Sue Carback joined the team at North Star Marketing at a very particular moment in time. As we were beginning our 20-Year Anniversary celebration and shifting our agency’s focus to serve education clients, the pandemic suddenly became a reality for everyone. In some ways, we were like a new firm, operating in territory no one had seen yet. Sue took up marketing manager duties here in the midst of all that and joined our charge forward through all the uncertainty. You could say she is employee #1 of North Star 2.0. We couldn’t be more thankful for her and all the ways she makes our team better. Congratulations on your first workiversary, Sue, and here’s to many more!
I know that you, like some of our other marketing managers, have worked in marketing roles at schools. What’s your background in education?
Sue: Yes, I was an admissions and marketing director at a private christian school back in 2013. Before that, I was a teacher (5th grade!) and served the development office at our school. By the time I joined the team at North Star, I also had some marketing agency experience.
Yes, I remember exactly when you started here … that was a wild time!
Sue: Basically the pandemic and shut down were just becoming very real for everyone. There were tons of questions. I was thrilled, though, to join this team. We were just rolling out the new ReSearch offering for schools and prospective parents, and I helped in some of the product development for that campaign. When ReSearch immediately started helping the schools that adopted it, that was a great feeling. We adapted quickly and helped schools follow us in that swift pivot. Huge impact. Some of our clients have more students today than they’ve ever had.
How do you think about your role in this work?
Sue: I think of myself as a guide. Schools come to us because they have some problems. They need help, and often more than a plug-and-play solution; they are looking for someone who is a mile or two further down the road. My role allows me to sort of link arms with that school and walk them through a better, more strategic path forward. “We’ve been here, tested some things, and learned what could work for you.”
Not everyone realizes that, at its core, marketing is about taking ideas, testing them out, gathering data, and tweaking the results to see what can be done to make it better. Nobody can talk about “fool-proof” solutions because each school, each region, is different. There is always at least a small risk with something like a new social media ad campaign. But, as experts in the field, we refine our products and approaches over time and apply what we learn. Taken as a whole, our process is trustworthy and very reliable.
What do you like or love about your work with our clients?
Sue: Being a part of education is just great and it feels good to do meaningful work. Because of the pandemic, so many families thought seriously about private school for the first time. The marketing efforts I’m a part of help them see this as a possibility. More than ever, education has been a talking point in every corner of our county. Will students be in the classroom? Parents are asking, “Is our child’s current school still serving us well?” I ‘ve noticed that alignment between a school and family’s values seems to matter more than ever.
What are some of the things you’re hearing from clients right now, Sue?
Sue: We are still in prime admissions season, so their minds are on virtual and in-person tours. They are trying to bring in applications and get them processed. This is often a time for tying up re-enrollment efforts and trying to get those straggling families that haven’t said if they are coming back next year to make a commitment.
Last fall we were hearing something similar from most of our schools: “We’ve got all these new families, but are we going to be able to keep them beyond our current year?” Thankfully, it seems that retention is really good for most of the private schools we work with. Families had a taste of what they have to offer; they like the consistency that they are finding; academically, their child has more access to a teacher than they did in their previous situation. There are all kinds of reasons that families seem to be staying put for now.
What do you hope the next year looks like for you?
Sue: I’m working face-to-face with clients now, so I hope there’s a lot more of that. I have had the opportunity to onboard many new schools through things like our Switch campaign and our Back to School offerings. I enjoy talking to people and hearing about how their school is unique, so I love that part of my work. I anticipate there will be much more of that in the year to come, as we roll out all the new offerings we’re developing.
I also do a lot of strategy work with our clients, which is endlessly fascinating. We look at existing data and find ways to apply our analysis from tools like Hotjar or Google Analytics. Beyond basics like what pages people are looking at and things like bounce rate, we get very practical. What’s happening inside the mind of a parent when they look at a page on a client website?
Is it appealing? Do I know what it’s about? Is it answering my questions, or is it just fluff-and-stuff that the school is throwing at me? Does it pass the blink test? Can I envision my child here? Are they going to be successful? This is the most important thing. With that mix of data and understanding the buyer persona, we make a strategy that makes sense.
Last thing: what does fun time outside of the workday look like right now?
Sue: My husband and I like to go hiking. So, we are more than ready to get back to that as things open up and the weather gets warmer. Later this year, we’re planning to go out west to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in Utah. It will be great to really unplug and enjoy nature.