Episode 86

How to market a school in a small district

Guest:Dan Parent

We Love Schools host Joel Gagne speaks with Dan Parent, superintendent of Danbury Local Schools, about how to market a school in a small district. Danbury Local Schools is in northwest Ohio with roughly 500 students, and the two discuss the district’s rebranding efforts to share the message that Danbury Local Schools is the “best kept secret in northwest Ohio.

Joel also chats with Amanda Morris about the Allerton Hill strategy that went into the Danbury Local Schools rebranding efforts.

Dan says that his love for public education started in college while tutoring underprivileged children. He got into teaching and coaching, which he has been doing for the last 34 years. He says the people and the need for public education gives him the belief that public education will only continue to improve.

Dan says that at Danbury Local Schools, they are focused on getting rid of any boundaries and excuses to make sure that every student is successful.

Danbury Local Schools is a seasonal community in Marblehead, Ohio. They’ve begun to market themselves to the broader community to ensure a sustainable student body.

“One of the old sayings up here in Danbury was that we were the best kept secret in Ohio,” Dan says. And with a little research, they found just how unfortunately secret they were. “A lot of people didn’t even know we existed. We really felt we needed to start marketing our district so that number one, people knew we were here, but also number two, that we were a player in the game.”

Dan says that they realized that for them to continue to thrive, they would need to be more proactive. A local charter school was heavily recruiting students from the local districts. They needed to figure out how to market a school in a small district to compete.

“To be a player in the game, we had to start marketing our district and start recruiting kids,” Dan explains. They targeted both current families as well as families who might be looking for a small-school environment like Danbury Local Schools.

The first step in the process was to survey the district to understand the needs of the parents. Then Danbury started a full-blown marketing campaign which included a new brand and logo as well as billboards, advertising at movie theaters, email marketing, social media, local newspaper advertising and more.

“I’ve got to say that billboards and advertisements in the local movie theaters is not something you hear every day that school districts do,” Joel says.

Dan says that while it’s an outside-of-the-box marketing strategy for a school, they’ve received a lot of very positive feedback. He says anyone wondering how to market a school should start with a survey.

“Forty-eight percent of the people surveyed didn’t even know we existed as a school district,” Dan says. He says that made them realize that they needed to start marketing themselves and update their brand to let people know that Danbury Local Schools is an option.

Dan says that his big wish for public schools would be that for all schools, public, private and charter, the rules and regulations would be the same so that all schools could be on a level playing field.

When asked what book Dan would recommend to listeners, he suggests “FYI: For Your Improvement.” He says that it’s a great book that helps readers discover new ways to improve themselves.

The second half of this episode features Amanda Morris, outreach specialist for Allerton Hill Consulting, who led the marketing efforts for Danbury Local Schools. She and Joel talk about Danbury Local Schools as a case study on how to market a school.

Amanda says that a lot of the success from the marketing campaign can be attributed to the hard work and dedication from the Danbury team.

“The idea that choice is part of education is still somewhat foreign to a lot of public education leaders,” Amanda says. “The reality is that choice has been a part of education for many, many years now.”

Amanda says that Danbury recognized that they were doing great things and they wanted to position themselves as an educational choice option for more families.

The first step in the Danbury Local Schools marketing strategy process was to poll residents from seven different school districts. They asked general questions about education as well as specific questions about Danbury, and the unfortunate result was that a lot of people in the region didn’t know about Danbury Local Schools.

“It’s hard to make an educational choice to go someplace if you don’t know this option exists,” Amanda says. “Danbury did a great job of stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘Not only are we a great educational choice for our own students, but we can be a great educational choice for other students as well.'”

After the research phase, Amanda says that they started by educating people within the district that they were going to start marketing the district to others within the region.

To inform people outside of the district, they started with the movie theater ad, which did remarkably well. The ad featured a student talking about how much she loved being a part of the “Danbury family” as well as about all of the opportunities available in the district. They chose exactly where and when the ad would show in order to target the right people, and they loved seeing the numbers of whom they were reaching from throughout the entire region.

Amanda says one of the greatest parts of the campaign was when a member of the Board of Education attended a movie and the ad ran. A group in front of the member saw the ad and commented that they had never heard of Danbury Local Schools, but it looked like a great place.

She says the movie theater ad created fantastic word of mouth both within the community and outside of the community.

People would go to sporting events outside of the community and mention that they were from Danbury Local Schools, and the response would be “Oh yeah! I saw the movie theater ad. That sounds like a great place.”

Joel says this is a great example of a school excelling at telling its story well to the larger community.

Amanda says the first step for a school to tell its story is to start with good data via research. Then, it’s to choose a representative from the district, be it a student, a teacher or someone else, who can passionately share the school’s story.

Amanda says that Danbury is going to continue with their marketing both systematically and sustainably. She says it’s important to be bold, but to keep it manageable.

Joel says that it’s important for schools to remember that it does cost money to market themselves effectively, and Danbury is a great example of a school district that was willing to put resources into marketing with successful results.

Joel says that Danbury Local Schools is a fantastic case study in how to market a school in a small district, and he looks forward to seeing how the strategy grows and progresses.

Got a question or topic you’d like covered in an upcoming We Love Schools podcast? Email us at info@weloveschoolspodcast.com

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Interested in learning more about how the Allerton Hill Consulting team can teach you how to market a school? Contact us today.

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