Introduction to Season 3: The Complete Guide to School Marketing

In each episode of Season 3, SchoolCEO explores some of the most important and foundational concepts to change how others think and feel about your schools.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: June 03, 2024

Episode Summary

School marketing has gone from a rarity to a necessity for public schools. From public opinion to family engagement, capturing and keeping the attention of your school community is a must to leading and running a successful school district.

In each episode of Season 3, SchoolCEO explores some of the most important and foundational concepts to change how others think and feel about your schools. We talk to experts, share stories along the way, and equip you with a framework that can help you build a strong, thriving identity for your district. Welcome to Season 3!

In this introductory episode, you’ll get a taste for how season 3 is different from our past seasons. You’ll also get a sneak peek into how storytelling can transform a community and how you can learn as much from another industry about your job as you can from within K-12.

Episode Notes

Featured in this episode are Neel Doshi, Joe Sanfelippo, Michael C. Bush, and Margaret Heffernen, who all previously appeared in Season 2 of SchoolCEO Conversations:

Episode Transcript

[Intro Music Plays]

Tyler Vawser (Host): There's probably no more obvious reason to talk about school marketing than this one. If you want to build a truly great school district, you're going to have to spend a significant amount of energy getting people to pay attention to what you're doing in your schools. And this is doubly true in the attention starved and distraction heavy world we're all living in today. And It's not even just true for schools. Any organization or business that wants to be great, has to find a way to get and to keep the attention of their audience. And for school leaders, it's hard to imagine an audience we're not trying to reach. That audience may be students, or customers, or it could be your own employees, or future employees.

At a micro level, yes, we're all a bit more distracted than we were just 15 years ago. But there's a more timeless or evergreen type of attention, or lack of attention, that successful businesses, schools, churches, and leaders have understood for a long time. It's more complex, and it's a type of attention that asks for more than just someone's time. It asks them to listen, really listen, and understand what you and your schools are up to, and it calls them into an experience. 

Hey, everyone. Thanks for listening to SchoolCEO.This is a special episode, and it's also an introduction to Season 3.

[Excerpt from Martin Luther King Junior’s I Have a Dream speech begins playing]

Martin Luther King Junior: “…knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed, let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friend…”

That speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial did not go according to plan. Martin Luther King Junior prepared it and he wrote out the speech word for word. But then about halfway through the speech, the singer, Mahalia Jackson, shouts out to King, “Tell’em about the dream.”

Martin Luther King Junior: “…I still have a dream…”

He stops reading from his notes. He moves the papers to the side. Then he said, I have a dream.

Martin Luther King Junior: “I have a dream that one day…”

[I Have a Dream excerpt ends]

Now, MLK had many inspiring speeches. Many of them are incredibly well written. They're logical. We even teach them in school to show how to craft a clever argument.

But only one, I Have a Dream, is the one that really captured our attention. It's part of our collective narrative. And it captures us, and it brings us into something more. It doesn't just get our attention for a few seconds. It lives rent free, as the kids say, in our brains. It plays over and over again. And it not only is something that we remember today, it actually changed our country. And It changed a movement

The second half of that speech was so full of motion and told a story not of what has been, but what he hoped it would be.

[Intro Music Plays]

So while you consider how to talk about your district, you might even remember that you can sometimes tell a story about what hasn't happened yet and bring people into that experience. We all need easy moments to grasp. A story or an experience that gets and keeps our attention, lifts us out of our everyday moments, and lets us share it with others, especially if we weren't there. 

Perhaps you've read one of the following books, Outliers, Blink, What the Dog Saw, Talking to Strangers, or the most popular, The Tipping Point. Each book is written by one of the most prolific and well known authors of our time, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, is what set him up for an incredible career and trajectory. The book was published in the year 2000, sold over 3,000,000 copies, and spent a staggering 8 years on the New York Times bestseller list.

What's fascinating to me about the book isn't its topic or number of copies it sold. The really fascinating thing is about someone named Morton Grodzins. Now chances are, you've never heard of Morton Grodzins. If you have, it's unlikely you've read his work or recommended it to someone else. While Malcolm Gladwell is a household name and commands $200,000 for a 30 minute speech, Grodson's relatively unknown. Even though he's the one that coined the term the tipping point, and wrote about the exact same ideas that Gladwell wrote about 30 years later.

So what's the difference? Gladwell told a better story.

[Excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell talk]

Malcolm Gladwell: “…either dead or unconscious. And the shepherd boy runs up and takes his sword and cuts off his head and the Philistines see this and they turn and they just run. And, of course, the name of the giant is Goliath and the name of the shepherd boy is David. And the reason that story has obsessed me over the course of writing my book is that everything I thought I knew about that story turned out to be wrong.”

[Malcolm Gladwell excerpt ends]

Gladwell understood how to take geeky academic concepts and connect those with people like you and me. And while others were likely better researchers and more impressive academics, they did not do what Gladwell did. Grodzins certainly didn't. And that may sound unfair to some, and yet it's reality. And it's not so different for your schools.

There might be a district near you that has lower test scores and less engaged teachers and staff, and yet, they're telling a better story. On any given day, there are 100s, maybe even 1,000s of moments happening in your schools. Behind those stories are incredible educators, students, and leaders. And if we zoom out of our district so we look at the incredible moments in the total number of schools within your state, there are easily thousands of those moments happening every hour. And at a national level, there are millions of moments happening any week. 

But there's a different narrative being told about education. And too often, it's better at getting the attention of our audience. It's a story that you and I know is false. It's twisted. It's manipulated. And yet somehow, it feels like right now, that story's winning.

Malcolm Gladwell: “Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.”

If you're a school leader, you're already invested in this. You've told the stories and you've been part of those stories. And maybe even some of those stories have won. They've changed someone's mind. They've helped see the value that schools are bringing each and every day. 

But it's our hope and my hope that this season of SchoolCEO's podcast helps you tell the best story. 

[Music Plays]

So this is an all new season of SchoolCEO Conversations. In Season 1, we had K-12 leaders join us for conversations about what they're doing in their schools. They told us firsthand experiences about what's most important to them. 

And then Season 2, which we just wrapped up, we brought in private sector leaders into that conversation. It was a mix of K-12 leaders telling us about what they're doing in their schools and how they're thinking about culture and communications, and private sector leaders. People like Michael Bush, the CEO of Best Place To Work, telling us about how to create a culture that inspires people, that brings them together and makes it the best place to work. As well as others like Karen Eber, who talked about how storytelling can shape the culture of a school district, or people like Neil Doshi that talked about motivation. 

Now Season 3 is going to be a bit different. First, we want to make it fresh for you and for us. And so, while we love the 2 person interview format, we wanted to try something new. 

And so, Season 3 will be an exploration of the topics that relate to marketing your school district, same as always, from brand and culture to storytelling and reaching different generations. But we're also gonna give you a framework. A framework for school marketing, and that will include the what, the why, and the how. So if you're an avid listener, you know that these are the topics we've already been focused on in the past seasons. But in Season 3, we're going to bring different voices, stories, examples into one episode on a singular topic. Each episode will focus on a particular marketing concept or idea, and that we're gonna bring in a number of voices, not just a dialogue with 2 different people. In short, there's as much to learn about K-12 from other fields than there is within K-12.

There's one incredible story that illustrates this. In the early 2000s, there were two senior doctors that were in a staff room in the theater department of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. One of the men named Martin Elliott is a cardiac surgeon. He just completed a 12-hour operation, complex and intricate open heart surgery on a baby. His friend and colleague, Alan Goldman, was a consultant in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit to which the baby had just been transferred. Although the surgery had been successful and the baby clinically stable, the transfer of the patient had been less than perfect. This was not unusual. In fact, it was happening way too much. Transferring children from the hospital's cardiac theater to the intensive care was known to be the weakest link in the process. The smooth, seamless teamwork that staff demonstrated during the anesthesia and the surgery would somehow become reduced to disorganization and chaos and confusion in the very short journey between the departments. 

Why? Rules during the transfer were unclear. There were technical problems. There was no communication between the surgery team and the PICU staff. And often, it was haphazard. The handovers were messy. Nurses, doctors yelling, shouting. And as the doctors were sitting in that room that day, they happened to be watching the TV. 

They turned on F1 Racing or Formula 1 Racing, and they started watching as these race cars would stop in the pit stop and within seconds were off back onto the racetrack. As Elliott and Goldman watched this impressive display, they were both hit by the same thought at the same time. Why can't hospital staff learn to be as efficient as pit stop teams? 

And so rather than just stop there, they decided to do something about it. They reached out to the McLaren F1 team, and they invited director Dave Von Ryan to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to meet with the doctors. They also involved someone from the Ferrari team named Ross Braun. The original doctors were not focused on the speed of the pit stop process. Rather, they were keen to learn how much they could improve their staff's efficiency, communication, and teamwork to reduce errors and to improve patient safety. Remember, these are babies that are having open heart surgery. And so the doctors visited Italy, home of the Ferrari team, to learn how they performed pit stops. Meanwhile, the F1 team was invited to come over to the hospital to see a handover. As a result of being open to learning, the handoffs at the hospital improved dramatically.

[Excerpt from SchoolCEO Conversations Season 2 episode - Neel Doshi: Culture & Motivation in Education]

Neel Doshi: “If you are a high performing organization, the reason why people are doing their work needs to be play purpose and potential not emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia. It is culture that is the machine that creates that outcome. A world where the reason why you're doing your work is play, purpose, and potential, not emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.”

That clip comes from Neil Doshi, the co-author of the book Primed to Perform.

Neel Doshi: “Ultimately, when you really look at performance, performance really isn't measurable. You can measure near term perform or you actually you can measure a aspect of near term performance outcomes. But you can't really measure performance in its totality. This is, by the way, one of the problems. Because what you measure as an organization is one of the strongest signals of what you value. It's actually worth saying that again. What you measure is one of the strongest signals of what you value. And you set that signal into your organization very deeply. So you could be saying all sorts of things as a leader about what you value but then you have this measurement system in front of all your people. That's telling them what you actually value. And that's what they're taking away from it.”

Michael C Bush: “It's purpose. That's what makes a person change And then it's how you're treated.”

[Excerpt from SchoolCEO Conversations Season 2 episode - Michael C. Bush: Learning to Be A Great Place to Work]

That's Michael C Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work. 

Michael C Bush: “That can make a person change. Those are the things. It's I wish there were other ways, you know, sometimes, but we have found in our research its purpose.”

Margaret Heffernan: “I see this both in schools and in the workplace. It is phenomenal the difference it makes when, you know, the teacher or the executive takes an interest in something.”

[Excerpt from SchoolCEO Conversations Season 2 episode - Margaret Heffernan: The Big Impact of Small Changes]

That's Margaret Heffernan, author, speaker, and 5 times CEO.

Margaret Heffernan: “It is probably the most potent tool they have. And it may not be efficient to have a long conversation with somebody, but it may actually change their lives.”

Dr. Joe Sanfelippo: “The whole thing that it comes down to for me is what do you do to recognize the greatness of colleagues and extend the greatness of colleagues? Okay? Recognize it, acknowledge it, extend it. Right? Simple unique repeatable, Tyler. Right? We keep coming back to it. In my building, it looks like this. If I'm walking down a hallway and I see a 2nd grade teacher doing great things, I walk into that 2nd grade teacher's room to tell that 2nd grade teacher that she's doing great things. I've recognized it and I've acknowledged it.”

[Excerpt from SchoolCEO Conversations Season 2 episode - Dr. Joe Sanfelippo: Changing the Narrative]

That's Dr. Joe Sanfelippo, the author, speaker, and former superintendent at Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin.

Dr. Joe Sanfelippo: “When you extend the conversation to the 8th grade science teacher who has no business of being in the 2nd grade hallway, and you tell the 8th grade science teacher about the great things happening in 2nd grade, what inevitably happens is the 8th grade science teacher walks to the 2nd grade classroom to tell the 2nd grade teacher that she's doing great things. And the reason that he does it is because at some point somebody did it for him, and it felt good. And that's all we wanna do is live and work in a place that feels good.”

There are millions of dots like this to connect. We can learn from a private sector's communication strategy. We can draw lessons in culture from an automaker, and there you can be just as useful as those within K-12. Best of all, we can often see a problem and a solution more clearly when it's not too close to us. 

A personal example of this comes from the SchoolCEO team. Last year, back in October, the team went on a mini retreat. We actually stayed where we were based, but we went behind the scenes of one of the nicest restaurants here to learn from a chef. Now, we're a team of writers, researchers, and marketers. We're not chefs. You certainly don't want me to be in the kitchen making you a plate. But what we did is we used this experience to start a conversation about something called mise en place. Now, if you're a restaurateur or you're a chef, you know this phrase. It means everything in its place. And we used this experience of sitting in the restaurant, listening to a chef, walking behind the scenes to really begin a conversation about how we as a team can work better together. 

Now, a team of education and marketing writers and researchers probably seem about as distant from a chef as you can get. But the point here is we can learn from anyone. In fact, sometimes we can learn even better from those that are outside of our own day to day experience. And once you see the roots that are shared by most fields, you realize there's a sink of information you've been ignoring that can help you make better sense of your own profession.

We're really interested in this intersection between industries. SchoolCEO Magazine from the start has been a dialogue between K-12 and the private sector. It doesn't really matter where you learn these ideas from, as long as you learn them and they can start making a tangible, meaningful difference to your schools. 

Every organization has to think about their identity, their values, their culture, and how they will show who they are and what they can do to their audience. For schools, that is everyone from prospective hires to current staff, to prospective families and engaging the families that are even part of your district. 

So as we jump into Season 3, we hope you'll join with us. This is going to be a bit different. We're excited to explore a new way of communicating these ideas in a way that we think can actually spark not just a conversation in your own mind, but with you and your colleagues with the idea that you can write the story that helps your district win.

[Outro Music Plays]

The SchoolCEO podcast is brought to you by Apptegy. You can find a transcript for this episode and full issues of our magazine at If you like what you hear, subscribe to our newsletter and get bite sized tips on school marketing sent straight to your inbox. If you follow us on social media, we'll let you know when new episodes drop. Our magazine's most avid readers attend our annual SchoolCEO Conference. It's a great way to meet communications professionals and superintendents from across the country while exchanging ideas in a dedicated learning environment. Visit to see this year's lineup of keynote speakers and reserve your seat today.

Special thanks to Margaret Heffernan, Neil Doshi, and Dr Joe Sanfilippo for their contributions to this episode. Season 3 of the SchoolCEO podcast is produced by Tyler Vawser, Britney Keil, Tanner Cox, and Ryan McDonald, with Eileen Beard as contributing editor. Thank you for listening.