Sally Alexander, Client Services Director
June 3, 2019
The 9 principles you need for great open day marketing
School open days: a powerful weapon in any school marketer’s arsenal, and one that is more complicated to use than you might initially think. Done right, they can be tremendously beneficial, but done wrong, they’re little more than an expensive waste of time.
In our experience working with independent and state schools around the country, we’ve seen that there’s certain best practices successful open school marketers use in their events. We’re going to look at 9 useful principles to make your school open day marketing more effective.
As a school marketer, you want to get these big events right? How well they pan out will have a big impact on how your school’s senior leadership team views you. And with everything you have to do on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to let things slide until it’s too late to create an effective plan.
By putting these principles into practice, you’ll be able to ensure your event runs more smoothly, achieve strong signup numbers, engage your target market and be recognised by leadership for your success.
For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to discuss these principles in relation to four separate areas: planning, marketing, running, and after the event.
Planning The Event
As they say, “well begun is half done”. Most of the hard work in creating a successful school open day takes place long before the event itself. The following principles will help to guide you through this stage.
Principle 1: Plan Ahead Of Time
The right time to start planning for your autumn event is during the spring term - not in August! Organising a truly effective open day takes time, and if you delay preparations until “things quieten down”, you could be left facing one of two situations:
You won’t have the time or resources necessary to organise an event that achieves all your goals. You incur a lot of additional expense because you have to enter into contracts for design, printing, materials etc. on short notice
You do your best work when you have plenty of time to truly think about what you hope to achieve. Open days are significant, and deserve your full attention. Start to plan them well in advance: you’ll be grateful for the extra time when all is said and done.
Principle 2: Let Past Data Guide You
In a perfect world, you would have unlimited resources to test out every possible approach to attracting your target audience to the event. But in the real world, you’re going to be constrained by a budget - possibly a modest one, considering all you have to do.
Even if you have endless funds at your disposal, it makes sense to focus most of your time and resources on what works. You need to know if the things you’re doing are working, so make sure you reflect on the results of previous events, like:
Bear these results in mind as you design your next open day, and make tweaks as necessary to improve performance in each area.
Principle 3: Know The Value Of Each Student To Your School
As a school marketer, you likely have a good idea of how much each additional student will bring to the school in terms of gross revenue. As a state school, you’ll be looking at a grant in the region of £6,000. An independent school could be looking at fees twice that, depending on the age of the student in question.
This gross amount isn’t all pure profit for the school, of course. That’s why it’s important to know the net financial value of each additional sign up. Understanding this figure will allow you to commit a reasonable amount to marketing, running the event, and securing that signup. You need this knowledge upfront - without it, you won’t be able to create a realistic budget for everything that comes next.
Principle 4: Benchmark With Other School Events
School open days are competitive. You can probably think of 5-10 other schools right now that are competing for the same students you’re trying to win. With this in mind, it’s important that you know what kind of events your competitors put on.
Particularly, go beyond the basics like tours of the school, talking with teachers and pupils etc. Look at the things they do to set themselves apart - things that parents and prospective students are wowed by. Maybe you can implement some of those same things in your open day!
Principle 5: Use Personas To Guide Event Design
All of the above is aimed at helping you create a great open day on paper.
A big part attracting people to your event is building in activities they find valuable. Marketing is a separate discussion (see the next section for more detail), but there’s no point in getting people’s attention unless you first have something worth showing them.
With a thorough understanding of your target audience, you’ll be able to make informed choices about what type of activities and features to include in your event. Showcase the best your school has to offer, in line with what your prospective students would want to see. Show parents and other stakeholders what makes your school the best choice for their children.
Marketing The Event
Once you’ve set out a decent plan for the event, you need to figure out how you’re going to market it. The greatest open day in the world is useless if no one knows what day it’s on, where they should go for more information, or why they should care about it in the first place.
Assuming you’ve planned your open day properly, you’ll be well on your way at this point. The following principles will help you to market your event more effectively.
Principle 6: Know Who You’re Talking To
All marketing & communication is contextual. It depends on who you’re talking to - what works for one audience could flop entirely for another.
Without a solid understanding of your customer personas (the people you’re trying to reach with your message), you’ll find it difficult to plan an event that achieves all you want it to.
Ensure that your marketing materials are catered to whoever you’re aiming to address. Parents, pupils, third parties such as organisations in the community: they all deserve attention, and they all require a slightly different approach to truly capture their interest.
Once you know exactly who you’re aiming to attract, combine this knowledge with your goals for the event, then use it to guide your decisions.
Particularly, you can use this understanding to choose the mediums and platforms best suited to reaching your target audience. We’ve used many different approaches in the past with our clients. Facebook ads, LinkedIn outreach, direct mail, and many more methods are all viable, depending on your particular situation.
There’s a number of innovative methods to reach your audience. Here are some of our favourites:
Reach out to influencers in the local community to promote the open day (think politicians, prominent business people, etc.)
Update your Facebook and Twitter banner images to reflect your upcoming events. Set up your open day as an event on Facebook - this gives you easy access to organic traffic & a simple way to communicate important info.
Principle 7: Tell Stories That Engage Your Audience
It’s no secret that stories win out over cold, clinical statements 10 times out of 10. But knowing this is one thing - putting it to use in your open day is another.
Parents want to see their children thrive at the school. Students want to have a fun, enjoyable time in an environment that fosters academic performance (to whatever level they aspire to). Third parties want to see good schools that make their communities a better place to live in.
All of these stakeholders want something different. All speak their own language. And they all want to hear stories that persuade them that your school will help them achieve their goals.
Find stories that match with your target audience’s worldview, put them in front of that audience, and let the magic happen.
Running The Event
This section is relatively brief - after all, running the event itself is mostly a function of executing on the plan you put into action. However, there’s one thing you have to remember to do...
Principle 8: Gather Data At Your Event
Visitor feedback is key. Getting first-hand accounts of what your prospects think about your event is crucial in improving your performance. The real question is how you should go about getting this feedback.
If you accept registration for the event via an online platform like Eventbrite, Gather or Picatic, it’s easy to send out forms after the event to registrants. Alternatively, you can also hand out forms at the event itself - possibly incentivising people with some freebies like pens, tote bags or notebooks. Finally, having parents sign up for the event through your own website will give you access to extremely useful analytics that you can use to your advantage moving forward.
However you manage it, gathering data from your event is critical, as it will help you figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how you can improve in the future.
After The Event
Once the event is over, it’s time to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. But before you forget about the event entirely, there’s one more thing you have to remember to do…
Principle 9: Follow Up On Leads
Following up on leads is an important, yet delicate process. Too much and you’ll turn them off… too little and they’ll forget about you.
If you’ve been given the privilege of staying in contact with a prospect, use that to your advantage. Keep them up to date with the school’s achievements, relevant developments etc. Continue to bear in mind their world view, and use student and staff stories that reinforce their vision of what a school should be. One to two times per term is a good frequency, scaling up when your signup deadline is approaching.
Don’t forget to ensure they’re notified well in advance of any sign up dates. Include gentle calls to action for sign up as the date approaches, then increase in urgency as it gets closer.
As a school marketer, the open day is a landmark fixture in your calendar. A lot hinges on this event, so it’s important that you do all you can to make it a success.
In our experience working with schools (state and independent) all across the country, we’ve seen these 9 principles of effective open day marketing benefit them all in one way or another. If you keep these in mind when you’re planning your next open day, we’re confident that you’ll reap the rewards. You’ll save time, money, impress the leadership team, and get more sign ups with an event that follows these principles.
And if you’d like your school’s open day in more detail, we’d be delighted to discuss a solution that meets your needs. With over 30 years experience, we create full-service advertising and design campaigns to suit any budget. You can get in contact with us here.
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