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Outlook: Meet Your New Marketing Team: The Faculty
Outlook: Meet Your New Marketing Team: The Faculty

With guidance, teachers can boost word-of-mouth referrals and institutional reputation

By Neil Isakson

Anna Parini

SHHHH! Don't tell your faculty, but they are marketers.

On second thought, do tell them. They are essential to your institution's marketing efforts. Faculty are on the front lines delivering the school's mission, interacting with students, and, particularly in the case of independent schools, having conversations with parents and demonstrating that the institution delivers on its promises. All of these daily interactions can increase positive word-of-mouth marketing of your institution.

Faculty might be hesitant about sharpening those marketing skills. So how can we educate professors about the enrollment cycle, help them understand their role in articulating what their school is all about, and engage them in ways that support common goals?

Here's why answering those questions is so important: Word-of-mouth referrals are the most powerful influencers for prospective students and parents and are among the top ways that colleges, universities, and independent schools find the kinds of students and families they want to enroll. These types of referrals are effective because they happen in casual, everyday spaces—parking lots, hair salons, supermarkets, social media—and they come from people we know personally.

These referrals are not outside of your control. By strategically incorporating them into marketing plans and by using faculty to boost our efforts, we can coax positive comments from parents, students, and alumni.

Do what you're already doing—only more deliberately

At Worcester Academy, a sixth- to 12th-grade day and boarding school in Massachusetts, word-of-mouth campaigns figure prominently in our marketing efforts. The marketing communications plan covers the range of traditional elements—including a parent relations representative and refrigerator magnets—but it also features faculty who can influence conversations beyond our traditional reach.

Faculty have always been asked to attend open houses and visit days. More recently, we've changed Worcester Academy's open house model to include less formal programming and more opportunities for conversations among faculty, students, and families in classrooms and workspaces.

We've also begun inviting parents to more communitywide school celebrations such as our Science Week and World Languages Week, as well as other student demonstrations, exhibitions, and capstone graduation projects. Because our institution values inquiry-based, experiential learning, these opportunities give faculty a natural way to show how our students benefit from their education. Many faculty photograph or live-stream the events for parents who can't attend and post the footage on social media platforms.

At the university level, it's invaluable for faculty to partner with students on research projects, help them attend professional conferences, and sit next to them at awards banquets. Faculty need to identify their role in student success and communicate that to students and parents.

But that's not my job!

Faculty may be reluctant to add marketing to their responsibilities, so administration and senior leaders need to emphasize the importance of faculty participation. At Worcester Academy, the director of admission attends faculty meetings throughout the school year. She offers talking points and updates, answers questions, and learns about projects, standout students, and programmatic excellence that can be promoted. The point is to develop a consistent message and vocabulary that will be familiar to students and families whether they are visiting the website, touring the campus, or attending their first day of class.

Most important, recruit faculty to your cause. Professors are more likely to help out if you show them why you need their assistance. Even difficult parent-teacher discussions can be opportunities to demonstrate how the school handles challenges and addresses concerns.

Here are five messages to help win faculty support.

Marketing is simply an extension of what you are already doing. Faculty already have conversations with students and parents, and by making simple adjustments, faculty can increase the value of those conversations. Don't just tell parents a student is doing well. Articulate how a student embraces the learning process, pursues passions, and takes a creative approach to an assignment.

Celebrating classroom excellence helps you and your career. Positive word-of-mouth comments benefit faculty in end-of-semester surveys, job reviews, tenure discussions, and decisions about grant making.

Intentional conversations promote a healthy school culture. The best conversations spotlight student growth in the context of school strengths—those things that made a student a good fit in the first place. When teachers affirm expectations, they build a well of goodwill.

You can't teach to an empty classroom. If a school is to deliver on its mission, it needs financially sustainable enrollment plans. Faculty have a serious part to play in that. Students who embrace what we offer will make all of us more successful and help us create a strong culture of teaching and learning.

Every interaction builds brand. The brand is the sum total of student, parent, and alumni experiences. Faculty, maybe more than anyone else, are uniquely empowered to define who we are by what they do and how they do it.

About the Author Neil Isakson




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