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Tuesday Tips Recap: Enrollment Marketing for Charter Schools

Grow Schools

August 22, 2023

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Tuesday Tips Enrollment Marketing For Charter Schools

In this session, Ashley MacQuarrie joined us to answer questions on using newsletters to foster stronger communication with families and the broader school community. They talked about tailoring newsletters for different groups, prioritizing content, and using newsletter sections to highlight important information.

Join the experts as they answer all your questions live on Tuesdays on YouTube at 10am PT / 12pm CT / 1pm ET. Charter School Capital – YouTube

Read Full Transcript :

Michael Barber:

Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Tuesday Tips. I’m Michael Barber. I’m joined by a familiar face this week, Ashley MacQuarrie. Ashley, welcome back.

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

Hi. Thanks, Michael. Good to be back.

 

Michael Barber:

It’s good to have you here again. As always, we’re here every Tuesday around one o’clock Eastern, 10:00 AM Pacific, talking challenges for school leaders. And this week we have what I think would probably be a top of mind topic right now, given, top of mind topic, that’s an interesting turn of phrase, but a top of mind topic I’m sure as we are in back to school season, and that is enrollment marketing.

And I wanted to ask Ashley to come in and talk about all things newsletters this week because it feels like we have been getting a lot of questions lately about crafting newsletters and email in general. And so I thought Ashley would be a good voice to bring back to the conversation and talk about how to create an engaging school newsletter for your students and your community and your constituents and advocates. So we’re bringing Ashley back to have that conversation. But I thought I’d start us off with just a warmup question, Ashley. You’re around 30 plus school leaders talking about how enrollment is going for the back to school season. Would just love a sense of, hey, how’s it going out there? What are you seeing? What’s working for school leaders, what maybe isn’t, any lessons learned thus far?

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

Yeah. It’s going well. I would say about half of our schools have started school, with the exception of a lot of our California schools, which had to push the first day of school back because of the hurriquake.

 

Michael Barber:

Yes, the hurriquake. I love that. I haven’t heard that yet.

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

And then the rest of our schools, they start back around the end of August. But I think it’s been going well. It seems like the students who are back at school have been engaged. I mean, it depends, of course. There are always schools that have more of a challenge with getting those kids back, making sure that parents even know that it’s the first day of school. One thing that we have seen is staffing just continues to be a challenge. And even we’ve seen a lot of leadership turnover. So in a normal season, we might have one or two school leaders who change roles, and we’ve had about 10 schools where school leaders have felt that it was time for a change. And so that with it brings some uncertainty, but it also brings a lot of excitement because there is a lot of excitement around these new leaders. But it can also be kind of a double-edged sword where sometimes families leave. So it’s been an interesting time.

 

Michael Barber:

Got it. So not for the faint of heart as usual, working in education, continues that trend. And it feels like it is probably that time if a school leader is going to step away after what is a few challenging years of pandemic-related management that this might be the time as things have certainly not calmed down, but feel like we’re in a endemic period. So I can totally get that. But one way to turn this conversation back to topic of hand, newsletters, one way that school leaders can build a relationship and a two-way communication with their parents and constituents and community advocates is certainly in the inbox. So would love to understand how are you seeing school leaders that you’re working with or schools that you’ve seen in the past, how are they leveraging newsletters? What’s the purpose that they’re leveraging that newsletter for in their schools?

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

So mostly we see schools use it for communication with enrolled families. And hopefully starting as soon as a family enrolls, you get added to that list so that you can include information throughout the summer that’s relevant to a brand new family. And we also see schools that use newsletters for people who have just started the enrollment process or expressed interest. I can tell you that the rates at which families engage with those newsletters is very different. So for an enrolled family, we’ll see open rates, so that’s just the percentage of people that open those newsletters, of anywhere from 50 to 80% is typical for those newsletters. And when we have our audience segment, that’s just folks who have expressed interest, we see that a much lower, maybe sometimes more typical five to 10% open rate. So your families who are enrolled though, they really want to hear from you and they’re looking in their inboxes and they’re engaging with that content. So it’s a really great tactic to stay top of mind.

 

Michael Barber:

Yeah, I think you bring up a good point about making sure, at least explicitly making sure who are the parents in your subscription lists or who are the individuals in your subscription lists that are connected to the school and who is maybe you’re trying to attract to the school. And probably a good case to be made for segmenting those lists so that the content that’s going out for current students, current parents, current advocates is targeted for them. And then the content for trying to attract school talent and school enrollments and kids to fill your school, you’re getting content that’s specific for them. Is that a good way to approach at least a baseline segmentation of how to write content and think about your audiences?

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

Definitely. And then as schools get further along in this journey, we see schools start to segment even further with fundraising folks who might be interested in supporting the school and then people in the community. We’ve seen credit recovery schools have newsletters for district and councilors where they get referrals for students. So there’s opportunities as well to reach outside. But again, your biggest advocates, people who are going to hang on every word of your newsletter, are definitely your enrolled families.

 

Michael Barber:

Yeah. So let’s talk about those enrolled families segment. What are the types of things beyond, I think of the types of content that those families want to read about, I would assume it’s teacher stories about some of your school leaders. It’s events, it’s stories about the students. What are you seeing school leaders leverage well for newsletter content for your enrolled families?

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

Yeah, I mean, a message from the principal’s always nice, especially if you have new leadership. Staffing spotlights are always great. We usually see schools start… I mean, you have to remember that especially on mobile, you want to put the most important stuff that you really want people to know about at the very top because people may not read all the way through. So any highlights, events, activities that you want people to know about, you would put those at the top. That’s where you’d start.

So we’ll usually see things like In The News or a science night or photos are great. We want to include photos and that can keep people reading and scrolling. So, “Here’s some photos from the recent field trip.” Student or staff spotlights are great. Any deadlines or important dates that people need to know about. And then one thing that I loved that some of our schools started doing, they would have a resources or a parents’ corner area of their newsletter which had tips for staying organized or how to prep for the first day back to school. And then we actually saw open rates start to increase a little bit when they added a students’ corner. So they would include a little printable PDF or coloring page or something, kids’ corner. And the families really enjoyed that as well. So different sections. Don’t try to cram too much and you can rotate out those different featured areas each time you send.

 

Michael Barber:

Yeah, such a good tip to make the thing that’s most important for those enrolled families upfront. Make it large, make it impactful so that you get across the thing that you really want to get across in that inbox. When you consider different platforms that are out there, because obviously there’s a ton of what we in the business called email service providers… As a school leader you may hear this referred to as an email marketing platform or something along those lines. What types of platforms, specific names that you’re hearing school leaders utilize and what’s working well for them? And across the board, maybe there’s ones that we want to let school leaders know that might be a little bit more complicated that they should maybe stay away from.

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

So a lot of schools use ParentSquare or Smore for those enrolled families communications. You can create a newsletter in those kinds of platforms. Really, the limitation with those is if you do want to do that external communication, it’s more limited. You can’t necessarily import a list of interested families as easily. So when schools want to do that, we’ll usually see them use Mailchimp. We find Mailchimp to be pretty easy to use and very affordable for schools. But then ultimately it’s whatever you’re comfortable with. So whatever the person who’s running your newsletter feels like they can use is okay. So we’ve had schools who like, “I know Constant Contact and I’m just comfortable in that and it works,” and that’s great. We say the same thing with websites. If it works for you and it does what you need it to do, then it’s the right platform for you.

 

Michael Barber:

Yeah, good rule of thumb that, I guess, I’ve become well-known for inside Charter School Capital, is you don’t want to kill a bumblebee with a bazooka. So is the tool right sized for you? And I think you’re hitting on that very point there, is whether it’s Mailchimp or Constant Contact or any one of the, I’ll say hundreds, I don’t think that there’s thousands out there, but hundreds of different email service providers that you can use as a school leader, is pick the right one that works for the business. And if that’s the one that’s been working, then really no reason to rock the boat unless you’re thinking of potentially integrations that you need or something along those lines.

Yes, just some really incredible tips there. You mentioned open rate. I’m just going to do a bonus question as we cross over the 10-minute mark. And just a reminder, we’re here every Tuesday, 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern, talking all things challenges for school leaders. We’re talking to Ashley MacQuarrie today. Ashley leads our enrollment marketing services at Charter School Capital. Her and her team work across about 30 plus schools this year on their enrollment efforts. And we’re talking all things newsletters. Our bonus question for the day, you mentioned open rates. Specifically for engaged families, they can be 50 to 80%, and for those families you’re trying to attract to the school, they’re probably more along industry averages below 10%, depending upon how good you’re keeping that list up to date and relevant for those subscribers. But are there other metrics that you have conversations with with school leaders, and if so, what are those metrics and why are they important?

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

Yeah, I mean, we definitely look at click rates, especially if there is a link that we want folks to follow to take action. And if you do have something like that, again, you want to put it higher up. So we would look at that. We also look at your bounce rate. So if your list isn’t up-to-date and your emails are bouncing, then you need to look at your newsletter list and make sure that you remove those bad emails because that can impact your email deliverability to different mail clients, which can be a problem that affects not just your email newsletters, but important emails that your staff might be sending. So that’s really important. And then your unsubscribe rates, I think. If people are routinely hitting unsubscribe, that’s a problem as well. If they’re just folks who no longer go to your school who are opting out, that’s okay. But if you have very high numbers of people marking your email spam or unsubscribing, that indicates a problem. So we would look at all of those kinds of things.

 

Michael Barber:

Yeah, super good tips there to keep in mind beyond just that simple open rate, that click-through rate, that bounce rate. You’re looking for those hard bounces, right, those email addresses that don’t exist, which, good news, most of the platforms do a pretty good job of filtering out for you, so you shouldn’t have to suffer from that from the beginning. But really great tips for newsletters, Ashley. I really appreciate you coming back and just want to say thanks for all the good work you’re doing with the schools. And I think we’re going to have multiple members of your team on over the next few weeks. We had Cheryl last week on all things video, so if you want to pop back to last week’s episode and you’re listening to this week, just head back a week and you’ll find that all things on video.

But really appreciate the time, Ashley. We’re going to wrap it up. We actually did a blog post that debuted, I believe, yesterday or today on how to create an engaging school newsletter. I will pop that into the chat right now so that anyone that is listening can hop over to that blog post and take a read of some really great tips that have come from the team looking at different school newsletters and what’s working and what’s not. But we’ll wrap it up and say thanks to Ashley MacQuarrie for joining us today on all things newsletters and enrollment marketing. We’ll have her back soon enough as well as multiple members of her team. And we’ll see you next week for our next Tuesday Tips. Until next time, bye, y’all. Take care.

 

Ashley MacQuarrie:

Bye. Thank you.

 

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