Justen Duggan has done advertising work for one of Melbourne’s most prominent private schools and says the messaging is now focused on student experience and extra-curricular activities.
Steve Fagan, managing director of Media Republic, said most non-government schools tended to advertise to top up enrolments, boost a particular campus or promote open days or tours.
The state’s 48 most expensive schools have increased their advertising expenditure by 21 per cent this year compared with 2020, according to figures from advertising monitoring firm AQX Fusion.
The highest-fee schools spent a combined $8.45 million on ads across TV, newspapers, radio, cinema, direct mail and out-of-home (such as billboards) from the start of 2020 to October 2021. Victoria’s high-fee co-educational and girls’ schools have traditionally been the biggest advertisers.
Current slogans include ‘Small enough to care, big enough to excel’ (Kilvington Grammar), ‘Exceptional education’ (Geelong Grammar) and ‘Find your courage and confidence at Genazzano’.
Mr Willee said schools were “behaving like brands and brands are sophisticated in their marketing. We’re starting to see that play out″.
“It’s a really competitive space, particularly for girls’ schools. It’s one of those high-engagement purchases that people do a lot of research on, so building their brand in the long term is really important to them.”
Paul O’Shannassy, who helps families choose a school, said the pandemic had led parents to become much more aware of their children’s mental health and emotional and social needs, and focus less on ATARs and outcomes.
“Of course, they want good academic outcomes, but there’s been a shift in interest to the type of people schools produce,” said Mr O’Shannassy, of Regent Consultancy.
“They want to talk about the culture, the teaching, bullying. They want to avoid schools that produce students with a sense of entitlement. Schools are aware of that.”
But Deakin University’s Trevor McCandless, who analysed the marketing materials in Victorian government, Catholic and independent schools for his PhD thesis, was unconvinced a shift was underway.
His study before the pandemic found that high-fee, non-government schools were far more likely to mention creativity, innate talents, inspiration and challenge than other schools.
Educational psychologist Andrew Martin said schools were forced to adapt to new teaching practices during remote learning, and in general student learning and wellbeing had dipped rather than dived.
“Certainly if schools are saying, ‘This is where we’re at and this is how we’ve had to change’, then many schools would harmonise their outward-facing messaging to what was going on inside,” the Professor of Educational Psychology at UNSW’s school of education said.
Catholic Education Commission of Victoria executive director Paul Sharkey said, “The Catholic school ethos is to focus on the development of the whole person – emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically and culturally.”
Independent Schools Victoria did not respond to a request for comment.
Whether the marketing shift will outlast the pandemic remains to be seen. “We’re all wondering how many of these changes caused by the pandemic are going to stick or not,” said Mr Willee.