Learning from Our Possible Competition

For years I’ve been impressed with the way private schools market themselves against their competition —  public schools.

Their ads often tout their strengths and by contrast, demonstrate the perceived weaknesses of public education.  Now before I go much further, a disclaimer is in order. I am a product of a parochial school education from grades 1-12. I received a great education in the basics and I am an advocate for informed parents making the right choices for their children.  Often, parents make decisions based on a religious component for their children and I understand and respect  those decisions. 

Nationally, private education reaches nearly 11% of today’s K-12 students. And in many growing communities, the  crowded public schools could not handle another 11% increase in their student populations. In some communities, the private schools also work in harmony with public schools as partners on various community-related projects. 

I’ve noticed that in today’s economic climate, some private schools have stepped up their marketing efforts. To retain their excellence and their programs, they need more students.  So it may be beneficial to learn what  their marketing dollars are saying about themselves, and indirectly what they are saying about public education.

First we need to realize that private educators normally are promoting just one school. They are quick to praise their one school against all of public education.  Public school communicators should learn that it may also be time to promote our individual schools, and not just our school districts. When real decisions  are made, it comes to a school versus school and program versus program decision.  I urge you to look at your district schools  at various levels to see if you are losing more students to private schools more frequently at certain grade levels than at others. Examining your schools in this way may pinpoint some perception or real problems with these schools and a little research will help you understand the problem.

Positioning Themselves with Your Parents

Over the years, I’ve scanned and collected about 100 private and independent school ads and analyzed how they positioned themselves. Indirectly, they are also positioning us as their competition. Some themes worth sharing include:

  • “Envisioning a School Where One Size Doesn’t Fit All.”
  • “It’s 3 O’Clock in the Afternoon, Here’s What Our Kids Are Up To.”
  • “A Strategic Curriculum That Prepares Students to be Standouts.”
  • “Set Sail on a Lifetime of Learning.”
  • Does Your Child’s School See His or Her Potential? We Do!”
  • ” XXX School Helped Get Our Son into College and Left Us with Something To Help Pay for It.”
  • “We Teach Kids How to Think, Not What to Think.”
  • “Our Seniors Are Going Places.”
  • “There Are Many Fine Schools, But There Is Only One XXX.”
  • “Give Your Child the Academic Advantage That Will Last a Lifetime.”
  • “Around Here It Is All About Attention.”
  • “Embracing the Talents of Every Child Every Day.”
  • “This Is the Way Education Should Be.”
  • “Small Community. Big Opportunity.”
  • “More Than an Extraordinary School . . . A Place Where You Belong.”

What’s to Learn?

Plenty!  Just look at the concepts that they are selling.  Success, not only in school, but in life.  Individual attention. Academic success and well-being of their students. Small settings with many opportunities. Acceptances into “Name” colleges. The warm and fuzzy feeling that their school is a perfect fit for your child. And one even boasts that their tuition even leaves parents with enough money to pay for college. (Now that’s one area where we have a distinct advantage.)

Those of us in public education know that a majority of our schools offer these same benefits every day. We just  do not take the time to promote our individual schools regularly (or at least during the enrollment season of the private schools in your area.)

Plan to make the time to research parents’ opinion of your schools. Learn what’s real and what’s perceived. If real problems exist, stir the pot with your administrative team to begin solving the problems. If the perception of your school is negative and not based on reality, go about setting the record straight. Learn what your local competition is saying about itself and then begin planning a marketing effort of your own to level the playing field when parents make an informed decision about where to send their child to school.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


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