13 top tips on how to sell to schools with email marketing
Updated: Feb 27
Email marketing to schools with More Than Words is arguably the best way to sell to schools. Email marketing offers your business an inexpensive and potentially very responsive route into the entire UK schools market.
Schools, and the teachers responsible for buying for them, respond to certain types of approaches better than others.
In this article, our copywriters, designers, and campaign planners share the approaches and methods which have worked best for our customers and why they work:
Be sure on who within the school you're targeting,
Get the main point of your message over in 3 seconds,
The buying cycle applies to schools - what it means,
The importance of the minimum order.
Adopt a neutral, non-salesy voice,
Avoid clichés in your copy and design, and
Choose a simple design
Choosing what you offer - the importance of being selective,
Phone calls are always better than websites,
The relationship they have with their current supplier,
How schools like to buy
If you can, namedrop other schools you've worked for, and
You really need to get to schools more than the one time
Be sure who you’re targeting
What happens when your email is sent to the school?
The email (even if it has the head teacher’s name included within it) is often first delivered into the administration department of the school. This may be one person if the school is small or a whole team for the largest schools. Sometimes, this part of the school is called the bursar's department or the business management team.
Many schools have a specific policy of only receiving incoming emails at the administration address. The email is then forwarded to the relevant teacher by the administrator. What we advise is that, in the subject line, you allow us to put "For the attention of the Head of English", for example.
If you are targeting nurseries or primaries...
...the headteacher normally has overriding purchasing authority. S/he may, however, be advised by key members of staff. If you are selling something that may be of interest to subject-related members of staff, if you address it for the "(Subject) Coordinator".
Coordinators within nurseries and primaries - Art Coordinator, IT Coordinator, RE Coordinator, Citizenship Coordinator, Mathematics Coordinator, Science Coordinator, English & Literacy Coordinator, Music Coordinator, Technology Coordinator, Geography Coordinator, Physical Education Coordinator, SEN Coordinator, History Coordinator, and PSE Coordinator.
If what you offer does not relate directly to one of the coordinators most likely to be in place within these schools, you should mark the email for the attention of the head teacher or for one of the shared classifications below.
If you are targeting secondary schools...
...the headteacher is only one decision maker within the school although s/he usually signs everything off. Budgets for secondaries are much higher than for other schools and, normally, the head teacher will allocate a certain budget per department which is administered by the heads of those departments.
Heads with secondaries - Art & Design, Biology, Business Studies, Careers, Chemistry, Citizenship Studies, Classics, Technology, Drama, Economics, English, Food Science, French, Geography, German, History, ICT, Maths, Media Studies, Modern Languages, Music, PE, Performing Arts, Physics, PSE, Psychology, RE, Science, Sociology, Spanish Language, Special Needs
The Deputy Head’s role has diminished over the last 20 years, particularly over finances. These roles have largely been transferred over to the bursar’s department.
The bursar’s department, otherwise known as the school office, have taken on more and more responsibility
Administrators and bursars have taken control over areas previously considered the responsibility of others, like school efficiency.
There is a secretarial role to the administrator. She has a controlling function over most of the mail and email arriving in schools. A large proportion of mail to the headteacher is now opened and handled by the administrator's office.
School business managers are the senior financial and administrative contacts within many secondary schools. Their main job, in conjunction with the head teacher, is to allocate resources and budgets efficiently.
Their main duties include accounts, health and safety, budget planning and processing salaries however many business managers have purchasing responsibility over the following:
General ordering of products and services
Handling contracted services like catering, cleaning, maintenance and IT support
If you are involved in value-driven services (for example, services on contract) rather than value-added products and services (for example, teaching aids), the school business manager may be the best person for you to target.
All types of schools share certain types of representatives, the most obvious being "Head Teacher" and "Deputy Head". There are also other classifications you can consider, which are...
Shareds - Head of Sixth Form, Pastoral Head, Bursar, School Secretary, Librarian.
Get the main point of your message over in 3 seconds
Think about the day the school secretary or administrator is having.
S/he'll be rushed off her/his feet - could you imagine how difficult it is keeping an average secondary school running, for example? There may be 1,000 pupils and over 100 staff to cope with every day, together with lots of incoming phone calls, letters, parental visits and so on.
That's why you should always put the name of the intended recipient in the subject line - it saves the administrator spending valuable time reading your message then deciding who s/he should forward it on to.
The person within the school you're targeting - when the email gets to him/her, make it interesting and understandable from the off. We can help you do that with a few simple but important techniques about wording and placement in your email.
The buying cycle applies to schools - what it means
Depending on what your product or service is, the schools and the teachers you want to buy from you will come into the "buying cycle" at certain intervals. If you're a stationery supplier, the buying cycle might occur once a month - if you supply fitted air conditioning systems and service them, the buying cycle might only occur every five to ten years.
When someone is out of the buying cycle, there's nothing you can do to bring them back in. No matter how attractive your offer, no matter how brilliant the advert design may be, they just don't need what you have.
Accept that when you send an email off, only 3-5 out of every 100 or more you contact will be in a position to buy - they have the need and they have the cash. However every email that an individual school sees from you when out of the buying cycle exposes them more to your brand and reinforces your credibility as an education supplier.
The importance of the minimum order
Unless your business model is different from most other companies and you are happy with loss leaders to get new customers through the door because history shows they always come back, a minimum order is crucial for a good return on investment, particularly if you are just doing a one-off campaign.
If you're emailing existing customers, open rates are typically between 10-30% and response rates a tenth of that. Response builds up the more times schools see your email and become accustomed to you - that's why we recommend that you email schools once a month.
Adopt a neutral, non-salesy voice
The email adverts we write for you as an email marketing customer are written in friendly, engaging, formal language. Traditional sales approaches really don't work with schools - the target audience are too educated to fall for them and they are very careful to spend their school budget carefully. Below are some of the in-house guidelines we use on customers' adverts.
Third person, not first person
Following on from this, emails campaigns written in a more advertorial/press-release style are generally very successful. The best way to describe the linguistic style would be as if your advert was like a PR release that was published by a local newspaper.
We would not recommend writings adverts in the first person (for example, “our furniture is brilliant” and “we offer a full design and installation service) – instead we would recommend more standard and formal expression like “Joe Bloggs Furniture has received many recommendations from education customers” and “The company offers a full design and installation service).
This more gentle, factual approach appeals much more to school buyers wanting to purchase products and services which combine longevity, value, and efficacy.
We do research for your email design
Where it is appropriate, we will make relevant mentions of government, trade union or parent-teacher association mentions to further make the advert feel factual. The research is presented as informative and factual, giving readers guidance of how what you do can help them achieve compliance.
Recognise recipients’ professionalism
We always carefully word adverts in such a way that what you are offering is an aid to the school in getting even higher standards than the high standards they have now.
Never present yourself as the “solution to their prayers” as this may make more experienced teachers feel as if they are being talked down to. Imagine the wording used as conversation between teachers in the staff room or answering the questions that a head would ask you if you were there with them.
We normally start off with an interesting but non-sensational headline. So, if we were doing an advert for an outdoor furniture manufacturer, we would use something like “Scheme to create outdoor play opportunities with pupils” rather than “Buy now and save on brilliant outdoor furniture”
A sub-headline backs up the statement in the headline and a short paragraph or two going into a bit more detail will follow.
We then would recommend have a showcase of normally no more than 4 images (with each image embossed with your logo in the bottom right if still legible at that size). Underneath that, there’ll be an accurate description of what you’re offering and below that your contact details.
We design your advert to be read and understood within seconds but with enough there for them to keep going back to it.
Call to action
So many adverts, whether to schools or not, do not give the reader a sufficient call to action – in other words, heads, leaders, and teachers are not told how to take it further. Every advert should have a subtle but obvious call to action for them to contact you.
We always stay clear of the words “sale”, “promotion”, “offer”, etc because schools know they are reading an advert. We will normally describe something you’re offering as a “scheme” or a “trial” – the words convey far more of a two-way process between you and the schools.
Schools are understandably about procurement because they’re spending public money and any decision to purchase is made on more than just price (although that is still important).
Avoid clichés in your copy and design
We would recommend that you should steer clear of putting stock photos of small children looking happy or teachers who are models. Pictures should only be used when they add something to the meaning. Everyone knows this is a £1 stock photo download and that they aren't UK schoolchildren. Even more, why do schools need to see pictures of children in their adverts? They do see them every day.
We recommend working with your own images and we ask you to go with what we recommend to fit in with our house style. Teachers do get tired of seeing the same recycled stock images - we want them to see something different with your advert.
Choose a simple design
Headline - sub-headline - body copy - call to action - unsubscribe option. Even though an email is on a screen, it's best to have everything in one simple column down (two at the most if on desktop or laptop).
When we read a magazine or a newspaper, we expect things to be in certain places. With emails on desktops and laptops, we limit the width to 575 pixels. There's often little or nothing to be gained by making a more complex structure with multiple headlines and sub-headlines pointing customers to different parts of your website. For the versions of your email designed for smartphones, we want to avoid too much scrolling because this suggests that the message you want them to find will take too long.
Choosing what you offer - the importance of being selective
When you get a normal email during your working day, you'll probably scan it - later on, you'll read it, delete it or even forget it was there.
Email gets noticed straight away but it has a couple of downsides. There's a big perception that email communication is worth less than a mailshot or a phone call - it therefore doesn't require or demand as much attention. The other aspect is that because there's so much email nowadays, who has the time?
We'll help you tailor your email to take account of the fact you've got a few eyeball seconds with the recipient. If you offer a lot of products or services, we'll try to get you to slim it down to no more than 8 and preferably no more than 4.
Phone calls are always better than websites
Want to get teachers to visit your website and just place an order online? You may be waiting quite a while, particularly if you're doing just a one-off campaign.
On the plus side, your site gives a real sense of presence to your company. It also gives your customer time and space to teach themselves about what you do. They're online all the time meaning you can make sales whenever you want. But, it's not that simple.
Nothing beats having a human to hand to answer all the questions visitors have. For example, our website drives huge numbers of enquiries but 90% of the questions aren't answered on the website because the question is unique to you - our caller.
People buy people first before they'll buy anything on a website from an email. Spending 20 minutes on the phone with a teacher or school leader will present all sorts of possibilities of getting a new customer – try not to deprive yourself or your sales team of the opportunity.
Think about the relationship they have with their current supplier
Sometimes, the schools whose orders you're chasing have used the same supplier for years. Familiarity breeds comfort and that comfort can be difficult to overcome.
People often do not ONLY buy on price - they buy on emotions and connections. A good offer will get them interested though and you'll have to make one to win. Good offers sent multiple times will always get more attention than if just sent once.
The fact they already buy what you're selling, albeit from someone else, is a good sign. They have been in the market and they will be again.
How schools like to buy
If you can offer accounts, that’s very positive. Many schools and teachers are used to getting new goods and services on 30 days’ approval - in other words, send them out what they want with an invoice to pay within 30 days. However, allow them to return it with no penalty within the 30 days. This really increases responsiveness.
If you can accept debit or credit cards, that’s also very helpful - it's a lot less rare for schools to have their own card and, if they are late in paying their invoice, you can offer them the opportunity to pay over the phone when you’re chasing settlement.
It's your company which has to be flexible - you're in competition against established players and you have to go the extra mile to get a look in. Our copywriters would really appreciate the opportunity to work with you on this.
If you can, namedrop other schools you've worked for
If you've worked with schools before, it's always best to use it in your email copy.
Better still, if you can get a school customer to give you a quote expressing how pleased they are with your service, that's going to really help your campaign. Schools are often overwhelmed with advertising every day, and it's companies which use specialist services like ours that always find themselves with a better chance because of the thought and planning that goes into your campaign. Testimonials from other schools DO help you stand out.
Don't worry if you're looking for your first school customer and you've got no testimonials to provide. All it means is that you have to email them a few times to get noticed and to build up your credibility as a legitimate education supplier. Once you get your first customers, repeat business from them is very likely and they're always there to use in later advertisements.
You need to be constantly marketing
You need to be seen multiple times by schools. In our experience and those of our customers, schools filter out more opportunistic, speculative approaches in favour of suppliers whose brands and range of products and services are known to them. One of the ways schools can differentiate between the two is by the number of times they've been exposed to your message.
When speaking with one of our advisors, ask about why you should go more than once and what the specific benefits to your business will be.
Email marketing to schools with More Than Words
Our team have worked with over 8,000 clients helping get their message into schools. Get in touch with us for advice and guidance on:
how to sell to primary schools
how to sell to high schools
how to sell to private schools
how to sell to public schools
You can either buy school emails from us and send campaigns yourself or you can ask us to carry out school email marketing campaigns on your behalf.
To find out more on how to sell to schools through More Than Words, please call 0330 010 8300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.