I know what you’re thinking—what topic could be more fun than budgeting? ((Insert yawn))
However, year after year we see K-12 schools and districts making the same…interesting choices when it comes to marketing spend. Maybe you’ve doubled down on yard signs because that’s “how you’ve always done it.” Or you’re pouring resources into the bi-annual “Best Schools Ever” issues of your local magazine because your families just love seeing your ads when they’re waiting at the dentist’s office. And who doesn’t have at least one anecdotal story about someone who enrolled at a school because a billboard caught their eye?
But the parents have spoken. And if you really want to move the needle for brand awareness, family engagement or enrollment, it’s time to bring your marketing efforts into the 21st century.
Having been on the other side, I know there can be several obstacles standing between you and digital marketing dominance. If you don’t have complete ownership over your budget, it can be tricky to convince the folks who hold the purse strings to see things from your perspective. So how do you make a compelling case to increase your digital marketing dollars? And more importantly, how do you use that extra cash effectively? Buckle up, because we’re about to find out.
Start with “why”
Everyone in education loves a Simon Sinek reference and if you’re making the case for something, there’s no better place to start. The headline is that digital marketing channels are now the primary drivers in how parents find, compare and engage with schools—period. And if you’re among the majority of schools or districts working with limited marketing dollars, you want to focus on channels that are proven to be effective and that don’t require you to jump through hoops to track ROI.
When it comes to the “old school versus new school” marketing debate, it’s not just about being seen. It’s about engaging your audience, building relationships and ultimately, driving enrollments.
Making the case
So how do you convince the decision-makers that a budget increase is necessary? Here are a few tips:
- Show them the numbers: Nothing speaks louder than data. Show them statistics on how much time prospective parents, students and employees spend online; how digital marketing influences their decisions; and how other public and private schools are investing in digital strategies.
- Highlight past successes: If you’ve had digital marketing victories in the past, now’s the time to brag about them. Show how your efforts have led to increased interest, inquiries or enrollments. Bonus points if you can highlight the specific channels that have made the greatest impact so you know exactly where to increase your resources.
- Paint a picture of the future: Draft a detailed plan outlining what you could achieve with a bigger budget. Be specific about the strategies you’d use, the platforms you’d target and the results you expect.
What to do next
Once you’ve secured that budget increase, here’s how to make the most of it:
- Prioritize your goals: Not all digital marketing strategies are created equally. Identify your main objectives (e.g., more website traffic, increased inquiries, an X% increase in employment applications) and allocate your budget accordingly. Make sure you use SMART goals—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. A benefit of leaning into digital is the ability to create quantifiable goals that can be easily tracked over time.
- Test and learn: Digital marketing is all about experimentation. Use a portion of your budget to test new strategies, then double down on what works.
- Invest in analytics: Understanding your performance is key to optimizing your strategy. Make sure you have the tools and expertise to track your results and gain insights. And if you don’t, get help!
Making the case for an increased digital marketing budget involves demonstrating its value through data, past successes and a vision for the future. Once you’ve got the green light, it’s all about setting clear goals, experimenting with different tactics and keeping an eye on your analytics so you can stay on track and continue to report on your progress. Good luck!