Strong Recruitment Strategy


Tuition driven schools spend a great deal of time, and rightfully so, in the world of recruitment. This is how families end up in the proverbial (if outdated) "top of the funnel", which can feel like the holy grail for strong enrollment management. It is certainly true that bullet-proof recruitment practices are vitally important to enrollment. Having a steady stream of inquiries allows you to nurture leads through the funnel and into your matriculated student base.

Strategy is the key to a grounded, purposeful recruitment plan. Too many admission officers are hustling without deep thought around where their energy is spent. I am all for hustle, but argue that a strategic hustle will be more fruitful than randomly dropping off postcards with your school name on it at the local gas station because, well, "you never know!" Depending on your market, your school configuration, and the current status of your enrollment, your strategy needs to match where you are and where you need to go.

However, there are a few “pillars” of strong recruitment that apply to every school, regardless of the variables. 

1)   Relationship, relationship, relationship. We know that word of mouth is our best source of referrals. What are you doing to nurture, support, and enhance relationships with the constituencies of your community, both inside and outside your school? Which relationships require your attention immediately, and which can be part of a three year plan? Who needs to see you in person? Who needs an invitation to visit campus, and who is better served by you going to them? Who in your community is the right person to reach out to a given individual or group? (Hint: it might not be you!)

2)   A willingness to think creatively and out of the box. Many schools talk about innovation as a value in their community, but it is rare to see an institution that truly walks the talk in regard to recruitment. Very few schools are taking chances and trying something different. Trying something new will set you apart from competition and make you memorable.

3)   Brand clarity and recognition. Without brand clarity and recognition, staying on message is challenging, which is confusing to potential families. If your marketing materials (including people!) are a hodge podge of messaging and your visual pieces are mismatched, consumers will be unclear about what you stand for. Direct mail is largely dead, but it is still useful as part of a brand awareness campaign. If your school needs to get your name out there, consider a very targeted direct mail sequence (one mailing is not enough), ideally organized by market segment. Be sure to include specific calls to action.

4)   Invitations to experience your school in a variety of ways. I cringe to say this, but admission events are largely a dime a dozen. Even the most "authentic" events have been orchestrated and families can sense this. Many schools have a nicely varied list of opportunities to get to know the school that are all organized by the admission office. Consider other types of ways for families to learn about your community. Is there a 5th grade debate day they could observe? Could you give them complimentary tickets to a fall fundraiser? Is there an arts festival? Many schools hold weekly or monthly all school assemblies, you could offer an open invitation for parents to simply come by when it suits their schedule, even last minute, to attend an assembly. This transparency increases trust. People buy when they know, trust, and like you.

5)   Effective follow up. So, there are the "drip" communications you have in your database. Those are good. What else? Who is calling after a family tours? Who is contacting the student after they visit for the day? Who is following up with the recommendation writer? Who is following up after a parent attends a school event? Who is checking in after a screening to be sure there are no lingering questions? Every time a family has contact with your school, you have an opportunity to respond with follow up, and the time you spend making sure that follow up is specific and personalized is worth it's weight.

Schools are typically doing “fine” in most or all of these areas, or, they are completely ignoring one or more pieces. Rarely are schools doing everything well, and that’s ok, naturally! The catch is to know your school, your market, and the specific needs of your enrollment plan. Depending on your stake in the marketplace and the strengths and deficiencies in recruitment, your need to focus on particular elements will change.

Take a big picture view of your recruitment strategy and identify two or three places that could really use your attention in the coming months. Be specific! Depending on the time of year, your goals and areas of focus will change. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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