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VOL. 118 | NO. 178 | Monday, October 4, 2004

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By Andy Meek

Competition Heats Up Among Private Schools


The Daily News

Private schools are depending on more than word of mouth these days to attract new students. Officials such as John Kerr, communications director at Christian Brothers University, are wielding a growing arsenal of marketing tools everything from ads to commercials to bumper stickers to court students and maintain a visible public image.

Marketing machine. In CBUs case, that means reaching out to prospective students through radio and cable TV spots and capitalizing on the schools more than 130-year history in Memphis.

Your best advertisement, of course, is always your reputation, Kerr said. For our marketing strategy, and I use that in the broadest possible way, we depend on everything from how we answer the phone all the way to our support material and our actual advertising.

Clear mission. The trend is the same at other local private schools. Bill McGee, president of Briarcrest Christian School, said private schools tend to do their best marketing through clearly-defined mission statements.

For Briarcrest, he said, that means the school promotes itself as a Christian-based, college-preparatory program.

Our market niche is families who are looking for a challenging liberal arts curriculum taught by committed Christian teachers, coaches and administrators, McGee said. Satisfied parents are our best marketing agents, because they will tell others. We also advertise in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. Signage is another way to make the school visible to potential markets. Even window decals and bumper stickers are used to increase the name recognition of the school.

Increased competition. That kind of marketing among private schools doesnt happen by accident. A 1990 study by John Chubb, a national expert on education policy, found that the presence of competition among private schools in the marketplace generally results in an increased marketing focus in a variety of areas.

One of those areas is a schools visibility in the community. St. Benedict at Auburndale recently expanded on 26 acres north of and adjacent to the schools campus at 2100 N. Germantown Parkway. Additions include a new building to house grades nine through 12 and four new sports fields.

Target markets. Sharon Masterson, who works in the schools communications office, said St. Benedict had been planning the project for two years, and among other things, the expansion capitalizes on the schools highly visible location on Germantown Parkway.

As far as location, most private schools choose to be near their target markets families who have the income level to afford private school tuition, McGee said.

In terms of marketing a private school, its also important to reach audiences that might have not considered private schools in the past. Thats one aim at St. Georges Independent Schools, said Sarah Cowan, who handles marketing responsibilities for St. Georges three campuses in Germantown, Memphis and Collierville.

I see St. Georges as somewhat unique in terms of who were targeting, Cowan said. Its pretty unique in the sense that weve got these three campuses were trying to connect and be a family of schools, and that entails really doing a lot of relationship-building and connections. And really, what weve found is that we have tended, just by the nature of our expansion projects, to be kind of recruiting families that are more in the public school sector as opposed to families already at another private school.

Reaching out. St. Georges has been in what Cowan called an expansion mode for the several years and has focused on recruiting families to fill new school locations as they are built.

Its been pretty intense in terms of determining how to brand ourselves and market ourselves, she said. When I began here, we were an elementary school in Germantown that had been here for 40 years. But also right about the time I started, planning began on building a middle and high school out in Collierville, which is now open.

Along the way, we also had donors who wanted to see us open a second elementary school to serve people more in the urban community. So we went pretty quickly from a small elementary school in Germantown to this three-campus family of schools.

Capitalizing on tradition. However school officials choose to advertise their institutions, theres one area that always comes into play: history. At CBU, Kerr said officials not only market the school by touting its awards and rankings, such as being named among the top 35 Southern universities in US News and World Report's list of "Americas Best Colleges, but also the fact that it has been intricately tied to Memphis for more than a century.

I think one of the great things about the Memphis area is that it is blessed to have several institutions with different, yet compatible missions, Kerr said. CBU has a certain history, Rhodes has a certain history and others do, as well. We continue to try to capitalize on that kind of history.


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