Rethinking Your School’s Marketing Budget to Empower Enrollment

A robust marketing budget is 100% tied to enrollment success, assuming that your educational product and market reputation are strong. Independent school leaders often ask me what a “typical” school marketing budget should be. I take a very aggressive approach as your marketing budget is responsible for filling your enrollment funnel with ideal prospective families. Now, mid-point in the academic year, is the perfect time to plan for next year’s marketing budget.

I’m often shocked when a school explains that they have a serious enrollment problem, yet they invest little to zero dollars on marketing. This is a great example of “cause and effect.”  Your school is highly unlikely to have a massive curriculum change without researching the new direction you intend to take, creating a detailed plan for your new curriculum, and likely spending money on a curriculum consultant or attending a conference. School leaders see the value of investing in your educational project (which they should), but they are less likely to do so when it comes to marketing investment. 

I recognize that running an independent school without having an annual deficit is a challenge. You must pay good salaries and benefits to your faculty and staff. You need to maintain your physical plant. You must purchase a wide variety of educational supplies for your classrooms. There are program costs, professional development, transportation and much more. 

Harnessing Growth with a Well-Allocated Marketing Budget

Now, think for a moment about the small percent of your overall annual budget you spend to tell your story to prospective families and successfully convert them to enrolled families. A strong marketing investment will have a positive return on your enrollment. It really will. 

As you consider your annual marketing budget, each school market is different and unique, yet every school has the same goal. To successfully engage prospective families and drive them into and through your enrollment funnel. That’s it. 

How do you build a best-practice marketing budget that will set your school up for enrollment success? Your foundational marketing requires a strong investment every five to ten years. Spread over this time period, it will need to be in the range of $170,000-$250,000. 

It should include:

  • Market research
  • Positioning and messaging
  • A brand refresh (if needed)
  • Updated admissions materials to engage prospective families and students (both print and digital solutions)
  • Digital marketing, including professional video

Investing in Market Research

When was the last time you did a comprehensive market research study to better understand your brand perception and identify actionable steps you can take to enhance your enrollment? Have you tested a variety of tuition strategies with your prospective market? Do you have a series of issues that are negatively impacting your enrollment that you need insights and data on to make a strategic course correction? Every school is different. In the chart below, I’ve provided budgets for both qualitative and quantitative market research. 

Source: Jonathan Oleisky

Clarifying Your Brand Narrative

With positioning and messaging, does your school clearly articulate its value proposition to both internal and external audiences? Do you have a simple and memorable elevator pitch? If you are going to tell your school’s story to prospective families successfully, your positioning and messaging need to be clear and concise. 

When was the last time you updated your admissions creative? Does it reflect your current student body? Does it speak to both prospective families and students? 

Elevate Your Digital Marketing Budget Strategically

Looking at the annual budget chart below, I always recommend that you start with a strategy and plan. Market conditions can change over time, and an annual plan is critical to drive your budget. 

Your single largest annual marketing investment is going to revolve around your digital strategy and marketing. Best practices are now seeing schools use PPC (Pay-Per-Click) digital advertising on a 12-month basis to drive those prospective families into your admissions funnel. Yes, it’s a large but incredibly necessary investment. The chart below provides a number of digital line-item budgets that should be integrated into your plan. 

In some markets (both rural and urban), traditional advertising (radio/print/billboards, etc.) can still play an important role. Rule of thumb: 85-90% of your overall advertising spending should be digital (with the right tools in place you can track ROI, which your board will want to see), while 10-15% of your spend could be spent on traditional advertising.

Public relations (PR) still plays a role but will require an investment of time and talent. Finally, you should always keep a small budget reserve for new marketing opportunities that come up throughout the academic year.

Successful marketing only works with a strong investment. I hope your school is willing to make that investment.

I’d be happy to speak with you about building a budget. Email me today to schedule a free, 30-minute phone call.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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