With an astonishing history spanning over 70 years, the American School of Guatemala (CAG) has been providing a bilingual college preparatory education to over 1600 local and international students. With a very active parent community, CAG is proud that generations of families continue sending their children and grandchildren to the school with upwards of 35 percent of their students coming from legacy families.
The school is in the first year of implementing their five-year strategic plan, which focuses on:
- Strengthening the educational experience
- Recruiting the best teachers
- Upgrading facilities
- Strengthening their value proposition as well as bolstering financial sustainability.
The school's website is an integral part of this strategic plan. Facing a changing dynamic for enrolment, the board and school management started to evaluate the issues. We spoke with Kimberly de Pivaral, Public Relations and Communications Manager, to understand this discovery process in more detail. She said, "Our school had been under the assumption that people just knew who we were, so we did not have to worry about marketing. We quickly learned through this discovery process that we needed to reach out and tell our own educational story. We had to be more proactive and not reactive."
Around the same time, members of the board attended a conference presentation by another Finalsite client and were inspired by their online digital strategy. Hearing how other schools face the similar marketing challenges and learning how they strategised to overcome these issues, inspired the board to invest more in marketing, communications and development.
Kimberly herself has been at the school for 22 years, first as a teacher and now managing the marketing of the school, including the website. She said, "Part of our school culture has been to maintain a low profile; but with increased competition and as a result of social media, we needed to do a better job managing the messaging and telling our story. Once everyone understood this underlying issue, we started drafting a strategy to better position ourselves and to begin to understand and create a more focused value proposition for families."
They also realised that hiring from the outside brought a new perspective to their team. To this end, they felt very fortunate to hire TK Ostrom as a consultant to help with their marketing, admissions and development efforts. She brought a wealth of knowledge and experience having worked with schools around the world, and in the end she joined their team as a full-time employee. Together TK and Kimberly have worked diligently to craft a plan, the website being the focal point of their efforts. CAG realised they could take control of telling their story to drive admissions and, as importantly, to engage current families and their 6000 former students.
They held a series of meetings with the community to understand how they saw the school and to better craft their brand architecture. Key concepts that emerged were: community, connectedness and meaningful experiences. In meeting with these various groups, they captured the soul of the school and came up with the phrase "meaningful lives". This motto permeates the website and inspires all of their marketing efforts.
They realised their bulletin board style website needed to be upgraded, and with tuition the primary source of funding, the focus of their redesign was to drive admissions. In working with their Finalsite deployment team, they were able to craft a new website that matches their strategic goals.
From the engaging homepage video, to stories showcasing meaningful lives, to an infographic featuring successful outcomes, prospective families are inspired to learn more. Crafted on Finalsite's CMS, Composer, CAG is able to update the site to keep the content relevant and timely.
Their admissions landing page contains a more comprehensive video and clearly outlines the steps visitors can make to enquire, visit and apply. With a new online admissions tool, CAG was able to integrate their admissions and streamline their operations.
One big push has been to actively engage the alumni in a more organised and welcoming manner. Some of Kim's own family members are alums and parents, so she knows first-hand the impact this engagement has on admissions since her husband and children have all attended the school. CAG is encouraging more onsite reunions as well as finding ways for alumni to give back to the school. They also want to better showcase their unique scholarship program for local 11th and 12th graders who are high academic achievers and who are from families with limited financial resources.
CAG is excited to welcome a new director, Patti Marshall. Her commitment to furthering their marketing and communication is in line with the school's strategic plan. "The families CAG attracts in 2017 are globally minded and time crunched to balance work and family time. Our families value their children's education as the most important investment they are making for their families and for the future and they understand their investment in education should help them find the balance they need. This comes with tremendous responsibility for CAG to be responsive, transparent and succinct in how it communicates personally and collectively to its families, and most especially how CAG takes these responsibilities into consideration when illustrating the value added of an CAG education to our community and to our visitors. We know we have specific platforms and limited amount of time and tight budgets to get a lot in a neat and concise package in ways that are relevant and meaningful for current and prospective families."
Kimberly stated "this first launch is only the beginning. We have now hired a full-time webmaster to take our website to the next level. Finalsite Feeds has been very positive so we plan to take advantage of other Finalsite modules including Athletics, eNotify, Blogs and the Posts module to keep our community more engaged and informed."
In summary she stated, "It's been a huge shift going from a homegrown system to a professional website provider. Like all schools, we are feeling the 'growing pains' but our collaborative efforts and positive direction have changed people's mindsets and opened the door to so many other things. We are excited to work with Finalsite to bring more of our visions to reality as the Finalsite toolset is robust, easy-to-use and we have enjoyed working with the Finalsite team."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 7 years while living in both Asia and Europe. From conference planning and presentations, to association events, and client success stories, she helps schools understand how they can maximise their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. In her free time she enjoys traveling and attending events at her children's school in Berlin, Germany.