The North Star Marketing team is delighted to celebrate Laura Eisenga’s one-year workiversary today. Laura joined our team as a marketing manager with a deep well of experience promoting a small private Christian school. Her perspective and efforts have made a big difference for our school partners over the last year. We caught up with her to hear what’s happening in private education marketing right now and what we might expect in the days ahead.
Laura! I cannot believe it has already been a year since you started at NSM. You have been such a key collaborator on our team and it seems like you were just onboarding a couple of months ago. What has it been like for you?
Laura: I know! It’s crazy this milestone has come around already. One of the things that I think about all the time is how great it is to be a part of such a “huge” team here. Before North Star, I was a one-person marketing and enrollment director for 10 years at a small, private Christian school. It feels great to work alongside other industry experts on our team who are so intelligent, creative, and fun to have as co-workers. It’s amazing how much that teamwork and collective innovation means as we keep striving to do more for our clients.
It sounds like your previous experience is a big help in your client partner relationships. How has that factored into your work this year?
Laura: Absolutely. So many of the folks I work with are in a very similar position to the one I came from — they are one person, or a very small staff — trying to do everything. That’s relentless and overwhelming, even when there isn’t a global pandemic! Since I really do get where they are at and know what it feels like to be wearing too many hats, I can connect them with tailored resources, support, and leadership from our team.
We have been writing recently about how to help schools navigate all the upheaval and challenges that came overnight with the COVID-19 crisis. What do you think are the most important factors for private schools to consider in the near future?
Laura: There’s something we are hearing on every single client call we have: admissions and marketing are overwhelmed. Everyone has had to try and do a complete 180. They can’t invite families onto the campus so they are pivoting to virtual admissions. It’s difficult to help parents make this huge decision about their kid’s education when they can’t see the classrooms and experience the culture.
And adding to the overwhelming feelings is the deluge of webinars and emails and weeding through all the new ideas and strategies out there. It’s hard to know what will be effective and what might be a waste of time. That’s why North Star dove into the chaos to offer a couple of clear resources for schools right now.
One is some super-practical guidance about how to make compelling virtual tours, even if your school campus is closed at the moment. These tips are so helpful in the current situation and will continue to be valuable assets in the fall and beyond.
The other is our ReSearch offering. It helps prospective parents search for a private school without leaving home. It’s a simply packaged turnkey solution for enrollment marketing that schools can implement quickly and effectively to stay in front of prospective parents.
Both of these things are helpful for our clients who are trying to keep up and sort out their next moves, which they know will be even more critical than usual.
When you look back at the last year, what are some themes and highlights of things you worked through with our school clients?
Laura: Lead generation is always a forefront issue, so we’ve invested a lot of time and resources helping schools improve in that area. We keep emphasizing the need for age-and-stage materials for prospective parents because that continues to be such an effective tool for connecting with families. That can get pretty granular, too. For example, parents of kindergarten-aged children need to hear and see different messages from the rest of your elementary or lower school parents. It’s definitely an investment in time and resources, but the payoff is remarkably consistent.
Homepages for our schools’ websites are another special focus for us these days. We’re working with our clients to make sure that age-and-stage messaging is clear on that page, right away. Are you a K-8 private Christian school? Do you have a preschool? Parents need to know very, very quickly what ages you serve and how to drill down to that content. You’ve got to have that information prominently above the fold on your homepage. Then, you build out your messaging and the content for your lead nurturing funnel from there.
What kind of content do parents especially want to see?
Laura: Good question! It’s “day in the life” content, mostly. If a prospective parent finds your site and clicks the kindergarten button on your homepage, they want to know what lunchtime looks like. Do students take naps in the afternoon? What does the school culture feel like? This is not the place to serve up your kindergarten curriculum, no matter how amazing it is!
In various ways, we’re often working with schools to help them avoid falling into endless variations of the same pitfall: using their website and messaging to talk first or primarily about themselves (as an institution) instead of directly to the actual concerns of parents and students. It’s amazing how easy it is to miss that goal.
Social media is a great example. Most schools use it as a megaphone to tout their school’s news, events, accolades, whatever. But prospective parents are following them there, too. Why? Because they are trying to get a bead on school culture. It’s definitely a shift in mindset, but we see positive results when school marketing teams turn their social feeds into channels of content geared toward engaging their prospective parents and current families. And, you know, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re posting about different things entirely — but it probably does mean you’re framing it differently so it’s engaging for that key audience and resonating with their questions and interests.
What are some other challenges you’re helping schools address?
Laura: Sometimes it’s relatively simple stuff they just need to make an adjustment to but there’s resistance to change because they have a long-standing process in place. It’s easy for anyone to get set in their ways but schools are learning more than ever before how critical agility and flexibility are to keeping their doors open or thriving in the midst of all this uncertainty.
Here’s a great small example. Usually, schools have long forms on their websites to gate their content and capture leads. I mean, sometimes there are really long forms to complete just to get an early-stage content offer. Schools keep insisting on making all those fields required because their process insists on getting every line in their CRM filled out! But this is a pain point for a brand new prospective parent. They don’t want to give up all that information. At this point, they just want to download your offer. Get a glimpse. Have a quick conversation.
Don’t scare those leads away before they have a chance to learn about you. At some point, they might fill out the rest of those fields. But you need to build and trust a concise, intentional lead nurturing plan. It really is a funnel, and it is so important to make it easy for parents to get through the widest point. By the time they get all the way to the bottom they will have everything they need to make a great decision about their education, and you will have all the information you need to stay connected with them. Many schools already get this concept but there are plenty that still haven’t made this transition in their thinking.
Any closing thoughts about what’s ahead for schools?
Laura: I don’t think it’s dramatic or an overstatement to say the future of education has officially changed. All schools are doing online distance learning. That’s going to continue in some form. The role of an enrollment director has changed so drastically in the last two months that schools can’t expect to fall back to where they once were. We all need to keep innovating and thinking about education in different ways. This crisis is making it clear to everyone how important it is to be prepared for disruption. Schools are looking at retention in new ways. There’s so much to sort out! I’m looking forward to learning alongside all our clients and our team. We are going to help determine where education will continue to trend from here. And I’m glad to help provide that leadership as North Star navigates these new waters with our schools.