Combining Business with Pleasure

In my line of work it’s not that often you manage to combine business with pleasure. But the opportunity came on Thursday 29 January when we were delighted to host 65 guests from a range of institutions on which the school partly depends for its custom and success: relocation agents, estate agents, embassies and recruitment agencies, among others.

A champagne lunch was followed by a double decker bus ride, during which a commentary on the school was provided, to the London Eye. Here, in four separate pods, our guests were informed about, and allowed to taste, various wines, as well as offered – as the sun set – a panoramic view of one of the world’s greatest cities.

A generation ago some in the teaching profession considered ‘marketing’ a dirty word, and failed to appreciate how and why a school managed to fill its classrooms, or that the payment of their own mortgages depended on their school enrolling a sufficient number of students to ensure its survival and growth. Business and commerce on the one hand, and education on the other, have not always been easy bedfellows.

But in today’s educational world there is increasing recognition (and not just in the fee paying sector) that we exist in a competitive ‘business’ and that schools compete for customers in a way not dissimilar to that of supermarkets and car manufacturers.

Of course, we must not forget what I am told is the first law of marketing: however good your marketing may be, you cannot sell a duff product. You may (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln) be able to fool some people for a short period of time. But particularly these days prospective parents, with a wealth of information literally at their fingertips, are far too discerning and knowledgeable to be easily conned into sending their child to a poor, or even mediocre, school.

No, the customer can and does judge a school on the quality of the education it offers, and in particular its teaching and learning. The challenge for prospective parents is how to assess that quality. The most objective and simplest measure might be a school’s public exam results. With an average of 36 IB Diploma points over each of the last two years you may understand why Southbank uses this evidence to support its belief that the quality of teaching and learning in the school is now higher than it has ever been.

An opportunity to visit the school on a typical working day, which all 65 of our visitors were given, would, I believe, confirm this. Judging from our guests’ feedback they observed a positive working atmosphere, with the students appearing engaged and interested in their work. Such a standard cannot be reached without strong pastoral support and a wide range of extracurricular opportunities for students to balance their academic with their physical, and other forms of, development.

But once, the professional marketers tell me, the quality of the product has been established, the method by which it is marketed can start to make a decisive difference. Of course, word of mouth – particularly from the current consumer – no doubt continues to be the most influential form of publicity. In an international school, which attracts students from all over the world, the importance of the website is also key; one reason why Southbank has recently launched, to popular acclaim, a brand new one.

The quality of an institution’s marketing usually is an accurate reflection of the quality of the product itself. Judging from the response of the vast majority of our 65 guests to their 29 January visit, we appear to have confirmed in their minds what those who work in the school sincerely believe: Southbank offers a world class education.

But judge for yourself. The customer is, after all, king.

Graham Lacey