Education & business profs collaborate on school marketing advice
Words like “product” and “consumer” don’t always come easily to people who are devoted to teaching, but the rise of charter schools and school vouchers has created a highly competitive environment in which families have choices about where to send their kids for K–12 education. Without the traditional geographic customer base, even public school leaders have to face the fact that their success increasingly hinges on assessing consumer preferences, tailoring the product accordingly, building relationships with their customers, and tracking the results—in other words, marketing.
Fortunately for them, two UIndy faculty members are collaborating on a how-to book of sorts, tentatively titled Educational Marketing: More Than Just Telling Your Story.
Collaborating across academic disciplines, Associate Professor Azure Angelov (right) of the School of Education and Assistant Professor Deidre Pettinga (left) of the School of Business began the project two years ago. Angelov and a colleague from Shippensburg University had been working on a topic of particular interest, special education in charter schools, when they realized there was an emerging field to explore.
“So much of it was coming back to business and marketing,” says Angelov, who says the current shift in education could be as revolutionary as the impact of desegregation decades ago. “We decided we needed a business perspective.”
Enter Pettinga, with her professional and academic background in consumer psychology and integrated marketing communications. The researchers already have written white papers on the subject, receiving “best paper” and “best presentation” awards at a recent national conference. Angelov and Pettinga also co-taught a marketing course this summer in UIndy’s new MBA program for educators, which is preparing local teachers and administrators to take on greater leadership roles in their buildings and districts.
Along the way, they have identified common misconceptions about the role of marketing in education, as well as a number of success stories. Many educators, for example, think of marketing only in terms of communication, promotion, and advertising, without seriously considering whether their type of education meets community needs. “If you just try to gloss over a bad product, consumers are going to see through that right away,” Pettinga says.
The marketing principles in their forthcoming book—including the “four P’s” of product, place, price, and promotion—are accompanied with real-life case histories. Positive examples from the Indianapolis area include Goodwill and its expanding array of Excel Center charters, which have built a strong niche in serving dropouts from other schools; IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who launched his turnaround efforts with a media-savvy “100-day plan”; and Wayne Township’s Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center, which engaged its community with a radically new approach to parent-teacher conferences that resulted in 100 percent participation.
Among their points: Facebook and Twitter may be cheap ways for schools to communicate, but social media campaigns can backfire if not well planned or managed. The professors say their advice can be helpful to schools of all kinds, whether private, charter, or traditional public institutions. “We’re not advocating one type of school over another,” Pettinga says. “We’re simply saying that these are best practices in terms of marketing.”