By Matt Hillis and Morgan Childers
The words marketing and public relations are rarely mentioned around the grounds of the typical Montessori school until the need is critical, and often resources and budgets for such endeavors are inadequate. If this sounds like your school, you are not alone.
Apart from a handful of large schools that employ a marketing staff, most Montessori programs consist only of teachers, assistants, and few administrators. These individuals’ unwavering dedication to children, parents and the classroom is unparalleled, but all too often their focus on education causes proper marketing and public relations programs to be overlooked.
Unfortunately, when marketing is set aside, it often results in a classroom that falls short of ideal enrollment numbers. Those unfilled classroom spaces, no matter how few, represent the continuing financial vitality of your school. Full enrollment can equate to teacher bonuses, updated materials, new playground equipment, qualifying for community sponsorships, and more.
Clearly, the question is not if to market your school; but how to market your school and to whom?
The Ideal Family
One of the challenges in operating a quality Montessori program is enrolling the right type of family. Many schools rely on the old axiom that “every child is a Montessori child.” Unfortunately, not every family is a Montessori family.
In general, focus your marketing efforts on families who are looking for one or more of the following:
- child/day care
- early childhood education
- public school alternatives
- a Montessori program
Of these four, the last group is the most desirable. These families understand classroom methodologies, are likely to respect your teachers, refer your school to friends, and support school functions. These families are also likely to stay through each three-year cycle until their child completes your program.
Even if you are the only Montessori school in the area, it does not follow that your ideal families will automatically flock to your school. They need to know that you are dedicated to the Montessori method and not just relying on the name.
For this group, it is critical to focus on a strong public relations and outreach program that demonstrates your commitment to the community while emphasizing all things Montessori. Your ideal family is intelligent and informed – they will not choose your school without researching their options. Your efforts will ensure top-of-mind awareness during their decision-making process.
Marketing to and Working with other Targeted Audiences
With a few variances, the other three groups of families listed above will respond to similar fashions of marketing. This may include targeted mail, newspaper advertising, sponsorships, newsletters, television and radio advertising, and many others.
Before you initiate any of these tactics, be sure to have a clear and concise strategic plan that is consistent with your overall goals. Create a plan defining your target market, marketing methods, timelines, evaluation tools, and budget.
When Marketing Works, Get Ready to Work
If successful, your marketing efforts will also result in families that know very little about Montessori enrolling in your school.
The simple truth is that many families are looking for safe and reliable child care, especially in the toddler and pre-school classes. However, these families can be just as dedicated as your most ardent supporters with little more encouragement and the right information. A marketing program can help these families recognize the benefits of Montessori education and marvel at their children’s accomplishments.
Eventually, proper marketing will result in you working with various companies including mailing list resellers, broadcasters, designers, and publishers. Each will discuss your target market and demographics in order to determine the best message, distribution, and placement of your message. The better you understand your typical customer, the better your marketing dollars can be utilized.
Income, Proximity, and Education
If you are operating a tuition-based program, then the most important trait of your target market is, arguably, income level. A good rule of thumb is to target families with income at least 10 to 15 times that of your annual tuition. Barring scholarships or financial aid, a family without the proper disposable income will be unable to afford your school.
Creating a parent survey will help determine the likely maximum distance that people are willing to travel to your school. This distance will vary by community, depending on population density, traffic patterns, and competition, but will provide you with a logical radius in which to focus your efforts.
Finally, the education level of your target family is an important demographic factor. With few exceptions, the higher the education level of the family, the more likely they will be interested in exploring alternatives such as Montessori.
Missing the Target, but Hitting the Mark
Naturally, other groups will see your marketing and you will benefit from it. For example, future parents who are regularly exposed to your messages will naturally think of you first when the time comes. Similarly, grandparents, community leaders, educators, and news editors will notice your school and each of these groups can have a powerful connection to your potential customers.
Tell the Community Why or They May Never Know
No matter how impressive your school is, few people will know you exist if you don’t have an active marketing program. The days of relying on word-of-mouth alone are over. As the private education market becomes more competitive, a strong marketing and public relations program is essential for successful Montessori schools.
Matt Hillis and Morgan Childers own and operate Go Montessori, a company specializing in developing marketing and public relations programs and materials for Montessori schools across the nation. Email your comments to info@GoMontessori.com.
This article appeared in Montessori Leadership magazine