In this session, Ashley McQuarrie and Michael Barber celebrate their tenth EM Live session. Watch the video or read the transcript below to hear their answers to the top enrollment marketing questions they get from school leaders.
Watch the video or read the transcript below for more.
Hi, Ashley. And welcome to our 10th episode of All Things Enrollment Marketing, our weekly series every Thursday, 10:00 AM Pacific and 1:00 PM Eastern. As mentioned before, I’ve got my fearless companion with me for the last 10 episodes, our Director of Enrollment Marketing, Ashley MacQuarrie. Ashley, how are you?
Ashley M (00:42):
Doing well. I can’t believe it’s already been 10 episodes. How are you, Mike?
Michael B. (00:46):
I’m well, thanks. Yeah, 10 episodes. We’ve done 10 since what, about mid-December. So we’re doing pretty well on trying to keep this a weekly series. But we thought it would be fun for our 10th episode as a little celebration to revisit the top three questions over the next 10 minutes, unless we see some in the chat, which as usual, you’re more than welcome to throw in any enrollment marketing questions for Ashley or myself on the chat. It’s usually below the fold on your mobile app. If you’re joining us from your desktop, it’s on the right-hand side. We’re more than happy to answer questions.
But we will kick off with our first, our top question, which is why EM and why enrollment marketing, a decision right now now that we’re in the first week of March is such important timing for school leaders to be thinking about? So would love your thoughts there, Ashley, on why as we transition into what, day 54 or 55 of the year, what should school leaders be thinking about when it comes to enrollment marketing?
Ashley M (01:49):
Yeah. Well, for a lot of school leaders, enrollment has just opened. Some of our schools just opened enrollment, opened enrollment yesterday, actually. Some of our schools have had lotteries that ran maybe a couple weeks ago. And so now schools should start to have an idea of where they’re at in terms of interest for their school for fall, whether they found that their lottery, they’ve had more interest than ever in their lottery, and now they need to make a plan for following up with those folks. Or maybe they didn’t get the level of interest that they want, and maybe the open enrollment isn’t driving the numbers that they would necessarily expect. And so now they really need to put a plan in place for how they’re going to get those numbers up over the coming months.
Michael B. (02:29):
Yeah. I mean, you make such a good point. And I think the other thing to think about as a school leader is if you are going to be doing this by yourself or you’re going to be doing it with a partner. As you think about, there’s a lot of partners out there. We’re one of those partners. We really like to make sure we’re working with schools, you know this, by April 1st because that’s a big deadline for us on a number of fronts.
You have to start building stories and getting to know the school. If you’re going to be working with a partner, there’s things that have to happen before you start this process. So just would be really curious for your thoughts. If someone’s thinking about working with a partner, what sort of decisions they need to be thinking about in order to select, “Hey, am I going to do this on my own or is a partner going to help me?”
Ashley M (03:12):
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, you definitely need to have a sense of your bandwidth, a realistic assessment of how much time you actually have available. I mean, you need to make sure that you have a team in place who can follow up on those leads. And you have to remember that any partner, us included, they can get started pretty quickly. But if they’re going to do a good job, if they’re going to help you really define the stories that you’re going to tell and take a strategic approach and not just sort of scatter ads out there and hope for the best, it’s going to take a couple weeks.
So if we start in April, April 1st, you may not actually have really campaigns running at full steam for about a month. So that puts you to May. And so that’s why that April date is so important, or really the earlier, the better because if you’re going to take a strategic approach and if you’re going to have all the pieces in place that need to be there, there’s some time to get up and running.
Michael B. (04:05):
Yeah, for sure. We’ve got a few more viewers that have joined us over the last few minutes, so just wanted to say hello to all of you that have just come in and mention it is our 10th episode. So we are celebrating that 10th episode milestone by talking about our top three questions that we’ve received over the last few weeks on our weekly EM series here on YouTube Live.
We started that conversation on why at day 54 or 55 of the year, what should school leaders be thinking about when it comes to enrollment. And Ashley very intuitively talked just specifically about, hey, as you’re thinking about building those lists, as you’re thinking about building those waiting lists as you head towards next year, now’s the time that you’ve got to be putting programs in place to drive that interest and whatnot. So just such good insights there.
I want to ask a question. This is not one of the top three, so I’m going to put Ashley on the spot, but I know both of us are capable of having this conversation. But as you think about budgets, Ashley, that’s the other thing that school leaders are thinking about as they get into that March, April, May, June timing. They’re starting to think about next year’s fiscal for budgets. And often, you and I have had conversations with school leaders about how they should be thinking about an enrollment marketing budget.
And I want to couch this question with a little bit of a sort of lead the answer, if you will, but often we see those budgets as a budget number that is lower than what they probably should be spending. And I know the conversation you and I often have with school leaders is you have to think about the money that you’re putting into enrollment marketing as what the value that’s going to come out of it, which hopefully, is net growth in the amount of students, amount of kids that you’re serving.
And so just would be really curious as how do you guide a school leader for this budget conversation that it’s not just about, hey, thinking about just a percentage of your annual budget, it’s about thinking about the value that an additional kid from a headcount perspective brings to your school?
Ashley M (06:06):
Yeah, yeah, that’s really the right way to think about it because that individual kid that signs on for 2023, I mean, they could be with you for years and years and you’ve only spent that budget once to bring them into your school.
So I mean, I think when you think about, we do often see schools that maybe don’t understand how much it costs to do these things. If you’re doing it on your own, then you’ve got to find these other vendors to run campaigns. You’ve got to find designers and website developers and all of that stuff. And all of that can really add up.
And the other thing to be aware of is that costs, especially digital ads, they fluctuate throughout the year. So you might start out spending a lot of money at the beginning and find that you’ve exhausted your budget by summer when costs go up and you’re competing with all the other schools. Election cycles can also drive costs up, Christmas shopping, all of that kind of stuff.
And so you do need to take that budget and kind of spread it out and look at it, okay, if I have this number and I need it to go for six months, is that enough? And you think about all the things that you want to do, and you can do some quick math on what are yard signs cost, and what are postcards going to cost? And you might find that it’s probably not going to be, it may not be enough.
Michael B. (07:20):
Yeah. And on the question of timing too, this gets back to timing is as you’ve named some of the things that you want school leaders to be thinking about, yard signs, T-shirts, polos, uniforms, all of these things have supply chains that have been very, very challenging over the last couple of years and continue to be. And so as you’re thinking about timing at this moment in March, now is the time to be making some decisions as a school leader because you have no idea potentially what those printing timelines are going to look like, potentially what those production times are going to look like for anything that you’d need to help start your enrollment marketing effort. So just some other things to think about.
Okay. Question number two that we’ve gotten quite a bit is if there were three things you would tell a school leader to focus on when it comes to enrollment marketing, what are those three things and why?
Ashley M (08:09):
Yeah. Well, I would start with, and we kind of talked about this a little bit before, I would start with story, your story, your presence. What stories do you want to tell on social media? What stories are the people that schools talk to, your school staff are telling when families visit them at the school?
So really define those and get sharp on what those are and what your presence looks like, what your messaging is. That carries over into the website. That’s kind of the second thing that you really need to work on. Your website needs to reflect those stories. It needs to reflect that image, and it needs to be functional, usable. And it’s something that takes a lot of time. So it’s something you want to start early on, again.
Other things that go into your website, like search engine optimization, we put that stuff in place as early as possible because we know that it builds over time. And so if we put that work in in February, we might start to see it starting to pay off in May. But if you wait to do it until May, it may not actually help you this year. It’s still worth the investment, but it’s something that builds.
And then the last piece is how people get in touch with you. So I love an interest form. Take a look at your forms, make sure that you have your online application that gets you the information you need is in compliance with your district, but also make sure that you have a short interest form for people to just take that first step and give you just a little bit of info that you can follow up on. Make sure that it’s real easy to figure out how to get in touch with you. And make sure that you’re following up and, hopefully, keeping track of those leads and that interest as it comes in.
Michael B. (09:52):
That’s awesome. So top three things, story, website, how you’re converting that person in an interest form. And you heard all the best practices here from Ashley.
In true celebratory style, it’s our 10th episode and we have the most concurrent viewers live that we’ve ever had before. So I’m really proud of that for the both of us because we’ve been plugging away on doing this every single week for the past few months. So we can have a little pat on the back for both of us there.
For those that are joining You, we do this every week, Thursday, 10:00 AM Pacific. Some weeks we do it on different days, and that will probably be coming a reoccurring theme because we’ve got some exciting episodes coming up where we want to do some live conversations at conferences and whatnot. But we do this every Thursday usually, 10 minutes on a Thursday, 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern, and all the time zones in between. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel. You’ll get alerts if you’d like to get those alerts when we’re going live.
Otherwise, feel free to hop in here whenever you want to and take a listen, maybe on your drive-in or you’re heading on the train with your cup of coffee in the morning and ask us questions here. We refer back to a lot of those questions, even if they’re not live. So if you’ve got questions and you’re watching this tomorrow or in a month or in a year, Ashley and I are around to answer those questions too.
We’re about 11 minutes in, so we’re going to try and keep it to our 10-minute threshold. But I have one last question. One question that we talked about with one of our designing partners, our design partner is Niki Blaker, was what’s the importance of brand? Why does a charter school need a brand? And I would love your thoughts there, Ashley, as succinctly as possible given we’re up on this 10-minute mark.
Ashley M (11:30):
Yeah. I mean, I’m just going to just steal what Nikki said. I’ve used it since we had that conversation, and it’s just is it the same school when they come meet you that they saw elsewhere? Does everything that represents your school from your signage, your building, your swag, your uniforms, your website, your social media, does it all look like the same school? That’s just so important. That’s really what brand is all about.
Michael B. (11:53):
Yep. Nailed it. I love that insight. Okay, we’ll wrap it up there because we’re at minute 12. Thanks, Ashley, again for taking the time to join us on our Thursday weekly discussion on All Things Enrollment Marketing.
Want to tell everyone that’s joining us live, we have nine other episodes covering a variety of topics. Ashley and I have talked about the importance of EM, timing that school leaders should be thinking about when it comes to enrollment marketing on episodes one, two, and three. We covered the top marketing tactics I think in episode four. We’ve had two of our enrollment marketing project managers, Betsy Roberts and Sarah Scheel on our episodes talking about the importance of signage and direct mail and how you nurture relationships with families. And either on episode seven or eight, and I’m sure I’m getting them confused at this point, we had our dear friend, Niki Blaker from Five Sigma, who’s one of our design partners, who talked about all things brand and creative. So we’re really starting to touch on some of the major things that school leaders need to be thinking about when it comes to enrollment marketing.
So it’s been a fun 10 episodes. Can’t wait for the next 10. On that note, Ashley and I, we will be back next Thursday right here in our home offices as you see here. The following Thursday, we will be in Sacramento for the California Charter Schools Conference. We are going to do this live right from the conference in our open-space initiative where we’re welcoming California school leaders into a discussion on a ton of different topics right next to our booth. We’ll be in booth 200. We don’t know timing yet, but we’ll put it up on our YouTube page. It’ll either be Tuesday or Wednesday. So we will not have an episode in two weeks on our usual Thursday time.
But if you hit subscribe on our channel, you’ll get those notifications. And we look forward to seeing you all live next week, next Thursday, 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern. And then the following week we will be in Sacramento and maybe we’ll try and find a California charter school leader to come join us for the conversation because we know a couple of those people. Maybe we can get a charter school leader to come join us and sit in the hot seat with us. So we’ll look forward to that. As always, thanks to everyone for joining us and we’ll see you next week. Take care. Bye.
Ashley M (14:09):
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