International value

Developing a school’s value proposition for an overseas partner

Andy Homden and Michael Roulston look at how UK schools can demonstrate their value to an international partner in a way that sets them apart from the competition.

A different audience

British independent schools know how to market themselves, and in the UK context, they really know their audience. They understand what parents are looking for and how they can meet those needs. In commercial terms the proposition depends on a classic ‘business to consumer’ or ‘B2C’ relationship which is carefully nurtured from the first point of contact.

The personality, warmth and ethos of a school described, then become real in a school visit.

When reaching out to a potential international business partner with whom to start an international school there is a tendency to reproduce the formula that has worked so well at home for parents. However, this strategy can be problematic. Too many schools prepare the same kind of material, featuring happy students, hallowed history and general excellence. Presentations merge with each other in the eyes of possible partners and the schools who fail to stand apart from the competiton are passed by at an early stage of the process, even though they might make an ideal partner for a new school.

Using a strategy that has worked for parents ignores a new reality: an international offer is being made to a business rather than the final customer. The relationship is therefore business-to-business or ‘B2B’ and the approach has to change.

In this context two things are critical for a school to think about:

  1. The value it can offer to a business partner in support of a business proposition.
  2. How this value can be best presented while also communicating institutional commitment and educational passion.
The school’s international ‘value proposition’

‘Value proposition’ is a key term and is much more than a general ‘USP”. The most important task for an aspiring UK independent school wanting to ‘go international’ is not to convince a partner that it is a centre of excellence, but to demonstrate that it can add value to a project. A B2B value proposition is not the same as a brochure describing to parents the general strengths of a school – however important they are.

The most important task for an aspiring UK school wanting to ‘go international’ is not to convince a partner that it is a centre of excellence, but to demonstrate that it can add value to a project.

An effective proposition will show an awareness of how the UK partner can make a new project marketable while contributing to its operational as well as its educational success. Certain key elements need to find their way into presentation materials, but these are, surprisingly, often neglected. Here are some of the most important:

  1. Demonstrable and enthusiastic commitment. This also means the offer has to be personal, with key members of the governing body and leadership team with whom relationships will be directly forged at the very centre of a proposition right from the start.
  2. Expertise and experience. This could be in any area that will benefit the new international school in a direct way – from the design of a new early years centre, establishing a secure IT infrastructure (essential for the early success of a new school) to designing a multi-purpose sports complex.
  3. Awards and reviews. How has achievement at the school been recognised? What do the press reviews say? What have alumni achieved?
  4. What special area of excellence might create value for a partner? The Performing Arts? Design and Technology? A sport?
  5. An understanding of how important the Early Years and Junior School are to a project. In most new schools these year groups provide the financial stability a new enterprise always needs.
  6. The ability to recruit and retain great teachers. The UK partner’s name will not only attract new families, it will also encourage the best staff to apply for and then accept positions at the new school.
  7. Commercial awareness. An investor needs to be convinced that its partner understands and will support the financial objectives of a project, just as much as the school will expect a partner to respect its educational ideals.
  8. The school’s expertise in sustainable school design and curriculum for teaching climate change awareness.
  9. What networks will the school bring to a new enterprise? How do alumni support your school community? What relationships does the school enjoy with business organisations or research and development groups – relationships that could be useful to the new school?
  10. And of course, excellence and tradition. However, this will only be part of the proposition and needs to be presented accordingly. When it comes to this area, letting students ‘speak for themselves’ creates a very different kind of impact from a set of exam results.
The importance of going digital

It is no easy task to catch and hold the attention of a potential international partner who is probably considering material from multiple schools. Your proposition and passion has to be easily understood, visually striking and above all else constantly accessible. It must therefore capture the essence of what you offer in a format that looks great on a smartphone and offers an outstanding ‘user experience’ – in other words it must be quick and easy to navigate.

There is no doubt – a well-designed micro-site that can be viewed at any time on a smartphone is the best and most cost-effective way to communicate your value to a potential partner overseas. It is instantly available to your target audience around the clock.

The very best digital propositions minimise text, make use of short, well-scripted videos and as a result convey the school’s value far more effectively than more conventional materials or a gated portal from your website.  This approach is already being used to great effect and offers a distinctly competitive edge in the search for an international partner.

 

Andy Homden and Michael Roulston are Senior Consultants at Consilium Education and have been assisting UK schools in the development of digital international value propositions in collaboration with the Real Media Group.

 

 

For further information about this work, please contact Andy Homden on ahomden@consiliumeducation.com

FEATURE and support images by: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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