January 31, 2018
Rebooting a Catholic School Through Digital Marketing
Principal Nathan Nadeau at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Orlando says he was desperate to get, “a more robust Google score” for his school a year ago. And in the same breath, he’ll tell you he has no idea what that means.
That’s part of Nathan’s charm. He’s casual, witty, and self-deprecating — pretty much the opposite of a stereotypical Catholic educator. But he’s also part of a new breed of principals who recognize the need to embrace digital marketing and social media to attract students and continue the rich tradition of private Catholic school education.
Back in 2005, the student population at St. Charles hovered around 550. By 2014, the number of students had dropped by nearly 300. After a decade of declining enrollment, Nathan entered the 2016-2017 school year determined to rebuild the St. Charles “brand,” with a goal of growing the student population on his K-8 campus back up to 350.
And when the bell rang on the first day of school in August of 2017, the school was well on its way to meeting that goal with 321 students enrolled and more applying. More than 100 of those students were new to the school. It took less than a year of focused, strategic digital marketing to make it happen.
For Nathan, the first step in his school’s marketing evolution was to build a new website.
“With our previous site, we got a bill every year from the provider — but that was it,” Nathan said. “There was no consultation, no input or recommendations on how we could improve the site, advance it, and move it forward.”
Principal Nadeau’s former colleagues at Annunciation Catholic Academy recommended School Sprout for the website project. So the team at St. Charles retained our agency in late 2016 to design a new site and develop a content marketing program, which provides engaging, relevant content published on a consistent schedule. It was a good match from a client-agency perspective because the school embraced our approach of looking at education as a business.
“I’m an educator as well as a parent, but I’m also a consumer,” Nathan said. “And as a consumer, I move on quickly if I can’t find what I want online. So I know if parents are online searching for a private school and we don’t grab their attention right away, then we probably won’t get a second chance with them.”
Read that again. Let it soak in. The man sounds like a marketer! And I mean that in the best possible way.
Of course, his primary objective is providing elementary school students with an innovative, first-rate education that serves both their intellectual and spiritual needs. But he knows that can’t happen unless he first gets the attention of parents in the community.
“I told School Sprout that first and foremost, I want website visitors to immediately see a list of upcoming events and information about how to schedule a tour,” Nathan said. “Because if we can get them in the door, most of them will enroll. It’s a great school with great kids. If potential students participate in a ‘shadow day,’ 95 percent of them will convert.”
There it is again. Principal Nadeau is talking like a regular ol’ Seth Godin. He said, “convert.” Not in a religious way, but in the context of a sales funnel.
That way of thinking is foreign to a lot of educators. And I get it. But to be blunt, if you’re harboring romantic notions about the way things used to be for private schools, and you don’t have a sales mindset — then you’re likely to lose.
In all fairness, a lot of this salesy stuff was new to Nathan. He didn’t know much about keywords, blogging, and search engine results, and although he’s still not signing up to give a seminar on the topic, he now has a working knowledge of digital marketing. But more importantly, he knows how St. Charles benefited from it.
“We achieved all our goals in six or seven months,” Nathan said. “I’ve seen huge results. We’ve been getting leads coming out of the woodwork. Four scheduled tours a day and walk-ins just showing up.”
In the end, Nathan said St. Charles had to turn away some potential students this year.
Demand exceeded availability.
And whether you’re talking about a new car, a phone, a toy, or a school — that’s a good indicator of success in the marketplace.
To learn about how School Sprout Marketing can help you reach more prospective students and parents through Digital Marketing, please fill out our quick form below or call us at 866-998-6886.