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Mission & Motivation: Masterminding Our Message

By Net Assets posted 04-03-2017 02:51 PM

Shelly Betz and Deborah Anderson of Foxcroft School

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"100 years gave us a story. A strategic hire gave us a voice to tell it."

Article by Deborah Anderson, Foxcroft School

From the March/April 2017 Net Assets

Two years ago, Foxcroft embarked on our first-ever full-blown marketing and branding initiative. This included identifying a new position for our little school — director of strategic initiatives and marketing — to lead our communications department and to work closely with advancement and admissions. The move had strategic implications because after 102 years, we felt we were losing our consistent messaging and brand identity. It has been a challenge to find the resources, but we are already seeing the fruits of our labor.

There was no obvious place on our administrative team where the responsibility for messaging and branding would fall. It required too much expertise to be slotted into an existing department.

Head of School Cathy McGehee was key in driving this restructured position. In taking a good hard look at how to differentiate Foxcroft, Cathy kept coming back to the fact that there was no obvious place on our administrative team where the responsibility for messaging and branding would fall. It was too important and required too much expertise to be slotted into an existing department. We felt it was imperative to keep our name in the market, and so we looked at the cost/benefit analysis: How many students might we gain from a very strategic and targeted marketing effort? Just two or three would basically pay for the initiative. Any students beyond that would be even better.

Conversely, how many students would we potentially lose by not effectively marketing our school?

We turned to higher education to develop the job description but ultimately kept it somewhat open-ended; after all, we didn’t know exactly what the position would entail. We heard from an overwhelming number of candidates. Cathy met Shelly Betz and learned she worked as a chief information officer at a university. She asked that I meet with her. Shelly’s background included development as well as communications. Her skill set was a perfect fit.

Shelly is now in her second year at Foxcroft (she also has two daughters here!). She has brought us an expertise one typically doesn’t find at independent schools. She is out there pounding the streets, negotiating advertising and nurturing relationships with reporters locally as well as at national papers, like the Washington Post. She is also very creative, and under her guidance she’s helped us develop a fresh look, a new logo and an updated seal, and she has guided us toward consistency in publications across all departments. She has also supported new work in social media and a new website that will launch soon. We now have an impressive number of followers on social media, and we’re getting more inquiries.

Looking ahead, Shelly has big goals for the school and her team. The “strategic initiatives” part of her title refers to the important role she’s playing in developing and promoting specific programs at Foxcroft as well as alumnae engagement. She meets with teachers and supports their work with community partners including the Kashmir World Foundation, a nonprofit using unmanned aerial vehicle technology to protect endangered species. Through this partnership, our students are learning about robotics and using our 500-acre campus for test flights. We will hold our second annual “Teachers Take Flight” workshop in partnership with KWF this August.

It wasn’t long ago that independent schools were about the only alternative to public education, other than parochial schools. Now there are lower-cost and no-cost options like charters, homeschooling, online programs — you name it. At Foxcroft, we’ve heard this competition knocking at our door loudly and clearly. I strongly believe that we as independent schools must be able to differentiate ourselves by articulating our stories boldly and proudly. Most businesses would not dream of marketing themselves without experts. We shouldn’t either.

Deborah Anderson is the business manager at Foxcroft School, an all-girls boarding and day school in Middleburg, Virginia. Previously she worked for Episcopal High School and Oldfields School.
Download a PDF of the article.
In Mission & Motivation, an independent school leader shares a core belief and/or source of guidance or inspiration. Interested in contributing? Please email In the subject line, type MISSION & MOTIVATION.

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