Why Do Schools Suck At Marketing?

I was fortunate growing up as my parents sent me to a high quality high school: Pine Crest Preparatory School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was not cheap, but they provide one of the top educations in the nation so worth attending for sure.

Except they suck at marketing. There, I said it.

The teachers at the school? Fantastic. Communications department? Clueless.

Since graduating I’ve received a steady trickle of direct mail and email from them. It has always been pesky, but it has gone from pesky to obnoxious as I concurrently get flooded with physical junk mail I have no easy mechanism to opt out of, plus an ever-increasing amount of email. Check out the below email cadence for March as a recent example:

11 days into the month and 6 emails from them. And not a single one of relevance. Not one.

Let’s go through the email content:

  • The president’s communications were boilerplate, boring and full of platitudes. They were littered with fluffy adjectives and sentences you could have copy-pasted out of a management book. Actually surprising since the teachers at the school are so creative.
  • Then they realized they sent the wrong message and resent the correct one, but neglected to provide any context (btw, neither were worth reading or had relevance to me as a graduate).
  • Next a clarification – oops, we sent the wrong message. They (kind of) apologized in the note, but their director of technology actually did not even take accountability. He merely proclaimed that, and I quote: “As is Technology, this happened due to one wrong click of the mouse.” Seriously?
  • Next email – two events both in South Florida to attend. Except I’m in San Francisco, so thanks for those. Again, lack of relevance.
  • A tuition raffle for Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale parents? I am not a parent or in those areas. Thanks.
  • Most recently, a reunion email. To which I already told them I’m not planning to go to.

My high school and even college (University of Florida) have both been repeat offenders of abusing their email lists. Based on the cadence, subject lines, formatting and content I’d say none of these people would cut it if placed into the business world and had to show marketing ROI. Don’t even get me into the direct mail they send which literally goes from the mailbox to the trash can.

As a communications professional I pose the question: why are schools so bad at marketing? I actually like both my schools and could be willing to donate as my experience with the school, teachers and education were positive.

But when their communications are almost all not relevant to me, they consistently ask for money, invite me to events not close or of interest, send boilerplate/impersonal memos from presidents and school officials, and basically spam me it just leaves a bad impression about what the school is like now.

Yet another reminder that marketing has the power to go both ways: reinforce a great experience or chip away at reputation by abusing whatever trust has been built.