It is both exciting and humbling to hear that a school has taken an idea they've heard in one of our workshops, blogs, or podcast interviews and pushed the envelope beyond expectations!
Such was the case with Matthew Soule, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall. CH-CH as they like to call themselves, is a coeducational college preparatory school ten miles west of Boston with 81 boarding and 99 day students in Grades 9-Post Graduate.
Matt listened in to a November 2017 InspirEd "Sparkcast," hosted by InspirEd's Rob Norman, who interviewed me on the topic of faculty involvement in marketing. (No surprise here. I began my independent school career as a teacher and have long proclaimed that they hold nearly all of the credibility cards when it comes to effective school marketing).
One of the ideas we discussed in that podcast that attracted Matt's attention was the concept of getting teachers on videotape surprising selected students by telling them how they inspired them to be better teachers.
When Matt took it to the administrative group it was a slam dunk. "Our students are some of the most compassionate, hardworking and brave individuals I have ever met,” said Head of School Lance Conrad, Ed.D. “They are the reason why we’re excited to come to work each day; they are the epicenter of our professional lives. It’s really important to us that they realize this fact and we celebrate them.”
The teachers loved the idea and immediately and enthusiastically got on board. The students beamed with appreciation and self-confidence from the surprise interaction.
“After the initial shock of being asked to step out of class (the students thought they were in trouble),” Matt says. “There were lots of tears and hugs as the teachers explained the powerful impact the student has had on their life.”
Once the video was complete, the school sent the link to all of its constituent groups and asked them share it with their collective Facebook networks. "We reached thousands more people than we usually reach," Matt reports.
The story got "legs." Alumni and past faculty reconnected to the school after long absences. It became a point of pride among current parents and students. It became a valuable tool in the enrollment management and fundraising process.
But the best was yet to come. Matt pulled up his local media news stations and newspapers and sent them a media advisory. Several news sources responded, including the local CBS-TV affiliate, which sent out a team to interview the students and teachers and placed the story prominently in the evening news.
The reporters were particularly attracted to the "surprise" aspect of the story. But they were also taken in by the positive, human interest side following a divisive election, and they thought that this message would resonate with the holiday season. Several of the local newspapers blanketing the School's 38-town day student market also featured the story.
The lesson here for communication directors is two-fold. The first is having a mindset and tenacity that will help you recognize and run with a great win-win-win idea. In this case the idea makes the student-teacher relationship a two-way street. It's good for the teachers. It's good for the students. It's good for the school. Then manifest that relationship into compelling video content, and distribute it over your internal network so they can share it with their friends and colleagues. Being attentive to timing in the news cycle can influence success. But the real key is tapping into your closest constituents' networks to serve as your distribution channels.
The second has to do with always being in professional development mode. "I've been working in all forms of marketing, and education marketing moves fast. It can be difficult to keep up. I need to stay on top of ideas that have worked."
Matt particularly likes the podcast format, as it provides 30-40 minutes of in-depth conversation, long enough to dig into more depth that goes below just getting a nugget or a bullet point. "What helped me with your interview," he shared, "was the point that getting teachers involved in marketing is not asking teachers to do something they may not want to do, but demonstrating their involvement in a way that lets you showcase their quality."
"And what's more" he continued, "is when you showcase a few of them demonstrating engaging lessons, more of them want to get into the act. This kind of marketing is priceless. It's authentic, it's true, and it connects with people." (See this two minute teacher vignette on AP Environmental Science here and a charming Snow Day Video with faculty infants and children making a "board level" decision here).
For my money, I think the biggest takeaway for communication, marketing, enrollment managers and development officers is this:
Build trust with faculty and staff. Let them know you want to cheer them on. That you want to "raise them and praise them." No other profession has a higher calling. Education marketing is all about great teachers and great teaching -- and the fantastic human beings they help create.
I'll leave you with one more piece of advice from Matthew. "With video sometimes you just make it and put it out there. But do the planning. What is the message behind it? How can we release it to get the most coverage? How can we repurpose it? And then be ready to handle the reaction when it does come. Always plan for follow-up!"
To hear the original podcast that led to this success story, click here. You'll also find four additional links that will take you to Connor Marketing Therapy blogs on strategy and tactics for faculty involvement in marketing.
Thanks for listening to that InspirED Sparkcast, Matt, and best wishes to you and CH-CH!