Why SBMs need to take charge of marketing

GUEST BLOGGER: Simon Hepburn runs Marketing Advice for Schools – the UK’s most popular source of advice and training for all those working to market schools. www.marketingadviceforschools.com

‘Marketing? In schools? Why do we need that?’, used to be the common view of almost all those working in state schools.

The past few years should have blown that mindset out of the water. As a Business Manager you don’t need to be told that all schools are now competing for income, students and staff, and competition is growing. Free schools, multi-academy trusts, private schools, studio schools, FE colleges – more every year. At the same time schools are expected to attract extra income, deliver better teaching and better results and solve problems such as absenteeism, radicalisation – and a major teacher shortage.

Other parts of the public sector (for example universities) have responded to these issues with a strongly marketing-based approach. Marketing is emphatically not about spending your limited funds on advertising – it’s about listening to your stakeholders through market research, meeting their needs by changing the way you do things and the things you offer, and communicating effectively what you are doing to meet these needs.

Marketing lets you identify and head off competitive threats, change the way parents think of education, grow your school in a sustainable way that meets community needs, recruit the best teachers and improve community cohesion. You can also improve morale by finding and celebrating great things happening around your school, involve students in journalism and filmmaking and welcome former students back to help with careers education. A marketing approach can also save your school money by centralising and evaluating your current ‘marketing’ activities – many schools claim not to be doing any marketing but are spending vast sums on publications, adverts, websites and events year after year while not using cheaper alternatives such as social media, media relations or electronic newsletters.

Some schools are recruiting marketing professionals to fill the gap, but it’s really an area for Business Managers to take charge of. Marketing can appear ‘fluffy’ but it requires strong analytical skills, an understanding of the challenges of education and a grasp of the strategic needs of the school – technical skills such as web design and copywriting are secondary and can be bought in as required. This view of marketing is shared by the National Association of School Business Management, which has placed marketing as one of the five important aspects of a Business Manager’s job alongside Procurement, Finance, Human Resources and Infrastucture. (http://www.nasbm.co.uk/Standards/index.aspx?S=9). This is an excellent decision as well as an opportunity for Business Managers to take a more strategic approach to school development.

While delivering a training course on school marketing last summer I asked the participants why they’d come along. One Business Manager told me, ‘my headteacher told me a few weeks ago that we’re having a nursery next year and we need 20 children to fill it’. I was able to help her create a marketing plan – but it would be great if in the future it was the Business Manager who told the headteacher that a nursery was a great solution to recruitment and financial problems.