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Dr. Cousens works with Jewish educational organizations on innovation, strategic research, impact, and evaluation. She has been with The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (Bay Area), The Jewish Federations of North America, and Hillel International. Beth is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Brandeis University and lives in San Francisco.

Tell a New Day School Story in the Bay Area

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"What we want in our Jewish day schools is for people to see that people are far less concerned with what I’m doing wrong Jewishly than with what I’m doing right and with what is compelling and meaningful to me as a human being in the world. Marketing and branding are ways for us to get past some of those hurdles. People can realize that day schools provide a way for you to share something profound with your children that doesn’t have to be about feeling not part of something because you felt like there was a right way to do Jewish and you weren’t part of that.” - Dr. Dan Glass, Head of School, The Brandeis School of San Francisco. 

Our twelve day schools in Northern California are used to working together. The heads of school have met regularly for decades, exponentially more so in the pandemic. We have created joint professional development days, shared sports programs for students, and more. When The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (of the Bay Area) issued a call for pandemic recovery grants rooted in collaboration, we saw the marketing and branding of our schools—after a pandemic-related enrollment surge—as a valuable area for experimentation.

This initiative was buoyed by a research project supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation and conducted by Third Plateau, which found that for their particular target families, some of our schools are too Jewish; for others, not rigorous enough; and according to a different segment, not Jewish enough. We know, of course, that there are places in our schools for those not otherwise Jewishly engaged, for interfaith and dual-faith couples and families, for those looking for advanced science and math or Talmud. We know that we seek out innovative curricula, environments of curiosity and growth for our teachers, and audaciously hospitable communities that support and welcome all families. How could we tell those stories?

Working together, nine of our schools—mostly K-8 or K-6, with a few preschools or pre-kindergarten programs and one stand-alone high school —built an RFP, employed a full-service branding and marketing firm (MediaCause), and put together a project to tell a new day school story in Northern California. With the firm, we:

  • Conducted research with families who chose our schools despite deep uncertainty and reservations, or who, more generally, represented the audience we were targeting for growth. 
  • Built a full branding campaign rooted int he idea that “There’s More Here”; There’s more community, there’s more curriculum, there’s more learning, there’s more growth (a few of the 20 taglines the firm developed and shared below).
  • Built a shared website, a landing page, with data on our schools and links to admissions pages.
  • Ran a social media and internet ad campaign during October-November, targeting a list identified with their search choices and zip code, and then flipped that campaign to a school-related campaign, sharing open houses with those who saw the first ads. 
  • Sent a series of emails to those who saw the first ads, sharing school-specific information.

In the end, we reached 12 million people with impressions and other e-connections. And we learned important lessons about messaging, marketing, and working together. 

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Generating new interest is not the same thing as rebranding our schools. 

Techniques that generate leads are, simply, not exactly the same as rebranding techniques. At the end of the campaign, we were surprised to see that we could track very few direct enrollment leads to this campaign (even while we could track some inquiries). We realized quickly that we had been so focused on telling a new story—and on the story we were telling—that we sacrificed some obvious lead activities for that larger message. If we do this again, we’ll use the branding materials in specific lead generation activities, sharing our reframed story with a very specific audience.

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We will take time to identify our common story. 

We have a set of data points that we want to talk about relative to our 12-school collective. But each of our schools is not accustomed to collecting data in the same way. Moreover, we understand Jewishness differently (related to Jewish parentage). Some look methodically at STEM programs, others at Jewish Studies programs. We see a common story, but it will take time to talk through our different frames and lenses and to build the muscles needed to look at teacher retention and credentials, curriculum, and student bodies in the same way. The best version of this project will not be implemented quickly.

Similarly, it will take professional time to identify our common story. 

For most (but not all) of our schools, social media and Google marketing are not allocated significant professional resources. Identifying data and stories and communicating with the larger collective takes not insignificant time. Working across even the nine schools engaged in this project—let alone the full twelve—involves enormous give-and-take. We need to identify the best way to manage the work that each school needs to produce.

The unique work of the collaborative is that of enrollment growth.

Most of our students come to us through relationships, through word of mouth. What we can do as a group is reach families who have never heard of our particular schools or Jewish day schools or who may be intimidated or disinterested in Jewish schools. Our collateral—soon to be in-real-life and web-based—needs to reach new families, and then send them to a website that walks them through the thinking involved in school choice. Other work—new media stories, telling the schools’ best stories—is also necessary, but can be done school by school, targeting friends of our friends.

We know we have something good here, but we also know that it will take time and attention to get it right. We are building new capacities for our schools, in our collaboration and also in the precise use of these tools. We look forward to the hard work and to building these resources together.