Even though it feels like school just started, it’s already time to start thinking about school open house season. Principals and admissions directors are busy promoting their tour dates and marketing for open houses. The school tour and open house is where the rubber figuratively hits the road in your recruitment.
Your ultimate success in a school open house is the number of students that enroll. But you can break it down even further by looking at the total number of families that attend, divided by the number of families that enroll. Understanding what your “closure rate” is will help you to know if you need to do a better job of attracting more people to your school open house vs. improving your ability to get them to enroll.
So what can you do to improve your open house?
Step 1: Effectively leverage ALL of your advertising channels to get more attendance
This sounds elementary, but it is critical to try to get as many people as possible to attend your open house. For most schools this is an incredibly time-consuming event with some disruption to the normal school day. You need to make it count. Exterior signage is your first step. Make sure that you have banners or signs outside of your school announcing the event at least a few weeks prior to the event. Ask every current family to display a yard sign that has the name of your school, date and time of your open house featured prominently. Do you know why political campaigns use yard signs? Because they work!
If you are a parochial school, make sure that there are multiple announcements at Mass in the weeks leading up to your open house and that it is featured prominently in the bulletin. Make sure that your priest is mentioning the school and all of the good things happening there. Having an information table staffed by energetic parents and students after Mass always helps to begin conversations with parishioners who were interested, but haven’t engaged. Nearby parishes without schools? Be there!
Use social media as much as possible and make sure that you are posting multiple times. With the challenges of Facebook’s algorithms, it is getting harder and harder to gain a wide audience. Make sure you are using the Event feature of Facebook to increase visibility. Encourage all of your families to like and share your posts that announce your open house.
Every prospect in your database should receive a person invitation. Or better yet, have all of your existing parents personally invite their friends. You can even distribute a card that a prospective family that was referred by a current family can redeem for a t-shirt or some other promotional item.
Step 2: Make it easy for parents to attend
Understand the challenges of a working or busy parent. Make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for parents to tour and engage with your school regardless of their working time. Many schools are moving to having a weekly time set aside for tours and prospective parent time. You must meet the customer when it is convenient for them – not you. If that means that you need to have multiple open houses or multiple events, then do so. You need to work around the schedule of your customers.
Step 3: Gather your data
Ensure that you are gathering contact and child data from every prospective parent that walks through your door. These “leads” are golden and you need to treat them that way. Don’t rely on a handwritten sheet where you can’t read their writing. Have a simple google form set up on an ipad so you can get their correct contact information.
Make sure that you ask them how they heard about your school. This is fundamental to understanding which marketing vehicle brought them in the door and is very useful in tweaking future campaigns and programs. Most parents will indicate that they knew of you through word of mouth. If that is the case, then make sure you ask the simple follow up question, “Who should we thank for referring you?” Once you have that information, engage the referring parent to help you to encourage them to attend. A follow up call from their friend is always more effective than one from a school administrator.
Step 4: Have updated and relevant collateral material to give to them
You should be giving the parents a set of strong collateral materials post-tour for them to read when they get home. This is not a handbook or just an application. This is a nice, professionally-designed printed piece to sell your school. The more sophisticated private schools will call this a viewbook. Make sure that it talks about all the great things about your school. Different parents will want different things, so you need to make sure that you include as much as you can about what makes your school great and sets you apart (information gathered from parent and teacher surveys can be excellent content for these pieces).
Ensure that the pictures in your printed pieces reflect your diversity as much as possible. Many parents cite lack of diversity as a reason why they don’t attend a a private school. Try to help them see all your students and your inclusiveness.
Provide contact information to your parent ambassadors. Many times, parents want “the real story” about your school and they don’t feel like they can get it from the admissions team. Having a preset group of parents that you know will help sell the school can often make a huge difference.
Step 5: Follow up, follow up, follow up.
How do you convert families who attended your school open house to enrolled families? Ensure that each family that tours receives a series of three follow ups. The first should be a handwritten card from the admissions person thanking them for coming. The second should be a follow up call from either a current parent, a coach, or even the teacher for the grade that the student will be entering. The third and final call should come from an administrator offering to answer any additional questions and thanking them for attending. Make them feel welcomed and wanted at your school. These small things make a huge difference. A little secret – your competition isn’t doing this. Or if they are and you aren’t? Then they are beating you and showing prospective families that they are willing to go the next mile.
By making a few personal follow ups, you can set yourself apart and make each prospective family feel wanted. This ultimately improves your school open house experience and increases your enrollment.