"Like us on Facebook" and "Follow us on Twitter" aren’t all Don Mills and Susan Nedza hope prospective students and their families will do. Instead, they hope these social media outlets will bring students through their doors and into their classrooms.
"We have to make sure our name is out there with the right information and reputation," said Mills, principal of Immaculate Conception School in Ithaca. "Whether it be Facebook or another social media site, we want to increase excitement about our school and our different events."
Mills and Nedza, principal at St. Joseph School in Auburn, are two of the diocesan Catholic-school principals working together to employ new ways of increasing enrollment and encouraging retention. To assist Catholic schools in finding innovative ways to market themselves and stay current with social media, Mills and Nedza helped the diocesan Catholic Schools Office staff in creating a Marketing Toolkit to help principals identify fresh ideas for getting their brands out there.
"The toolkit is a different way of looking at things," remarked Rebecca Williams, business manager for Catholic schools.
In March, eight principals, including Mills and Nedza, participated in a workshop presenting the Marketing Toolkit, which includes a PowerPoint presentation that discusses some best practices for reaching prospective families. The toolkit also includes such marketing templates as customizable postcards, bulletin inserts and radio ads. In addition to the templates, the toolkit includes a list of vendors schools have used for printing and other marketing projects.
"It is a toolkit of things they can readily get at, change them for what they need for their particular school and use them," Nedza added. "We wanted to make it easy and quick."
In addition to introducing the toolkit, the March workshop enabled participating principals to brainstorm and discuss new ideas — including ways to use social media and improve their websites — for better marketing themselves to the community.
Most diocesan Catholic schools already maintain Facebook pages on which principals and teachers actively post information as well as photos of what is going on inside the classrooms. Prior to development of the toolkit, schools were working separately on their own marketing plans, but Nedza said some schools were really seeing enrollment growth, while others were not.
"We wanted to share our ideas and brainstorm across the diocese," she said. "We are stronger together than we are in our own isolated areas."
"Every time we get the principals together, the support they draw on each other is amazing," Williams added. "This is just another way that they can support each other and give each other ideas."
Since the initial presentation in March, marketing teams at a number of schools expressed interest in the toolkit, and a second workshop was conducted in May, Williams said. Information about the toolkit also will be presented during new-principal and teacher orientations in August and during a Superintendent’s Conference Day workshop in October.
She said the toolkit is always changing, as principals continuously share ideas, which are incorporated into it.
While the toolkit focuses a great deal on increasing enrollment, Williams said Catholic Schools Office staff and principals also are focusing on retention.
"We want to make sure we don’t lose (students), that we keep them in our system and keep Catholic education going all the way through 12th grade," Williams said.
During the toolkit workshops, Nedza and Mills also emphasized to other principals the importance of marketing all year long — not just during Catholic Schools Week, which takes place each January.
"Marketing is a 24/7, year-round adventure," Mills said.
Alongside the toolkit, principals are using a feature in their schools’ information-management systems to track marketing initiatives throughout the year and to maintain history about which initiatives are working or not working for them.
Principals like Nedza are beginning to see the direct fruits of their labors in marketing.
"We are looking at our third year of growth," she said of her school. "We are up significantly for a third year in a row, and the biggest change was really driving the marketing both in the building and outside the building, and using multiple ways of getting our message out there, including social media."
Yet their embrace of such new tools as the Web and social media does not reduce the schools’ reliance on parents to help spread the word.
"The key is also having those parents and teachers out there talking positively about the school all the time," Williams said.
"If you can say the same thing consistently enough (and) market a lot to your own parents, then you have turned them all into a marketing arm," Mills added.
As the media environment continues to change, these principals and the Catholic Schools Office staff know they need to be ready for whatever comes next.
"If you wanted to reach the most parents, Facebook is the way to go," Mills said. "But I’m sure that will change as the younger generation is using something different."
Tags: Catholic Schools