Our school used Connor Associates for a year-long engagement and we could not have been happier with the results and with the work and attention of Mike and his staff. The demographic study we conducted, the marketing recommendations we received, and the information we collected from our internal, external, and alumni audiences was invaluable. They go far deeper than anyone else with whom we considered working. Andy Deyell, Head of School, Elmwood Franklin School, Buffalo, NY
Introduction to Connor Associates
Who We Are
With 17 Associates across the United States and clients spanning four continents, Connor Associates Strategic Services has been a trusted market research and branding partner for nearly 450 national and international private, independent, and public charter schools over the past 20 years.
Based near Sacramento/Lake Tahoe, CA, Connor Associates was founded by its President, Mike Connor, in 1998. Prior to consulting, Connor held nearly every leadership position in independent day and boarding schools, and also taught at the college, high school, and elementary levels.
This organization-wide, comprehensive point of view, which recognizes everyone’s interdependent role in the success of the school, is at the heart of the Connor Associate’s approach to creating a compelling identity and vision that will raise enrollment, retention, philanthropy, and communications to help your school thrive in today’s competitive educational environment. Because he stays in touch with the latest educational trends, Mike is in demand as a speaker at educational conferences around the world.
What We Stand For
1. Everyone in the school has a role to play in enrollment, retention, communication, and fundraising. Everyone is expected to advance the mission and promote the school among all internal and external constituencies.
2. Schools that thrive recognize that their mission and the market must intersect. Marketing is “the exchange of things valued,” not simply advertising or promotion. It is, at best, an authentic relationship, not a one-way street. It means listening carefully to those you serve and seek to serve, thereby creating a culture of responsiveness and continual improvement.
3. Effectively differentiating your school in the marketplace demands that you boldly make six statements: who you are, who you are not, what you stand for, what you won’t stand for, why you matter, and where you are headed. Clearly stating “who you are not” and “what you will not stand for” are critical. These six statements form your identity and brand. It reinforces your internal and external constituents’ pride of association and ultimately attracts those you will best serve. These 6W statements promote clear expectations and positive word of mouth, which generate up to 80% of all new enrollments.
4. To thrive in an increasingly competitive educational marketplace, independent schools must demonstrate why they are worth what they cost. The public doesn’t measure value by a school’s noble intentions. Given what families are paying in tuition and expected philanthropy, they demand evidence of outcomes and value. But it is equally important that the school defines itself and takes a stand on what it means by “success” so that outcomes are measured by the fulfillment of the mission’s promise.
5. Schools that are grounded in the communities that surround them will have a clear advantage now and in the future.
What We Do: How Can We Help You Achieve Your Goals?
1. Enrollment Feasibility and Five-Year Forecasting. This is about getting a grip on enrollment reality, armed with a strategy to address it. Smart boards demand this data to ensure the School is sustainable. We identify in real time the most mission-appropriate families in your market who share the characteristics, values, and attitudes of the current parents you would like to replicate. We visually prioritize primary, secondary, and future markets of these families using the most advanced psychodemographic and geo-spatial software. We project where your most productive markets will be in five years so you can “skate to where the puck is heading.” We can also cross-reference this list of qualified leads with wealth screening to identify top donors among your prospective families -- and encourage development officers to work alongside enrollment officers to bring these families into the fold.
2. External Image Audit (perceptual study). This is about proactively navigating reputational risk and authentically boosting positive messaging for higher conversions and yields. It is also effective at testing the feasibility of operational, facility, or program changes. This step tells us who the people you seek to serve think you are. It includes up to 150 permission-based qualitative phone interviews with up to 15 various constituent groups. For admission purposes, these would typically include pre-inquirers, those who visited but did not apply, those who were accepted but did not enroll, those who voluntarily left the school, matriculating school heads or their admission personnel, and community influencers who can recommend the school or provide partnership opportunities to expand your curriculum beyond the School and into your communities. In addition, the External Image Audit raises visibility and the perception of the School as a self-assessing organization and as a community asset. It is a valuable tool for strategic planning, and for compelling stories and messages for communications.
3. Competitive Analyses. This is about discovering opportunities to reposition your School in the marketplace using two approaches: 1) via a thorough audit of websites using 30 data points about your competitors that examine their identity and value compared to your school, and 2) through the personal experiences of our own inquirer and visitor who compares your School’s value, identity, and level of customer engagement with that of your competitor schools. The goal is to look for both programmatic opportunities and messaging to differentiate you from the competition, and for ways to improve how your admission office engages and moves families through the enrollment process, with an emphasis on getting more visitors. Once they visit, typically 60% enroll.
4. The Board Sphere of Influence Study. This is about putting to work the collective network of your trustees in the region, expanding the variety of skills and background they bring to the board, and building alliances that will strengthen the School in the long term. In today’s environment, the ambassadorial role of the Board should be as critical as its fiduciary role. Indeed, both are interdependent. Connor Associates inventories and helps you expand the School’s collective network to create mutually beneficial affiliations, internships, and partnerships that will raise awareness of your organization as a community asset. It will also supplement the value of your students’ educational experiences. It’s a win for the School, a win for the community, and a win for your students.
5. Alumni Value-Impact Surveys. This is about gathering evidence that proves you are worth what you cost, provided by your most important “customers.” Your alumni are your “walking value proposition.” Connor Associates’ Alumni (and Past Parent) Surveys are constructed to return both quantitative and qualitative evidence of value, to help you objectively communicate your strongest assets, as well as address areas that will improve your School’s ability to better prepare students for the next level of education and life-long benefits compared to other schools. The essential concept is that it is your customers who are vouching for you, not you making the claims.
6. Wealth screening and prospect research. This is about hewing to the 80/20 rule. We continually hear from development officers that they need help prioritizing potential donors. By analyzing your constituent lists with data from various wealth screening services, we will help you segment your donors according to their giving preferences and capability.
7. Implementation This is about getting traction, buy-in, and giving your vision wings: Connor Associates has a variety of ways to ensure our market research and your goals work together each step of the way:
a. Print and digital marketing collateral that delivers pride of association and results. Using the research, we work with the best designers and brand strategists to authentically and compellingly work with you to craft your authentic identity, and produce attention-getting promotional collateral for enrollment and fundraising communication and campaigns.
b. Strategic Marketing Plans over a three-year horizon, with goals, strategies, tactics, ownership, priority years, budgets, and key performance indicators.
c. Institutional Strategic Planning facilitation and retreats, working with the School’s Board and the Leadership Team.
d. Financial Analysis and Modeling to understand the fiscal implications of your goals.
e. Professional Development Workshops to train all members of your school community about their specific roles in advancing the mission of the school.
What You Can Expect from CONNOR ASSOCIATES
Our findings and recommendations are served “straight with no chaser,” but are delivered with respect for your culture and in the sole interest of serving your goals.
To do our best work, we consider our engagement a two-way street. We depend on you to have the institutional will and dedicated personnel to help us move the project forward, to meet our agreed deadlines, and to be able to listen objectively and with openness to perceptions that may lead to new opportunities.
We understand that our success and our reputation rest squarely on yours. We work in partnership and collaboration during the period of the engagement, and we take a vested interest to ensure you are successful after the formal engagement ends.
© 2019 CONNOR ASSOCIATES STRATEGIC SERVICES