March 2020

Expand Your Reach: Marketing Without Fear

By Lachelle Metcalf
I can guess what this title has you thinking.

“Marketing? Ha! When will I have time to do that?”

“Marketing isn’t my thing. Sorry (not sorry).”

“People go to school for marketing, right? I’m a school counselor, not a marketer.”

Marketing’s definition is “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.” Sounds simple enough, right? So why does the sheer mention of marketing bring about cold sweats, hot flashes and nausea? Why does marketing seem so overwhelming?

Here’s a little secret most marketing professionals will never tell you: You don’t need a college degree in marketing or years of marketing experience to successfully promote your school counseling program. You really only need four simple steps:
  1. understanding your audience
  2. taking inventory of available resources
  3. establishing goals
  4. infusing a bit of creativity  
Let’s explore the basics of creating a marketing plan for your school counseling program.

Identify your target audiences: Students are school counselors’ primary target audience. They are the individuals who directly benefit from the school counseling program. They are the reasons we do this work. It’s a no-brainer to realize that marketing efforts should focus on reaching this audience.

However, students aren’t and shouldn’t be your sole audience. When brainstorming your marketing plan, take a moment to identify additional audiences that have a direct impact and influence on your students. Let’s call them influencers. These influencers would include fellow educators, administrators, families and community organizations. Each of these groups can benefit from your marketing efforts and will help push your message to the direct beneficiaries of the school counseling program, the students.

Consider this example: A parent is concerned about his student’s waning interest in middle school as winter break approaches. Initially, he’s unsure about who to approach at the school about his worries. Then he remembers the back-to-school email you sent to parents at the beginning of the semester outlining your role. He decides to contact you to discuss his child and seek advice. This connection leads to an ideal collaborative relationship among parent, school counselor and student to provide essential support for this student.

Take inventory of available resources: Successful marketing initiatives don’t require state-of-the-art design software or big budgets. If you have access to a computer, tablet or smartphone with a reliable internet connection, you have the ability to execute a marketing plan for your school counseling program. Standard word processing software such as the Microsoft Office Suite products usually incorporate the basics like Word and PowerPoint. Both offer built-in and downloadable templates for marketing materials including newsletters and posters.

If you want to get a bit fancy, use free apps and online design programs, such as Canva, that offer professional templates for all purposes, including social media graphics and fliers. Don’t forget to check with your district’s communications team to see if they offer promotion help to school-based staff (e.g., graphic design, printing, etc.)

Set goals: School counselors often explain to students the importance of planning for their future goals. You are not exempt from this advice. To execute a successful marketing plan, you must set realistic goals and establish a strategic plan. This is a crucial first step in planning your marketing strategy. How can you develop a plan without knowing the end result you want?

Ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish by your marketing efforts. Increasing awareness about what the school counseling program does? Alleviating the stigma around school counseling? Enhancing the school climate and culture? Once you determine your goals, you can start designing your marketing plan to meet those goals. 

Let’s Get Started

Now that you have identified your audience, assessed your resources and developed your goals, it’s time to design and implement your plan. Creativity is important to successful marketing activities, but sometimes simplicity is best. Don’t overthink this. 

When considering how to implement the ideas in your plan, mirror how your audience obtains information.
  • Students often use social media to receive and share information. If your school allows social media use, use Twitter or Instagram to distribute your message.
  • Within the school building, design brightly colored posters using limited text or catchy phrases, and post them near lockers, in restrooms and in the cafeteria.
  • To reinforce important information, draft brief yet informative emails and send to school staff and families to keep them in the loop about your programming.
Don’t forget to review your school year calendar as you plan. This practice will help you pinpoint important dates that link to the school counseling program and schoolwide events like back-to-school season, cultural appreciation events and exams. This will also help you organize a long-term plan for an entire school year versus drafting a month-to-month strategy.  

Ideally, you should attempt to implement at least one marketing initiative per month. If you have time for more, go for it. 

School counselors provide a necessary and significant benefit to students, administrators and the school community. In other words, school counselors and their roles are marketable. Taking the take time to promote the benefits you provide to your stakeholders will help them better understand your value to students and the school community. So, take a deep breath, open your mind, be intentional and start planning. You’ve got this.

Lachelle Metcalf is a Virginia-based marketing expert.