Wednesday, December 9th 2009
Making headway with the key decision makers in education – school and college leaders
Anybody marketing to schools and colleges knows the difficulties involved in getting their message past the eagle eye of the receptionist. With fiery intuition they have developed the uncanny skill of seeking out marketing materials and calls within seconds, leaving your plans thoroughly extinguished.
For any school campaign to have a high success rate it is crucial school and college leaders buy into the product. As well as being the key holders of the budget, they are gatekeepers and can potentially be product champions, keen to ensure that teachers and lecturers explore all the options that are open to them. In some cases leaders can be hostile, both for financial reasons and if the product requires teachers to be out of school for any length of time (the impact of this should never be underestimated, obtaining good supply cover is a full time job in itself). As such it is vital that your campaign creates almost a cultural shift amongst school and college leaders, by illustrating to them the benefits that can be delivered for their whole school or college from the product.
Direct mail that misses the bin
Direct mail is often first into the marketing mix, but also the easiest to be infiltrated by the school postal police. However, there are a number of measures you can put in place to improve the success rate of your campaign.
Ensure you have a quality mailing list with up-to-date NAMED contacts. “The Head Teacher” just isn’t going to cut it. With a named contact there is a chance that your package could be something of importance, making it less likely to take a trip through the shredder.
Keep your message precise, keep the mailer small and keep any financial incentives prominent. Time and time again I hear head teachers lamenting tales of their pigeonholes becoming a dumping ground for product catalogues, large mailers, gimmicks and other various materials. If they want to see your product range they will request it, a simple presentation of your services is all you need at this point in the relationship. Do not overestimate the time head teachers have to pour over your painstakingly written copy; they are busy people and a succinct presentation of your key message is enough. Shout about any financial incentives you may have, make them jump off the page. Budgets in schools are tight and leaders love a good deal.
Tailor your mailing list and message. If you don’t need to contact every head teacher in the country then don’t. A campaign tailored specifically to schools with specific needs i.e. schools in special measures or schools with a high proportion of gifted & talented pupils will hold more gravitas with the teaching community than a bog standard mailer to the whole world and its mother.
Build relationships – two feet in the door are better than one
Utilise any relationships with larger organisations that head teachers really engage with; they may be able to help you get that initial lead. This works particularly well if you can form relationships with teachers/head teachers unions or government-backed organisations, though any big names within the education field or your subject area are worth pursuing.
These partnerships can start as just a testimonial for your product and work right up to the organisation endorsing your product in mailers and other materials. An endorsement from a big organisation on the envelope of your DM does wonders for the success rate because it is much less likely to be discarded. Ensure you are also utilising all the other promotional opportunities that can arise from partnerships, if they are willing to give a positive statement on your product they are probably also willing to give you article space in their magazines and e-newsletters and reduced rates on print advertising.
Choose exhibitions wisely
Do a little research on the education exhibitions landscape. To reiterate, head teachers are REALLY busy and won’t have time to visit the huge amount of exhibitions throughout the year. The easy option is to opt into the larger exhibitions such as “The Education Show” in March. This may still be the way forwards for your organisation, however these types of events are heavily attended by Newly Qualified Teachers and students, not necessarily the decision making unit.
Consider smaller, more focussed options like the ASCL Annual Conference and the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services Annual Leadership Conference. They are much cheaper to attend and have audiences that are made up almost entirely of head teachers.
Though online marketing hasn’t traditionally been used as a primary mechanism to target head teachers, times are changing and more and more decision makers will have to use the web. The general consensus is that many head teachers are either too busy to use the internet for any other reason than work, or some prefer not to use it at all. However, there are little pockets of activity from the school and college leader community springing up all over the internet and these should not be ignored. There is a thriving school management forum on the Times Education Supplement ‘staffroom’ populated by head teachers in the early stages of their careers as well as more experienced leaders who want to share their experiences. Other websites generating head teacher traffic include www.teachers.tv, www.tes.co.uk and www.ascl.org.uk. A banner advert alongside a wider head teachers campaign may be effective on any of these sites.
Consult with the real people
Marketing to head teachers is a minefield. What better way to gain insight into the minds of these people than to actually ask them!
Our research suggests that some of the greatest successful schools campaigns have sprung from creating a head teachers panel filled with leaders who have shown an interest in your work and might want to get more involved. Hold a meeting where they can network with other head teachers, make them aware that they are shaping the future of the industry of your product and give them any publicity they want – their involvement is crucial. Be inventive with your sessions, a questionnaire and discussion won’t give as in depth results as if you give them real-time activities, putting them in the marketers shoes.
I suppose the key message here is to not forget that you are marketing to individuals who barely have time to do their jobs, let alone take in a multitude of marketing messages a day. Keep it simple. Keep it targeted. The golden ticket past the receptionist is achievable if you can gain trust and authority in this challenging marketplace.
Posted by Haley on Wednesday 9th of December 2009 at 4:22pm