Notre Dame Preparatory School near Baltimore, Maryland, who is celebrating her 20th year in independent school marketing.
Kalix: What’s the biggest marketing challenge facing independent schools right now?
Cami: What isn’t a challenge?! [Laughs.] There are a number of things that come to mind. A good challenge is the intersection among all the communication needs of a school. No more is it just doing the viewbook, or the development newsletter or the annual magazine. Now you need to see the big picture of how communications for advancement, general purposes and admissions are cohesive and well timed. It’s a matter of looking globally at the calendar. Your audience may be different [for each communication], but it’s still cohesive.
Another challenge is that it’s a whole new ball game every year. We use data differently now, and there are so many more ways to use data and more communication and brand identity tools. The equipment, too, changes much faster than it used to. Media relations are completely different. While the concept of relationship building for media relations is the same, the tactics have changed.
One of the biggest challenges is that we are generating different types of content 24/7 from news articles, posts, blogs, photos, videos, etc. The smart communications person is figuring out ways to repurpose and refresh content already created. The best part of our job is that it is always changing – it’s exciting and keeps things fresh.
Kalix: How do you juggle priorities?
Cami: It’s a combination of a good calendar with collaboration and changeability. A good working calendar is essential. You need to know your cycles and when to plug in certain information, and then backtrack to figure out what you need to do to produce the content. Also, it’s really helpful not to work in a vacuum. At Notre Dame Prep, there are four of us in the communications office, so we can bounce ideas off of each other. We also have strong relationships with the admissions and advancement teams, which helps greatly.
Given the fact that things are ever-changing, you need to be flexible and willing to try new things. A lot of what we do [in this field] is data oriented. For instance, if you want to try Facebook Live, you can get instantaneous data and make immediate adjustments.
Kalix: Any digital marketing tips?
Cami: You have to have a digital marketing strategy, absolutely. Before a prospective family sets foot on your campus, they’ve already experienced your school on your website, through a Google search or on a third-party ranking site. Yes, word of mouth will always be the most important marketing tool you have, but you need to have a digital marketing strategy. And you need to have a robust search protocol in your pocket.
We work with a firm for our digital marketing. [Editor’s note: Notre Dame Prep has been a Kalix client for seven years.] I liken our digital expert to a stockbroker. Every day, she’s analyzing and “playing” our ads, depending on what she’s learning from the data. Our digital marketing campaign begins and ends with data. You need to be sure that you are hitting the targets you need to hit. Make sure that you have a national benchmark to know if your campaigns are being successful. [You should know] the national click-thru rate for education.
Every year, we ask our prospects how they hear of us and what publications they read. We learn a lot from that about where we need to be in print. Now we run ads in two different, local publications, but that’s come down significantly from previous years. People weren’t seeing and reacting to those ads. We’re mostly digital and broadcast advertising/marketing now.
Cami Colarossi has 30 years’ experience working in non-profit and corporate communications, with particular experience promoting educational institutions, having worked at Goucher College, Sylvan Learning Centers, and Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Since 1999, she has served as Director of Communications at Notre Dame Preparatory School, where she oversees all marketing/communications initiatives, as well as works on inclusivity, strategic planning and accreditation processes. A graduate of Goucher College (B.A.) and Georgetown University (M.A.), Cami is accredited in Public Relations by the Public Relations Society of America. She presently serves on the National Catholic Educational Association’s Marketing-Communications Advisory Committee. She has earned local and national industry awards for her public relations and publications work.