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Schools need marketing and advancement programs

Written on October 19th, 2009

TRENTON, Ont. - Executive director of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) Dr. Adrian Guldemond told delegates at last week’s advancement conference schools need a formal marketing advancement program to flourish in the next several decades.

“A formal marketing advancement program is a must in the schools today and it should be properly resourced by the school board in terms of money and staffing,” Guldemond tells the OACS News.

Schools may think something new will happen when they keep doing the same old thing, but Guldemond says what happens is you keep getting the same old thing — and there is a need to make some changes.

“The key reason why we want to concentrate on advancement is not just to protect ourselves, which is also a good idea, but because we have such a wonderful calling and because Christian education is such a wonderful thing we need to share it with others and be a blessing to them,” he said.

“For that to happen we are going to make changes.”

Schools need to be thinking about their customer relations, as independent schools have a high customer turnover rate, Guldemond said.

“This is a bit of a wake-up call to say that you may not think you have an issue at this point, but think in terms of 10 years down the road where are your new potential students going to come from? You need to have an answer to that rather than waiting for it to be a surprise.”

Delegates heard the differences between marketing, advancement and advertising, which include:

• Marketing is the planned process of finding out who needs what the school has to offer

• Advancement is “the planned process of allocating resources to achieve school growth through strategic recruitment”

• Advertising is a controlled way to communicate a fixed message, it is the external communications plan aimed at the immediate community to define the brand, with the target audience deciding the ad’s content and style

While it is good for schools to have a marketing plan, what’s better is a marketing program, Guldemond said. A marketing program means the board has the staff and resources in place to put the plan into action. The person responsible to implement the plan should do planning.

Each school has its own promotion plan, as marketing and advancement is different based on the local situation.

Marketing and advancement has become a professionalized field, so schools should ask themselves if they are an expert, amateur or dabbler. Schools will need to fund the program to be an expert.

It is also important that school’s communication and marketing strategy is consistent with its product, Guldemond said.

The Canadian mobility rate shows the population moves every four years, so there are always new people to reach to tell about Christian education.

As there are multiple choices for education available, Christian schools are in competition with other schools and have to be able to explain why they are better than others, which some schools struggle with, notes Guldemond.

Another aspect to consider is technology is so pervasive it breaks down old stereotypes and has also created a noisy world.

“Living in a new Internet age means that in order to reach the younger parent denomination you have to develop totally individualized strategies,” Guldemond said, adding this is different than the old mass media approach.

Though the task of effective marketing and advancement programs may require some work, it is achievable regardless of the school’s size and is important to start doing immediately, Guldemond said.

“The amount of interest in Christian schools is really quite considerable.”

Guldemond’s keynote speech kicked off the Oct. 14 and 15 advancement conferences held in Woodstock and Trenton.

Delegates had the opportunity to attend a variety of workshops exploring business ideas, technology, changing culture and partnerships.

Guldemond will be speaking about the contributions of different partnerships in Christian education with a focus on the school as a vital workplace and a strategic link for growth at the OACS Nov. 7 governance conference.