A panel of experts recently came together to highlight the key factors schools need to think about to help them build an enviable reputation and develop a distinctive brand to give them the competitive edge.
Here they share some top tips that emerged from the event.
- Ann Mroz, Editor and Digital Publishing Director of TES – Chair
- Mo Bosch, Head of Communications, The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST)
- Julie Booth, Director, SIMS Independent
- Cath Lane, Director, Catherine Lane PR
1) Focus on what your school does best
Think about what makes your school distinctive – your values, traditions and ethos – and build this into your brand. Ann Mroz from the TES points schools to the higher education sector as an example: “The University of Sheffield positioned itself as an integral part of the city of steel heritage which helped the university to build a strong reputation in the engineering sector.”
2) Enlist your school’s ambassadors
Give everyone in your school’s community a part to play in communicating your core values. “A school’s best advocates might not always be the most obvious ones,” says Julie Booth from SIMS Independent. “The catering staff, maintenance team and gardeners are an important part of the school’s culture and may be the first people a parent encounters on an open day.”
3) Show how your school is different
Identify your school’s particular strengths and put these into action. “It is not enough to say on your website that your school delivers excellent teaching, or makes it pupils feel valued, because all schools say this,” says Cath Lane from Catherine Lane PR. Show pupils engaging in activities at open day or on the website for example, and demonstrate how your school is living its values.
4) Boost your credibility
Use PR effectively to get others to say what a wonderful job your school is doing. News stories in the press, online forums and social media can boost your school’s image. There is an opportunity here for the schools nominated for an Independent School Award says Julie Booth from SIMS Independent. “As a parent, I would definitely like to know that my child’s school had been recognised and was shortlisted for a prestigious award.”
5) Live and breathe your brand
Make your brand part of your school’s identity. The panel gave two powerful examples of schools which do this in different ways. One school with a green logo uses this colour throughout the school from Christmas tree baubles to ribbons in the girls’ hair. While another school demonstrates its ethos of shared responsibility by allowing students to be involved in important decisions about the school, such as the length of the school day.
6) Engage with social media
Create an effective social media strategy to reach out to your audiences. “More and more schools are seeing the value of using Twitter as an effective way to engage parents,” says Mo Bosch from GDST. A Facebook page is a good way to connect with alumni, and schools should look into sharing content on platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn. Short YouTube videos can be another way for a school to tell its story in just a few minutes.
7) Decide what to keep and what to change
Manage any changes to your school’s branding carefully. “Parents consider the history and heritage of a school to be very important,” says Mo. “So schools should think twice before leaving behind a school’s traditional messages entirely.” By talking to current parents and finding out what the school represents to them, you can identify the values with the greatest appeal, and these should be kept in any rebranding.
8) Make your headteacher visible
Make sure your school website features an image of the headteacher and a personal message about the school’s ethos, as this will reach out directly to prospective parents. The headteacher is often a school’s best advertisement, and one of the first places that parents visit on a school’s website is the headteacher’s message.
Many words of wisdom were shared at the event, which gave schools much food for thought on how to shine in a competitive world.
Deborah Fisher is head of SIMS Independent, the hosts of the panel discussion which took place as part of the TES Independent School Awards.