by Rebecca Egolf
It’s that time of year again – open house season! In these times of busy schedules and short attention spans, some schools are reporting that attendance at traditional recruitment events is down. Keep these tips in mind to get the attention of more prospective parents for your fall event.
· Current students and parents sell the school better than anyone. The first-person recommendation of a happy customer is the best marketing around, so use current students as tour guides, greeters and to give directions in the hallways. Use current parents to make phone calls leading up the event to extend a personal invitation to prospective parents, and at the event as speakers on a panel discussion. Make sure current students and parents are easily identifiable, using different nametags or special shirts.
· Keep it interactive – after a long day at work, parents don’t want to sit around and listen to boring speeches. They want and need to experience your school in action, so plan rotations of sessions on different topics that move parents around the building to different classrooms and locations, allow them to pick the topics they most want to hear about, and allow plenty of time for Q & A.
· Keep it real – authenticity is more important than anything. Your open house must show your true school, flaws and all, rather than present a staged version that only highlights the school’s best features. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Instead focus on capturing the excitement and spirit of the normal daily life of your school.
· What are your unique selling points? Schools often fall into the trap of highlighting the same features and benefits as their competitors, to the point where they sound too much alike. Identify what makes you different, and show off the ways you stand apart.
· Create opportunities for follow up communication. Create a new page on your website for the open house, and include on it a link to your video, curriculum guide, a profile of the high schools or colleges your graduates attend, and other interesting information. Feature the stories and testimonials of a few successful alumni. Then, the morning after the open house, send a thank you email to everyone that attended with a link to this page, and use your website data tools to track how many people click on the various links to continue learning more about your school.
· Consider printing lawn signs for every family in the school to place in front of their home. Besides being great publicity, this is a way to capture the geographic diversity of your school’s population. One concern prospective parents may have is whether their children will have school friends close by in their neighborhood, so this is a tool to announce the wide variety of locations where your families live.
· Think like a prospective parent, not like a marketer. What do you want to tell parents? Compare that to what they want to find out - are those the same things or different messages? The purpose of an open house is to entice prospective parents to come back and learn more about the school by scheduling a personal tour and beginning the application process. Your open house should capture the best of what the school has to offer, while not ignoring parents’ concerns and questions. Ask a few new parents to the school what questions were on their mind when they came to open house as prospective parents last year, and make sure those topics will be addressed.