From Malarkey to Marketing

From Malarkey to Marketing

By Sharon Gaudreau, Director of Marketing and Communications, Pomfret School
From The Yield, Spring 2014

Think about your school’s external identity and the work you do to present and preserve it. As independent schools around the country continue to face dipping demographics and a less-than-spectacular economy, marketing—once the unspoken “M” word when the independent school network was more old-school— has not only become a more acceptable term, it has secured a respectable spot at the round table of school administrations.

Five years ago, Pomfret’s board made the novel decision for the school to establish a marketing and communications office — "MarCom” as we call it today. The objective was clear: to heighten Pomfret’s brand and position in the marketplace, to enhance recruitment of mission-compatible students, to reinforce the work of the college placement office, and to establish lifelong engagement of alumni, family, and friends of the school.

Our blueprint was simple, clear-cut, and it continues to work for us today: The simplicity, however, ended there. Introducing—and implementing—a new program in any organization is usually a more complicated process than meets the eye. Even though Pomfret’s new initiative was embraced by our former head and aggressively endorsed by his successor, our first “identity crisis” was the challenge of changing mindsets and skepticism.

Our biggest challenge was also our greatest opportunity: Pomfret’s leadership team was in the midst of a vast transition (a new head of school, new directors of advancement and admission, and several new administrators). The following year, the school undertook the development of a new strategic plan. In order to seize this historical moment, we made it a priority to unite influencers from the past, present, and future—creating a culture of inclusivity—in the development of the new strategic direction. Published in the summer of 2013, the plan has already been a game-changer in enhancing Pomfret’s brand.

Understandably, the restructuring of our external affairs dynamics—from silo method to a more innovative model—created some angst. Yet collaboration among departments and the creative use of our resources has brought about a progressive focus on our mission: to market the school to its target audiences in a clear and consistent manner. The import and impact of consistent branding has become… our brand. The marketing and communications office is now responsible for projects for both admission and advancement—including promotional publications, the website, and the Pomfret Magazine. It has taken on new services, such as market research, messaging, heightened electronic communications (a strong social media presence), and advertising. Also under its aegis is the leadership of newly formed public space and on-campus event committees.

Of significant note is the achievement of cost-containment while growing the team, from two staffers to four full-time and one half-time MarCom associates:
• Director of Marketing and Communications (and fourth form dean)
• Director of Electronic Communications (and digital arts teacher and coach of the student media team)
• Associate Director of Communications (lead writer and public relations officer)
• Graphic Designer (and assistant coach of the student media team)
• Part-time Communications Assistant (campus reporter and digital signage designer)

Hiring an in-house graphic designer and developing a new student media team (as a co-curricular option) has brought our productivity up and kept our budget down. At the same time, the unique creative challenge of leading the media team has provided close to 80 students with a trove of project-based learning opportunities.

Additionally, collaboration with stakeholders to implement our marketing and branding strategies has helped establish an inclusive and strong marketing focused mindset at Pomfret. For each of the school’s initiatives, we work with stakeholders to clarify key factors in order to establish marketing and branding strategies. Once established, we manage implementation of the strategies (more than 500 this year) via a Target Audience Touch Point Schedule – a Google Doc shared with all stakeholders.

A successful marketer’s job is never done; we must constantly be alert and our drive and determination contagious. Ongoing education and engagement of internal stakeholders and external audiences and our own professional development and networking are critical. Rome, as the saying goes, was not built in a day.

There are many factors that go into establishing the brand—the public persona—of an independent school. With time and patience, support from positive internal and external champions, and enthusiastic and smart navigation of the course, marketing will no longer be interchangeable with malarkey. The results can be magnificent.

Sharon Gaudreau has worked at Pomfret School for 14 years in various external affairs positions: Director of Communications, Associate Director of Admissions and Director of Financial Aid, and for the past five years Director of Marketing and Communications. Prior to Pomfret, she gained 15+ years of experience in corporate marketing, serving the financial services and healthcare industries.

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