We are celebrating the six-year workiversary of Tyler Olson, one of the rockstar production managers on the North Star Marketing team who keeps our team charging forward on track. He shared some of the emerging trends for private school website development projects, details about ReSearch, a brand new turnkey school marketing solution from NSM, and how he got his photography hobby chops down.
Now, Tyler, I know you’re a photographer in your spare time. I’ve seen some uncommonly good family photos on social media, and your dog is practically an Instagram star. Is that just a hobby?
Tyler: Well, I shoot houses and architectural stuff mostly. I got into photography after we scheduled a newborn shoot with our son and it just didn’t go well. I told my wife, “I could learn how to do this.” So I bought a little gear and started reading. Slowly people saw pictures of my son and started commenting on my photos and it has sort of evolved over the years. It’s just a hobby and a side business I have with some local clients.
Well, I love that story, and your work. Speaking of work, what are some highlights of the last year for you at North Star?
Tyler: In the last year, our firm has developed a new tiered package for website development and that has been a big win for us and our clients. It means our school clients with different-sized budgets have better options and we can deliver on the streamlined versions very quickly instead of a custom build that could take months of back and forth to finalize. Not every client needs an ultra-sophisticated site with all the bells and whistles so it’s great to have easy-to-understand solutions for them that work with their budget.
As a project manager, I was heavily involved in the creative review process for that effort, in part because I see all our clients’ sites. I’ve also pitched in with content migration for some of our new website builds, so I’m down there in the weeds and details making sure everything rolls out smoothly and quickly.
After so many years of this, we have a refined, reliable sense of what works and doesn’t work for education clients. We’re able to ask those key questions that make a site be what it’s supposed to be — the biggest, most effective marketing tool for a school. Building a site that looks good is great — that’s important, sure. But along with that, we’re bringing almost 20 years of education partnerships for enrollment and retention growth to the table. That means we’re able to go section by section through a new site and look closely at what each part does and how it’s working with the other parts to drive leads.
What are some trends in school websites right now? What’s important?
Tyler: Well, today’s sites aren’t as content-heavy as they used to be not long ago. Schools are offering prospective families more of a glimpse, a first look, at their community’s culture and most compelling selling points. The idea is to just generate enough interest to get them in touch to read more in a parent packet or phone call with admissions. Parents aren’t going to make a decision about what school to send their kid to by reading the details of your high school AP course descriptions on your website when they first visit. Same thing with tuition, really. You don’t need that level of information on your site. Give parents and students something they need and see if you can make it something they weren’t expecting. If they are interested, they’ll come in and have a conversation.
Has that been a hard transition or change in mindset for some schools?
Tyler: Well, over and over again we’re seeing how effective this strategy is for our school partners. They are simplifying. They are getting leads. When they lean on us and trust our perspective, they discover it will work for them. We talk a lot about partnerships because it matters. Contracting with someone for a one-off project to build the site you think you need is very different than crafting a site with a team that knows your school’s story and has deep education marketing experience. When you’re working with a team like ours on a monthly basis, the benefits of that deeper understanding and relationship just multiply over time. Sometimes we have to tell a client that their idea or direction for part of a site is a complete waste of time and money. Nobody wants to hear that, but later when they’ve got a site that’s functioning and winning parents over, they are glad we were willing to help guide them.
Obviously this is a very difficult time for many schools and there’s a lot of uncertainty in most admissions and marketing offices. What are some of the challenges you’re seeing? How are we helping schools address those?
Tyler: It’s worth saying again what a big shift this is for everyone. I mean, I’m home working but also working through my son’s school work with him each day. We’re all in this. For our clients, one of the most important shifts is that people aren’t coming to their campus to learn about the school. That’s huge. Everybody knows how important the school tour is and what the conversation rates for enrolled students are if you can get them to your campus to meet teachers and students.
When we realized schools were very quickly going to need to go a different route we got to work on a solution that can help right in the midst of this crisis. Basically, we knew schools needed to let their audience know they could still learn about them and offer them a resource that would help them shop for private schools from home. It turns out, there is still a ton of stuff you can do and offer parents, even now, even when school isn’t in session.
So we’ve packaged all this up in a turnkey solution for schools and we call it ReSearch. It’s awesome because it meets schools and parents right where they are right now. It gives teams a practical, fast-track solution for staying in the enrollment marketing picture so they are positioned well when things get back to some kind of normal, eventually. So many of our school marketing contacts were already wearing too many hats at once before all this hit and now they are stressed and stretched even more, trying to cut through all the noise about what to do to keep moving forward. ReSearch is especially for them.