In this final article in our series on marketing and promotion Early Years Update looks at planning and running a marketing campaign

Early years settings in all sectors are continually faced with the challenge of attracting new families and children to fill vacant places as older children grow up and move on. A marketing campaign to publicise a school or setting’s services should involve a number of coordinated approaches designed to reach as large a proportion of the target audience as possible. The measure of a campaign’s success is not the amount of time or money invested in running it but the number of new enquiries it generates. Putting together an annual marketing calendar will highlight opportunities for promotional activity throughout the year. This helps to ensure marketing activities are built into the budget and regarded as one of the regular activities of the setting and not just an add-on. A marketing campaign usually includes:

  • leaflet distribution
  • posters and adverts
  • press or radio coverage
  • letters and phone calls
  • open days
  • a presence at fairs, shows and local community events.

It is important to evaluate the effectiveness of these different approaches to inform future marketing plans. This is best done by asking people where they heard about the school or setting when they make an initial enquiry.

Leaflet distribution

A leaflet drop is an expensive exercise which will have a variable response rate. Initially it may be cost effective to carry this out on a small scale and measure the percentage response rate. One can expect to get the same percentage of enquiries from the distribution of 1,000 leaflets as from 10,000 leaflets so this will help to predict whether it is worth carrying out the exercise on a much larger scale. A cost-effective approach is to target particular postcodes through direct mail or via a freepost newspaper. Ensure there are leaflets in the key places visited by families with young children visit – doctors’ surgeries, health centres, schools and libraries.

Posters and adverts

Some local cafés and small shops may be willing to display posters and there are often free information boards in supermarkets, libraries, tourist information centres, Citizens Advice Bureau, Jobcentre Plus offices, FE colleges and universities. Advertising space to display large posters can be purchased in multi-storey car parks, railway stations and bus stations – all places which might attract the attention of parents travelling to work. Paid adverts in the local press every few months are expensive, but help to keep the early years setting in the public eye. Sometimes it is possible to combine a paid advert with a longer promotional piece in the form of an advertorial.

Press or radio coverage

Adverts on commercial radio promoting what the setting has to offer may be worthwhile if it is clear that the radio station is one which appeals to the target audience. In some instances it is also possible to sponsor part of a radio show – a phone-in session or the weather forecast, for example. Whenever an item of national interest involving any aspect of childcare is announced, local radio and TV often want to make a local connection with the news story, sometimes at very short notice. This is a good opportunity for a school or setting to get some free coverage.

Letters and telephone calls

Letters and phone calls to local employers telling them about the services available to parents could be accompanied by information about salary sacrifice schemes, childcare vouchers and free entitlement to early years provision. Local colleges may be happy to promote your services to their parents, staff or students either by distributing information or through a more formal partnership arrangement. Large employers will usually have a human relations manager who will appreciate information about childcare services available in the local area. It may be possible to provide childcare information leaflets for employees or organise a childcare information session.

Open days

An open day will attract a wide range of people, some of whom may be in the very early stages of deciding which early years provision to use, while others will be looking at a number of different options to find the one which suits them best. Contacts made on an open day should be followed up by a phone call or letter after the event and an invitation to come for a personal visit at a later date. Open days are also good opportunities to invite local employers and representatives of nearby schools to visit, meet the staff and learn more about the range of services provided for children and families.

Local community events

A presence at local community events not only helps to establish the school or setting as part of the community but also provides an ideal opportunity to distribute information to potential customers. Focused events such as careers and recruitment fairs in secondary schools and colleges are chances to promote childcare as an employment option and to meet individuals who may be interested in training or employment positions in the future.

Show round/initial visit

A show round or initial visit involves a conducted tour of an early years provision for a prospective parent. This is an important event as it represents the first formal point of contact between the school or setting and a new family. The show round/initial visit should be conducted by the headteacher or manager in charge of the setting and sufficient time should be made available to allow the parents to see everything and have all their questions answered. It is an opportunity to talk about how the early years provision is organised, highlight the ways in which the welfare, learning and development of all children are facilitated and deal with any anxieties a parent may have about leaving their child for the first time. A follow-up telephone conversation after the event helps to maintain contact, provides the opportunity to answer any queries which may subsequently have arisen and to lay a solid foundation for the relationship which will develop over time between the school or setting and the family (see ‘Parent partnerships at Beverley Manor Nursery School’, page 9).

The Early Years Handbook (2007) Optimus Education

Your Essential Guide to Marketing your Day Nursery (2007) National Day Nurseries Association Read the other articles in this series:

Part 1: Creating an image

Part 2: Knowing your customers
Part 3: Promoting your setting
Part 4: Promotional material