Launching an Inbound Marketing Program: Lessons from a Private School Marketing Director

I can’t remember when I first learned about Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child. Maybe on a webinar? Maybe in a conversation with a colleague? Maybe by accident? Regardless of how I first stumbled onto the school’s website, I immediately bookmarked it and subscribed to their mailing list.


Because it was obvious that Oak Knoll, a Kindergarten through grade 12 Catholic independent school in Summit, N.J.,  had gone “all in” on their inbound marketing strategy. Their website was alive with calls-to-action, lead magnets, and fresh blog content.

Inbound Marketing and Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child
Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child

And while there are other great examples in cyberspace of schools that have embraced inbound marketing (Sewickley Academy being one of the pioneers and the gold standard), I was anxious to talk with the person leading the charge at Oak Knoll.

Meghan Hodgin - Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child
Meghan Hodgin

My curiosity led me to Meghan Hodgin, Oak Knoll’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

When I first talked to Meghan during the winter of the 2017-18 school year, she had just launched their inbound marketing program and was cautiously optimistic about the success they were already seeing from their efforts. But she told me to check back with her after at least one full admissions cycle was complete to see what the real impact had been.

Fast forward to this spring when I connected with Meghan and asked her to share the lessons she learned from starting a private school inbound marketing program from scratch. Below are excerpts from our conversation.

What results have you seen from your inbound marketing program?

In the first year, 2017-18, we saw an overall increase in applications of 48%. That included a 72% increase in Lower School applications with the most substantial increase in Kindergarten. And we saw a 30% increase in our Upper School applications. While we cannot specifically state that the increase in applications was directly related to our inbound marketing efforts, we can note an 8% increase in website traffic year over year and increased exposure.

Who at Oak Knoll is part of your inbound marketing and blogging team?

We use HubSpot as our inbound marketing platform. The blogging team is mostly me, our Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications, as well as some usual suspects in our technology office and various teachers and administrators across campus.

Initially, my goal was to post once per week to our blog. For the most part, we hit that, but there were weeks I didn’t have time and because I hadn’t developed a blogging calendar the first year, it became a burden.

This year I have been able to get some of our teachers involved too. One of our biggest struggles last year was that we were flying by the seat of our pants. This year I put a calendar together over the summer and asked people to sign up all the way through the school year.

What have been some of your most popular blog topics?

I wrote a post two years ago on why boys and girls learn better together in a coed elementary school and that is still our #1 post. General education topics are still popular for us. When thinking about topics we always consider those that would be of importance to our parents — our target audience. We also ensure each post is optimized for search so that prospective families find our content.

Why Boys and Girls Learn Better Together in Coed Elementary School - Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child

Once you’ve attracted a prospective family to your blog and they fill out an inquiry form, how do you keep them engaged and try to move them through the admissions funnel?

We have about 331 subscribers right now and we send out a monthly roundup to them. You need to be consistent to see results but we don’t want to hit people too much. At one point we were being more aggressive and we saw our unsubscribe rate go up.

Also, depending on what grade(s) you have inquired about, you may get separate emails from our admissions team members. We also invite all of our subscribers to on-campus marketing events, like a session we held on Kindergarten preparedness.

In addition, we repurpose our blog content into social media posts and lead magnets and use them in emails for our current families. Sometimes we will also print out a post and use it as part of our admissions materials — like the coed elementary school piece.

What’s your biggest challenge?

One of our biggest struggles is data. You’re only as good as the data you have and the way you interpret that data. It’s tough because our admissions and marketing teams are on different systems. The admissions team is not on HubSpot with me and it’s a goal to get them in there in the future. In the meantime, they send me exports of inquiries or targets so that I can include them to our monthly emails that provide more information on upcoming events, our blogs, lead magnets, etc. We struggled with sharing data the first year, but we’re getting better with it now. We’ve definitely learned through trial and error.

What are your top pieces of advice for anyone thinking of starting an inbound marketing program at their own private school?

Plan ahead and establish goals and objectives. Create a content calendar over the summer for blogging and incorporate it with your social media calendar — when you’ll post and push it out and on what channels. Develop email campaigns that go along with your blog posts.

I will say it’s a lot of work. It’s not that I went into it thinking it would be easy, but it was a lot more work than I thought. Being a small team has forced me to set time aside specifically for inbound efforts. It’s almost like having another part-time job. So don’t be afraid to ask for help from your co-workers.

My office has taken on the biggest burden of this blog and our inbound marketing program, but we’ve seen the results so we know it’s worth it.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to start or improve your own private school’s inbound marketing program, I’d love to connect with you. In fact, I have a free resource to share with you, an article I wrote called: Create a Rich Inbound Marketing Strategy to Increase Website Traffic and Inquiries. When you fill out this form, just request it in the comments section.


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