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Mel Gravely

Marketing Strategies to Assist with Full Enrollment

In June, OHS released a program instruction to remind designees about the requirement to maintain full enrollment for the upcoming school year.

“This Program Instruction (PI) reiterates the importance of full enrollment. It also outlines the authority of OHS to designate an agency as Chronically Underenrolled and recapture, withhold, or reduce the base grant for programs that are not fully enrolled.”

When OHS first announced that it would begin enforcement of full enrollment, many of the questions and concerns we heard were about marketing. Does OHS allocate funds nationally for marketing? What kind of support will we receive for marketing?

There’s a famous saying in marketing that says, “I know half of my marketing is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” One of the hardest parts about marketing is that there are no shortage of places to spend your dollars, but you’re not always sure if you’ll get a return on investment. TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, online, and social media are just a few of the options out there. Which to choose?

Each program should have funds allocated for marketing, which can even be used for marketing training if needed. To help you get started, we asked a few of our marketing experts to talk about some of the tactics they would use if they were advising a Head Start program.

Facebook – If you only have time to do one social media platform, Facebook should be it. According to statistics compiled by Hootsuite, 68% of Americans are on Facebook, with 65% of that group being under age 34. However, it’s more than just setting up the page. You must make a commitment to post updates regularly, both specifically about the program such as event reminders and staff bios, and with more general information, such as nutrition tips or reading lists. Also be sure to designate a staff person to respond to Facebook messages as soon as possible when they come in.

Facebook’s paid advertising is relatively inexpensive and can be targeted to certain areas within a community. The good news is that Facebook wants your ad dollars, so it makes it fairly easy to put together ads for its platform, walking you through setup step by step. Test several versions of your ad with different combinations of copy/photography to see what performs best. Have a strong call to action (i.e. “Limited spots available!”), a place to find more information (your website), and a way for people to get in touch with you via text or email.

Website – Some sort of website presence is a must. However, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. There are plenty of DIY website builder tools that can help you get started with a simple web presence. It’s important you have a place other than Facebook that parents (and grandparents) can get more information and stay updated about your program. If you do have the funds, however, we recommend a professionally-built website. It can act as its own recruitment machine, helping you keep your waiting list filled year-round. Designate a staff person is responsible for keeping the website updated, or outsource it to a professional.

Email/Text Messaging – Use technology to your advantage. Email and text messaging can be automated in so many different ways to help manage your Head Start program and aid in recruitment. To parents, you can send automatic event reminders and follow-up on absences. For community partners, you can have separate campaigns with messages specifically for them about how best to refer to your program and current open slots.

We also recommend placing a “Text us for more information” option on all your advertising. You can do this via your own custom SMS shortcode (a five-digit number that customers can text to get in touch with you) or through your existing VOIP provider.

– Some of your best referrals to eligible families will come from the community partnerships you build with other service providers in your area. However, networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For some of us, it takes a lot of practice.

First, it’s helpful to educate yourself on the history of Head Start. Head Start has a great story to tell. Make sure you’re ready to tell it.

Second, it’s important for all staff, from directors to bus drivers, to be prepared to give a their 60 second “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is a short speech you give when someone asks the question “What do you do?” It should include your professional title, name of organization, a short anecdote, and the type of people you’d like introduced to. After all, you never know who someone knows.

Printed Materials – Certain printed materials are a must, such as business cards, letterhead, and a simple informational brochure. Other print materials, such as direct mail flyers to certain zip codes, can be deployed if budget permits and you’re struggling to fill spots.

You can also get creative with inexpensive promotional products. If you have an open house, you can give away shopping bags with your logo on them, for example. There are literally thousands of items you can brand with your logo as free giveaways to the community.

Outdoor – Don’t overlook the power of outdoor advertising, particularly when targeting specific areas. This could include items such as lettering on your vehicles, yard signs, bench ads, banners, and billboards. Some items, such as lettering on vehicles, banners, and yard signs have long-term application and can be used for many years. Bench ads and billboards could be useful while you’re in active recruiting mode.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, hopefully it gives you a few ideas for the upcoming year when it comes to marketing your program and ensuring you’re on the right path to full enrollment.

Do you have marketing ideas that have worked well in your program? We’d love to hear them! Post them in the comments below!

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