The programme explores and explains the reaction of teachers to individual advertisements

Many email promotions to schools work exactly as one hopes; one writes the advert and the sales come along.

Unfortunately, even for the most experienced of advertisers, sometimes things don’t work out quite like that.   We have a product or service that we know for sure that schools need.  We have a benefit that we feel sure that the schools want, and yet despite all of this the sales are modest.  Sometimes almost non-existent.

Unfortunately in such a situation it is more than likely that there will be many reasons why the advert isn’t working.  

Here as a starting point are just a few of the issues that could be at the root of the problem…

1. The way the advert is written

In one advert that we saw recently a company suggested that their product offered a unique solution to a particular problem.  The results from the advert were very poor, and it turned out that it was the use of just one particular word that stopped people responding.  A slight change to the advert and all was sorted; sales came in.

2. The people the advert is reaching

Some items need to be ordered by senior management, some by heads of department.  But also some times it is important for the classroom teacher to be contacted so that he/she can make a recommendation to the head of department.  In several cases we have seen situations in which the head of department simply didn’t know that the classroom teachers wanted this product, and so it was not being purchased. 

Likewise, sometimes it is the case that it is necessary to promote to senior management and to the head of a teaching department at the same time in order to sell a product that could have an impact within the school at large.

3. The amount that is being charged might be…. too little!  

Advertisements can fail because the product cost might seem too much for the benefits on  offer.  But they can also fail because the price is too low, thus making teachers believe that such a cheap item can't be any good!  

Indeed there can always be a temptation to cut your price if you see the competition come in at a lower price that you.  But in one experiment we undertook, when the price was trebled and the advertising changed, the profit level also trebled.

4. The attitude of the teachers and managers might be slightly out of line with what you believe to be the case

It is not unknown for teachers and managers to buy a product or service for reasons that can surprise the retailer or manufacturer.   Thus it is important to know why they are buying something – so that this can be reflected in the advertisement. 

Equally schools might refuse to buy a product because they believe it is not necessary and not a legal requirement.  To take one obvious example, many schools still do not engage in staff training to alleviate stress as they don’t believe they have any legal obligation so to do.

However in such a case simply telling managers that they have a legal obligation, tends not to change their attitude.  One can need a more subtle approach.

5.  Timing is always a key issue

In one case that we worked on our customer knew exactly when the bulk of his orders came in each year.  He therefore planned his advertising around that time.

But subsequent research showed that although he was of course quite right about when orders were placed, he had not taken into account the way in which the decisions was made to buy the product.  Our research showed that such decisions were often made a whole term earlier and that advertising earlier was the way to enhance sales, not focussing all the advertising in the buying period.

6.  The market can change

The issues facing schools are completely different today from those being faced just two years ago.   At the moment a perceived shortage of income and an increase in the number of pupils and students are among the key issues – and the language of advertising needs to reflect this.

One solution some primary schools are choosing is to open a private nursery unit alongside the mainstream school.  This opens up a new market, but in many cases only a small number of advertisers benefit, because many others are still seeing the market as it existed two years before.

7.  The advert is fine, but the landing page is not right

A landing page is a web page specifically set up to receive people who have seen your email advertisement and who want to know more.  Typically the email grabs attention and sells the benefits, while the landing page gives the features and ordering instructions.

It is not at all unknown for large numbers of people to get to the landing page and then not make a purchase – which makes the whole advert look like a failure.  But in fact the failure is just in one place – and quite often a simple adjustment to the landing page can then resolve the problem.

Much of the problem here comes from the fact that many website designers fail to recognise the fact that websites have multiple purposes: they need to attract in people who are searching on Google, they need to be a place that past customers can visit to get details of latest products, upgrades etc, and they need to be the place where those interested in an email advert come to for more information.

If your website does not reflect all these attributes that does not mean that the site needs to be pulled down - it is generally easy to add a few extra pages (or indeed put them on another site) which can resolve the problem.

8.  Following up on the visitors to your web page

It is the nature of selling in the 21st century that everyone wants sales now – and much of the time this can be achieved. 

But it is also the case that many people will want more information, and will need to take time to consider and be convinced.

For these people quite often the best way forward is to capture the email address of the visitors to your site so that you can email them again regularly and thus convince them to buy from you.

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So how can one spot what is wrong with an advertisement?

First there is experience.  The team at Schools.co.uk has been writing to schools promoting products and services for over 30 years and as part of this work we have always had our own experimental unit that sells products and services that we ourselves produce.  This has left us free to experiment and learn – and at our own expense, not that of our customers.

It was from this approach that we set out the principle that there are five different ways of writing an advert:

  • As an announcement of the product or service
  • By selling on price
  • Through focussing on the benefit
  • By asking an interesting, open question in the headline
  • Via doing something incredibly odd or unusual.

What we found was that the list above represents the popularity of direct marketing adverts with a) being the most commonly seen, and e) being the most rarely used.

What we also found was that the same order can be used when measuring the success of adverts, except that here the order is reversed: e) is generally the most successful, a) the least.

But we also know that many companies feel very worried about jumping straight from adverts which focussed on the product, service or price into adverts which are odd or quirky, and so we tend to help them work towards writing type d) adverts.  Type e) adverts are there for the adventurous, but type d) also works well.

What can a company do if it is having problems with its advertising to schools?

One increasingly popular approach is known as “Send and Review”.

In this approach you write your advertisements and we transmit them for you in the normal way.  But we also look at every aspect of your advertising and work out exactly how it might be improved. 

So if the numbers look disappointing or if you have had problems in the past persuading teachers to buy we can work with you to find out why and put it right.  Quite often we will quickly recognise what is wrong and make recommendations, sometimes we will set up the system to enable you to gain the email addresses of visitors to your site, sometimes we’ll undertake some research with teachers – each response is individual to the customer concerned.

To make use of this service all you have to do is to sign up for one of our email programmes in which you commit to send out four emails over a period of weeks or months.  

As with those programmes, you write the advertisements, but with Send and Review we work with you to improve the response rates.  We can start before the first email goes out, giving you advice on what can be done to improve its response rate.  Or you might want to wait to see what sales you get first time around. 

The programme which includes our complete analysis, advice and guidance and the sending out four emails costs £275 (£69 each email) if you are sending to secondary schools, special schools or nursery schools and £395 (£99 each email) if you are sending to primary schools or a mix or primary and secondary schools. 

If you would like to explore this further please do call 01604 880 927 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tony Attwood