| By Marybeth Hicks

Case Study: Catholic School Marketing

In the 2015–16 academic year, in an effort to stop enrollment decline in diocesan Catholic schools, Bishop David J. Walkowiak proposed the “Bishop’s Catholic School Initiative.” That effort resulted in initial enrollment growth of 3%. To support this positive momentum, the Diocese of Grand Rapids Catholic Schools contracted with FAITH Catholic for an integrated marketing plan to:

• Boost enrollment in Catholic elementary and secondary schools
• Reach baptized Catholics not attending Catholic schools
• Improve student retention, especially during key transition periods such as pre-k/kindergarten to elementary grades; elementary grades to middle school; and middle school to high school
• Enhance the positive perception of Diocese of Grand Rapids Catholic schools among current parents, prospective parents and the larger community
• Generate awareness of and support for Diocese of Grand Rapids Catholic schools throughout the diocese

FAITH Catholic designed a campaign that combined traditional advertising and grass- roots marketing, but also included digital and social advertising to drive traffic to a new, consumer website. The plan included services to provide:

• A new, consumer-facing responsive website for the school system
• Targeted direct mail to registered Catholic families
• Digital and social media advertising
• A marketing video showcasing Diocese of Grand Rapids Catholic schools
• School and parish marketing, including school brochures
• Billboards and radio ads
• Marketing training for school administrators and volunteers

In March 2017, the school marketing campaign launched in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, beginning with a redesigned website for Catholic schools, CatholicSchools4U.org. The site features individual marketing pages for each of the 30 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, an interactive “Find a School” section, timely blog posts and an up-to-date open house calendar.

A direct mail campaign launched simultaneously with a trifold brochure sent to every registered Catholic household in the diocese highlighting the benefits of Catholic education in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, followed by five themed postcards (Encounter | Achievement | Welcome | Dynamic | Joy) targeting families with school-aged children who are baptized Catholic, but not currently attending Catholic schools.

Advertising elements included radio commercials and billboards in English and Spanish, extensive social media targeting online audiences through paid and unpaid Facebook posts and Google Adwords. School staff and administrators received training on best practices for using their own social media platforms and creating engaging online content. A fully produced video and supplementary vignettes enhanced all digital engagement.

To leverage the internal stakeholders, parish and school marketing included posters, brochures, roller-shade banners, Mass announcements and bulletin ads. All materials were supplemented by professional photography of every school, and Spanish translations for the appropriate communities.

On Sept. 21, 2017, the Diocese of Grand Rapids announced that enrollment has grown, with an increase of 55 students. Initial survey results indicate that, while personal referrals are by far the most influential marketing tool, FAITH Catholic’s integrated approach, including parish bulletin ads, direct mail, social media, search engine optimization (SEO) and billboards, had an impact on new families enrolling in Catholic schools. To build on the success of the first year's campaign, the Diocese of Grand Rapids recently signed on for a second year of Integrated Marketing support with FAITH Catholic.

The greatest marketing tool, however, is summed up best by one new parent, who said, “We came to the conclusion that Catholic schools provide an excellent education, but, most importantly, one that is centered around the core tenets of our Catholic faith.”