Marketing plan earns St. John Neumann School growth, award

COLUMBIA—An economic recession and rumors of a competing school being built had officials at St. John Neumann tugging their hair in worry.

Something had to be done to keep students from leaving. Barbara Cole, principal, plus faculty and school board members, devised a marketing strategy that not only increased enrollment, but earned a national award from Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine. And they did it, at least in the beginning, with zero budget.

Cole said it started about seven years ago. The economy was declining and parents were looking for ways to cut back. Even more worrisome, a new public school was going up right down the road, and rumors were it was going to be a magnet.

“We knew we had to feature what was special about our school to keep our parents with us,” she said.

They developed a simple, direct, marketing plan that earned them an Innovations in Education award at the National Catholic Educational Association Convention & Expo held recently in Boston.

At the heart of the program was the tactic of branding, which placed the St. John Neumann logo on everything that anybody saw from the school. The logo made St. John Neumann easily recognizable — now they needed to stand out from the crowd.

The solution was “one-sheets.” Cole said parents generally visit five to six schools before making a decision, and take packets home from each.

“When parents are looking through all this stuff, we wanted something from our school to pop out,” she said.

So they selected five notable programs and gave each one its own highlight sheet, then placed at least one sheet in each packet, depending on the needs of the family.

Young families might find a sheet on the pre-school or discovery center, while parents of older children would receive information on awards, special areas or differentiated

Now St. John Neumann has added classes because of growth and has a waiting list for next year in at least four grades. Cole said she has a marketing budget now, parents that help, and a barter system that works.