by Trevor Waddington, Principal, Truth Tree Consulting
It finally hit home. Not literally, thank goodness, but the Coronavirus is now having a genuine impact on independent education in the United States.
In an email exchange on March 9, this was the response I received from a colleague about a project.
I'm sorry, Trevor, but we just recently announced an Extended Closure and Remote Learning Plan for our school starting 3/10 and ending 4/20 due to Coronavirus-COVID 19.
A school closure of forty-one days will have significant implications for this school. And by the time I post this blog or you read it, your school may be closed or closing too, and with little warning.
According to Education Week, as of March 11, 2020, 4:32 p.m. ET, 1,561 public and private schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting 1,006,197 students. Schools are closing for many reasons related to Coronavirus, including exposures, cleaning, or planning for extended closures.
The immense loss of life and incredible strain this is putting on the world is not lost on me. However, I will leave policies, antidotes, communication to current school families to the experts.
In this blog, I will focus on how you can continue to promote your independent school in direct and indirect ways to stay relevant during these turbulent times and hopefully get out of it enrollment positive and COVID-19 negative.
Some of the ideas and suggestions below will seem obvious, and others Monday morning quarterback-esque, but it's also a time where we need to prepare for something like this happening again in the future. Many in the field of disease control are calling this the "New Normal."
Here are 5 Tips For Marketing Your School During the Coronavirus Crisis
Create a Virtual Tour - Speaking of playing quarterback on a Monday morning, a virtual tour can be a highly effective way of emoting the ethos of your school. While it's doubtful you can get this done in a few days from today; it is something to consider for the future. Nothing beats an in-person tour with a bustling campus full of students but a virtual tour is the next best thing. The folks at C3D Imagery work almost exclusively with schools to create online, self-guided tours. Many of them include quick videos, short tutorials, and written explainers about what happens in the spaces you move through. Here is a prime example of one C3D did for The Dunham School.
Advertise Your Online Learning - University Prep in Seattle moved to online classrooms earlier this week, along with hundreds of other schools. But not all schools will have the staffing, technology, or ability to pivot to home-based learning quickly. If your school has a plan set up and the bandwidth to accommodate non-[your school] students, advertise it. This will help take the pressure off of schools that are not capable of handling online learning, and it gives non-[your school] families exposure to your school and faculty.
Create Honest, Helpful, and Inspiring Content - How can independent school marketers do our part? Back on January 28, Meghan Hodgin, Director of Marketing and Communications at Oak Knoll School, wrote about Coronavirus that detailed the history and spread of the disease, the symptoms, and how to prevent it (yes, rewash your hand). There is a lot of information out there that is giving people false hope and erroneous fear. None-the-less parents are consuming the information that's out there. If you can create content that's unique and trust-worthy, go for it and help out some folks in need.
Host Online Events - Speaking of Meghan Hodgin, while I was corresponding with her about her earlier-than-most awareness blog, she shared the following, "My biggest tips for marketing a private school if the school goes on hiatus is switching on-campus events to virtual events (virtual open houses, live Facebook/Instagram Q&As with admission directors, etc.).”
Idea alert: In addition to admission-specific events, you can also hold a 12:30 PM storytime where one of your school's teachers reads a "good book" for children in K-2 every day on Facebook Live each day.
Continue or Start Marketing Digitally - If parents are stuck at home for weeks at a time and searching for an independent school, or deciding which ones to apply to, it is critical to be digitally available. Your stagnant website and social media pages are not likely to inspire them. This is a great time to promote your school and allow searchers to dive deep into your website to learn about what makes your education one-of-a-kind. But first, they have to find you. So if you are considering search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and search engine optimization (SEO), now is the time to get moving. And if you need assistance from a firm like Truth Tree to execute digital marketing on your behalf, we can quickly get you up and running while your school building(s) remain closed during this tragic crisis.