Education Marketing and Advancement

Objectivity, transparency, and a collaborative spirit

Marketing Therapy

with Mike Connor

Charm will take you only so far ... (Series 1 of 9)

The first of nine blogs in serial format, adapted from Mike Connor’s Cornerstone Keynote Address at the Association of Independent Schools Admission Professionals’ (AISAP) Annual Institute in Nashville, July 8, 2013. Connor addressed 200 admission professionals from around the world. Connor's topic: Becoming Your Own Brand and Value Proposition!

The message: What makes a great brand and value proposition for your school may also suggest a design for how enrollment management officers can advance their professional career and their personal lives.

1. In the beginning...

You may have the impression that the admission director – today more accurately described as the enrollment management director – is the salesperson, the face of the school, the people person, the "charmer."  That may well be true, but only partly.


In today’s complex and competitive environment, charm will take you only so far.

To advance in this profession, you need to have a stake in every constituency of the school so you can ultimately be the advocate for the families you seek to serve.  The unofficial guardian of the quality.

Enrollment Management Directors walk the middle ground between the quality and outcomes of the product, and your prospective students’ and parents’ perception and experience of it.

Nowhere is this more evident than when you’re meeting with a prospective family for the first time, hearing their needs and expectations, and confidently matching those needs and expectations with what your school offers.    

In the middle of those conversations do you ever hear yourself secretly praying, “Please, God, let them deliver on my promise!”  

The meat in the sandwich.

Sometimes you can get stuck in the middle between a Head or President expecting you to meet budget, and that teacher who will look at you absolutely stupefied in September and wonder out loud in front of the world, “How the devil did that kid get in here?”

Do not look at this as if you are being pulled in two different directions.  That’s a one-way ticket to schizophrenia.  Look at it as if you are the meat in the sandwich.  When you’re in the middle, you add flavor to both sides. 

This is the irony, however, about enrollment management.  We may represent an institution where we don’t have much say about the quality of the product.  But we are surely held accountable for delivering and keeping families enrolled. 

A new mammal ... 

In the late Jurassic Era of the mid-1980s, enrollment management as a profession in independent schools was just beginning to coalesce.  A new mammal began to emerge.

Most Admission Directors (as they were then called) of that Era were former secretaries to the Head of School.  The job description included waiting for the phone to ring, showing folks around, and processing paperwork. It was essentially administrative, with some expectation of people skills.

So when I was asked to consider a move from classroom teaching to admission in 1988, I jumped at it.  Who wouldn’t?  Piece of cake.  Just teaching to a wider audience, right?

There I was.  A newly minted admission director.  My initial annual salary was an awesome $18,000 and all the food my young family could consume at the boarding school where we lived in Southern California.

By spring of my first year I had to take out a loan so I could continue working. The next year the world went into a recession. 

That was 25 years ago, and that was when we first started whispering the word, “marketing” in education circles. Yes. The M-word. Index cards, tickler files and legal pads faded into twilight. Waiting for the phone to ring became a practice as obsolete as the rotary telephone itself.

Then, in the early 1990s, came the rosy, breaking dawn of websites and enrollment management software.

We had no idea of the enormity of change that was to come, but change was definitely in the air.

What do you bring?

Today, enrollment management is no longer a simple administrative job.  It is strategic. By strategic, I mean enrollment management is the key to the long-term sustainability and resilience of your school. It usually produces 80-90% of the operations budget.

Yes, it requires sales skills to be sure. More than ever it requires skills in educational practice, leadership and communication skills on multiple levels – up, down, and across different constituent groups inside and outside the school.

It requires knowledge of finance, marketing, research and interpretation. Psychological assessment and guidance skills are definitely a plus!  All of these talents are necessary for success in the profession of enrollment management.  Charm helps, but charm will take you only so far.


Next: Fast Forward to 2013:  The Accidental Profession?


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