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Effective Marketing through storytelling: Q&A with David Willows April 6, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Effective International Schools Series, International education, Marketing, New releases.
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David WillowsOur popular Effective International School Series is a practical set of books we publish in conjunction with ECIS and CIS. It is based on the idea that international schools face common challenges, share similar values and represent a ‘knowledge bank’ of ideas and experience.

The series is now 11 years and 10 books old, with the latest title, Effective Marketing, Communications and Development, published in March 2010.

The book is co-edited by two highly experienced professionals, Adele Hodgson and David Willows: Adele was the director of marketing and development at the Frankfurt International School for many years and is a regular advisor to international schools and ECIS. David is director of external relations at the International School of Brussels and is a regular presenter at international conferences, blogger and author of several books in the field.

Adele and David will be speaking at the ECIS conference in Malta from April 8-11 and will be happy to chat about the book.

In the meantime, we put some general questions to David to get some background information about the book and marketing in international schools in general.

John Catt Educational: Just give us some background to the book: when did you get involved, why did you get involved, how long the process took etc.

David Willows: I have been working in the fields of communications and education, in one way or another, for twenty years now – although my career path has hardly been what you might call ‘traditional’. The last five years, I’ve had the privilege of working at the International School of Brussels as Director of External Relations; which has opened up for me a whole new network of colleagues doing similar kinds of jobs in schools across the world. I think we’d all say that we work in a professional field that is emerging, maturing and defining itself in new and exciting ways.

Ten years ago, many schools really weren’t thinking strategically about marketing, communications or development. That really isn’t the case now! The idea was therefore to create a book that captured the ‘practical wisdom’ of those who had been in the business for a while – if you like a manual for beginners, as well as a roadmap for future directions, challenges and trends.

JCE: And how do you apply your knowledge of marketing and communications to your current role at International School of Brussels?

DW: One of the central themes in the book is the role of storytelling – a theme that is, not surprisingly, very close to my own heart. I often say to people that when it comes to describing what people like me do, it can really be summed up in a couple of lines: ‘Telling the story of our school and helping people find their place in that story.’

Whether we are marketing the school, working in school admissions, running the school website, or speaking to donors about a major capital campaign – we really are a band of storytellers, inviting people each in their own way to join these remarkable learning communities.

You can take more from this link, where I spoke on this subject in another interview recently: www.astoriedcareer.com

JCE: How did you and co-editor Adele Hodgson go about choosing and approaching the contributors?

DW: It is always hard as an Editor to limit the list of contributing authors. What is absolutely clear is that the collective experience held by our colleagues who participated in this project is huge! In their respective fields, they are all highly experienced and respected by their colleagues around the world. It was also important that they represented a broad cross-section of schools from different locations around the world.

JCE: International schools are now big business: when did they stop being simply schools?

DW: That’s a great question – and could involve a long and detailed response. However, I’ll try and sum up my own thinking on this issue. A lot of this goes back to an ancient view of education as the pursuit of pure wisdom, away from the corrupting influences of ‘real life’. Universities like Oxford and Cambridge are great architectural expressions of this model – fortresses purposefully designed to protect the pedagogical environment.

Fast forward to the 20th Century and it’s not hard to see why many school’s have historically seen ‘business’ as a corrupting influence. In fact, though, when there is a common learning vision, business and education can and need to exist alongside one another. After all, what is education unless it has deep connections to the work-a-day world?

JCE: What areas of marketing and communications do you believe schools struggle most to get to grips with?

DW: I would sum up one of the most common challenges I hear right now in a single word: pace. Everything is changing so fast – in terms of technologies, demographics, customer expectations – that it can be hard keep up. Another challenge might be summed up by the word ‘sustainability’ – finding solutions that we have the resources to sustain, that compromise our commitment to respect the earth’s natural resources.

JCE: What are your hopes for Effective Marketing…?

DW: With the book only just published, both Adele and I are very intrigued to get feedback and comment. For both of us, I believe it’s all about conversation. If this book provides the opportunity for better conversations – then it has done its job.

We’ll certainly look forward to having conversations about aspects of the book at the forthcoming conference in Malta next week. So if anyone is travelling there, we’d love to have you attend the session on Saturday afternoon that will attempt to look at some future trends in this field and, together, begin to articulate what’s on the horizon and what will happen to marketing, communications and development in international schools over the next decade.

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