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Marketing

Maintain your school’s competitive edge

Competition between schools is increasing, so in the current educational and economic climate, how can your school can stay one step ahead? Macia Grebot reports

One of the most important determinants of success is the degree to which your school stands out from others. In the current educational and economic climate, maintaining a competitive edge is crucial if your school is not just to survive but to thrive. Parents are faced with an unprecedented range of schools from which to select the environment that they feel is right for their child and research demonstrates that while the basis on which they make their choices is varied, a key factor that influences choice is a school’s reputation.

The most successful schools across the phases and sectors are those that have built a brand that parents buy into – think Eton, Millfield, Tonbridge as some of the better-known ones. Brand is a reputation, a set of values, and a way to differentiate the school in its particular environment, eliciting emotional and value judgements from the internal and external community. When parents choose these schools, they are making a decision about their children’s future and buying into the school’s brand. Your brand is your way of creating a series of associations in people’s minds in such a way that they buy into an establishment, product, event or idea.

While the examples given above are of schools that have a national and international reputation, there is no reason why any school should not build a local reputation and, in doing so, maintain its competitive edge by fully establishing its brand.

If the most important determinant of success is the degree to which your school stands out in the uniqueness of its offer, then the starting point must be clarity about what it stands for and how best to promote its unique qualities against that of the competition. And your competition most definitely means both maintained and independent schools and the role of PR and marketing within this strategy is crucial and wide-ranging.

Survival of the fittest
A competitive analysis is a very effective starting point, considering the school in the context of its competition to identify its key strengths and unique qualities and using this information on which to build a PR and marketing strategy.
A thorough competitive analysis report will draw out the threads running through the qualitative and quantitative research, provide your school with an indepth understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of other schools in the area and present you with invaluable information on which to build your school’s PR and marketing strategy and campaign.

The climate in which all schools operate has changed and a number of factors are likely to have further impact. Trends in policy, educational and political, the current economic climate as well as the falling birth rate, are all factors that need to be considered. Schools must make business decisions across a range of areas; the best value purchase of goods and services; managing and balancing budgets; recruitment and retention of staff. In this climate, exploring how best to position your school to maintain its competitive edge, makes sound business sense.

Your brand is about every aspect of the way your school presents itself – from the look of the grounds, buildings and entrance foyer, to the welcome received by visitors from staff and pupils, to the uniform, behaviour outside the gates, the way your school responds to approaches and complaints, as well as all school publications.
 
Web works
One of the key communication tools every school has is its website. In an ever increasing world of technological advances and access by parents and students to an unprecedented amount of data and information, your school’s online presence has got to be dynamic – with up-to-date technology, scrolling pictures, video clips, audio clips and photos. It must be regularly updated with functionality such as online booking and payment facilities.

A brief visit to the website of one of our better known schools will tell you that the school’s vision statement is to be the best all-round school in the world.

And its mission is to:
• to support and nurture individual pupils with diverse needs to develop confidence and resilience through a wide range of opportunities;
• to serve our pupils by establishing a dynamic, international learning community based on diligence, mutual respect and understanding; and
• to achieve these goals by drawing on the richness of the school environment and its people, the broader... community and by encouraging each pupil to achieve their highest standards in all aspects of life.

Everything about the school’s site supports and reflects its vision and is unequivocal in conveying what the school stands for and what parents are buying into for their children when they choose it. It is clear that this is a brand that lives up to its promise.

Successful brands are built on experience, perception and reputation and maintaining your school’s competitive edge is a long-term commitment. Nevertheless, while increasing numbers of schools are struggling in the face of straitened economic times and increased competition from across the sector, those that invest in building, developing and maintaining their position are experiencing the benefits of their investment.

Macia Grebot is the co-founder and managing director of Grebot Donnelly Associates. Macia can be contacted on 020 8892 2242 or info@grebotdonnelly.com or through www.grebotdonnelly.com.

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