54. Email Marketing Strategies for Schools with Rebecca Bernardo-Hartley
In this episode of Mindful School Marketing, we are joined by Rebecca Bernardo-Hartley, a seasoned school marketer with over 7 years of experience in the field. Rebecca shares her expertise on email marketing and how it can help schools showcase their unique stories to prospective families. Throughout the episode, Rebecca shares examples from her own experience at The Wolf School in Rumford, Rhode Island, where she has successfully leveraged email marketing to build strong relationships with current and prospective families. Whether you’re a seasoned school marketer or just starting out, you won’t want to miss this insightful conversation about the power of email marketing for schools.
About Rebecca Bernardo-Hartley:
Rebecca is the Marketing & Communications Manager at The Wolf School in Rumford, Rhode Island. With a background in video and photography, Rebecca discovered her love for digital marketing early in her career and returned to school to complete her master’s in Digital Marketing & Design at Brandeis University. With over 7 years of school marketing experience, Rebecca is passionate about showcasing each school’s unique story through marketing.
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Tara: Welcome to Mindful School Marketing. Aubrey: I’m Tara. And I’m Aubrey Bush. Today we’re joined by Rebecca Bernardo Hartley. Rebecca is the marketing communications manager at The Wolf School in Rumford, Rhode Island. With a background in video and photography, Rebecca discovered her love for digital marketing early in her career and return to school to complete her master’s in digital marketing and design at Brandeis University. With over seven years of school marketing experience, Rebecca’s passionate about show cas. Each school’s unique story through marketing. Welcome, Rebecca. We’re so excited Rebecca: you’re here. Hello. Thank you guys so much for having me. I am thrilled to be here. We’re Tara: excited to have you. Can you tell us a little bit more about Rebecca: yourself and your background, Rebecca? Yeah, absolutely. So as Aubrey mentioned, my background is actually in film and photography. Growing up, I loved movies. I loved making my own movies. So when I went to college, I studied film production and film studies, and I actually worked in the marketing office at my university during my college years, and that was my first kind of exposure to using photography and film specifically for marketing purposes. I really enjoyed my time there. I really loved it. So once I graduated, I actually worked in marketing for an art house cinema, and I get to kind of grow those skills a little bit more. And eventually I wound up at the Wolf School. When I first started, it was a brand new position. It was part-time. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I just, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the school, the community, and I fell in love with what I was doing. I loved being able to, My skills of film and photography to tell the school’s story, and I loved learning all of these other new skills and. I eventually just wanted to get better at what I did. So I went back to school and it was really a cool experience to be able to take every single class and lesson that I was learning and apply it literally the next day at my job. Um, and I just, again, I fell more in love with it, with each class. So my role has really grown. I am the marketing and communications manager now, and I do it all. I am a one person marketing team, so I run our social media, I update our website, I write our blogs. I design off all of our collateral and ads. Um, I do all of our photography and filming, and of course I do all of our email marketing. Oh my Aubrey: goodness. That’s a full plate you have right there. . . I mean, I can’t believe it started off as a part-time position. Hopefully it’s not part-time anymore because that is . You’re like, no, there’s no way that, uh, someone could do that part-time. Wow. I loved hearing your story. I mean, it really is like you figured out your passion and you went after it. And then I think, I mean, one of the things I love doing, working in schools is really applying what you learn. in your position? I mean, how rewarding is that? Um, and one of the things that you mentioned there, Obviously marketing and email marketing. Um, obv, just to give you all a background, Rebecca actually presented at the Small School Leaders Conference, um, on email marketing. And, you know, I knew about this before. She’s amazing. She gave such great tips there and we received such tremendous feedback about, you know, kind of. What she was sharing in the strategies that, um, we thought that more leaders should be hearing about email marketing and how you can use it in schools to really, um, impact I think retention and enrollment in all sorts of areas. So, um, for those of our audience out there that aren’t really familiar with email marketing, um, could you explain a little bit more about it and maybe its role. So Rebecca, for those of you who don’t know, Rebecca presented at the Small School Leaders Conference on email marketing and we received such great feedback about her session because she shared tips and strategies that help the leaders realize how important email marketing is for their school and how they can implement it, um, in their small shops. So, um, Rebecca, could you take a moment, and really for our audience who might not be familiar with email marketing, can you describe, you know, what it is and maybe the role it can play in independent Rebecca: school marketing? Yeah, absolutely. So email marketing, really, to put it simply, is marketing through email. You know, you create content for a specific group of contacts or subscribers to market whatever service or business that you have. So often when you think of email marketing, you think of like the email you get from the store that you shop from, that you know, tells you they have a sale coming up or introducing a new product or anything like, But email marketing is really a lot more than that. It’s one of the most direct means of marketing. And I mean, when talking about that, it’s really easy to think about because how often do you check your own email? Every day I’ll be the first one to say it. I check my email before I even get out of bed, you know? And through email marketing, you have that direct connection to your intended audience. Um, all of the same principles really apply to email marketing that apply to marketing in general. You need to, you know, have really engaging creative content and you need to work to really understand your audience. And when it comes to email marketing for schools, it’s such a powerful tool. It’s a key in helping you cultivate your community to engaging with parents and students. It can help with fundraising, it can help with student retention, and it can help with your admissions and just your admissions process as a. Yeah, Tara: I, I checked my email, um, maybe not while I’m in bed, but pretty soon after I get out of bed. And I’ve tried not to check it constantly, but it is very hard, um, to do. So. I know that it’s a great way to get in touch with people. Um, and, uh, so I appreciate what you’re sharing with us today and all the tactics and strategies that you use in your job. Um, so can you talk a little bit about some key strategies. You think that are, that you, I. For the Wolf school and also some strategies that are underused. Rebecca: Yeah, so that’s key. What I think, um, some strategies that are underused, building a schedule and like really developing a plan. And this kind of connects. To one of the biggest struggles when it comes to marketing in small schools in general, it’s hard. You know, no one really has time to dedicate. Everyone is wearing a million different hats. Everyone has too much on their plate. It’s hard. But when you have a schedule and a plan, it really makes your life much, much easier. So that would be my number one. Piece of advice. Um, analytics are also key. You really need to be looking at the results of your email. And by this I mean how many people are actually opening your emails? How many people are clicking on the links, and how many people are taking that final step? Whatever that is. Whether you want them to sign up for an open house, make a donation, subscribe to your blog, how many people are actually doing that intended called action? Um, Another underused strategy that I’m a big fan of. No surprise videos. I love videos and emails. No one wants to open an email and see like a huge block of text that is overwhelming. You’re immediately just going to be like, this is too much for my brain to handle right now. Delete, like I, I can’t do it. Videos are such an incredible way to. Tell a story and to really give your audience a glimpse into your school. So having, you know, your head of school make an announcement just through a video. It’s engaging and it’s creative, and it’s just a different way to present. A specific amount of information. Um, another tactic that I love that I’m not sure enough schools are using personalization, including personalization in the subject line of your email or in the body of your email, is such a cool way to stand out and really make that personal connection with your audience. Um, I have to say just like my biggest tip here, please do not use personalization if you do not think your data is accurate. The last thing you wanna do is send an email and have someone’s name be spelled incorrectly or just say like, dear first name. Sometimes I get those and I’ll open it and I just feel like secondhand embarrassment because they know it’s never intended, but I’m like, oh God, don’t do that. That’s, yeah. That’s always my Tara: biggest fear with using those fields, um, is that somebody’s gonna get that. So I’m always a little hesitant to use it. Uh, but I know it’s really important. You just do have to check your data for it to work. Rebecca: Exactly, check your data. And by all means, like I don’t every single contact I have, um, I don’t have a first name for everyone. That’s just sometimes the way that it works. But when you’re working in personalization, you can also make it set. So like, if you don’t have a first name, it fills in dear. Friend or just dear, whatever you want it to be. So there’s ways to avoid that. Terrible dear first name. Um, and then the last tactic that I love doing is just steward ish stewardship emails. And by this I mean sending an email just to show your appreciation for your community. It doesn’t have to include a call to action. It doesn’t have to, you know, have a next step. It’s just a happy Valentine’s Day email to your donors to thank them for being a part of your community, or wishing your staff and parents a happy summer with like a slideshow of photos from the year. Just something to just engage with your audience on a personal level to show that you know, there are real people behind the emails. This is offering real value and real engagement and connection. I love that Aubrey: I’m a big believer in what I call soft touch emails because you need to connect people with who you are and, and get them to really emotionally, you know, see you, right? Um, and those soft touch emails, like even the birthdays or anything like that, it’s just really a warm and fuzzy and really helps connect, um, you with that person, um, the school with that person. So, yay. I’m so glad you mentioned that. I’m curious now, you’ve given some great strategies here for, you know, that I, I’m sure are underutilized by a lot of schools, Um, I’m curious, what do you think, um, are the challenges that get in the way of schools successfully using, um, school mark? Uh, Rebecca: email marketing. Honestly, my big one is time. Again, I, I know everyone who works at a small school wears many different hats. They have a lot on their plate. So it’s difficult to, I guess, defend spending a certain amount of time on emails because it’s very easy to not really see the ef why, why invest in it? Why actually do it? Um, So I think that actually connects to the second challenge of just an understanding of the power of email marketing, understanding what the, the what this can do, specifically tied to strategic goals. This can help you with your admissions goals. This can help you with your retention goals, with your fundraising goals, with word of mouth, whatever you’re looking to increase, whether it’s brand awareness, anything. Email marketing is a key way to help you get there and really strengthen your community. So I think just having a clear understanding of the benefits of it is, you know, crucial. Aubrey: Yeah. Um, Tara: I, I wanna ask a little bit more about the strategies going back because as you talked about, you know, we are, when we think about email marketing, we think about spam. Yes. When we think about getting hit by spam, and I know like some of the things that you mentioned like personalization, um, are things that can. Hopefully get you a little bit around to that, but talk a little bit about like your, your tone of voice and, and how you approach your emails to get them to actually get opened, because I think that it’s, that’s a really huge challenge for anybody that’s doing email marketing. So I’d like to just expand upon Rebecca: that a little bit. Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, my biggest piece of advice there, Segmentation is key. When you segment your audience into different lists and you really understand who your audience is, who are these people in relation to your school? What are they interested in? And you build your content off of that. When you provide your audience with content that’s. Engaging and creative, but also relevant to them. They are going to be more likely to follow up on and open, you know, emails in the future. When you set the tone right from the beginning that you’re trying to provide high quality, informative, relevant information, the, it’s easy. You know what I mean? Like it’s just. Once they know that this is something that you are working to understand them and that these emails are going to be worthwhile to open, um, as far as tone be a real person, you know, don’t feel like you have to type like you or write out anything like, um, Trying to sound too professional. You’re a real school filled with real students and staff and people just right, like you’re a real person. There’s so many reasons to celebrate your school, and you want that to come across in your writing. And my favorite, your subject line as far as getting open, your subject line is, With this, every single email that I write, test your subject line. There are so many fantastic subject line testers available online. To really focus in on what makes a high quality, engaging subject line. Like, uh, the specific amount of words included. If you’re including any spam words that could trigger, you know, a spam filter. Um, and just making it really engaging, making it really creative, and just also being honest. Let them know what your email is about. You’re never trying to trick someone into opening your email. You’re trying to just. Gather their interest enough that they wanna see what’s inside, not trying to trick or confuse. Yeah, Aubrey: I think that’s really important, the subject line testing. And there’s, so, like you mentioned, there’s so many tools and I think the professional understanding that you can be professional but engaging in your tone. Um, it doesn’t, I think schools are really scared of, of like getting off that. Dear so and so, we are delighted to announce that, like, you know, that very formal speak, but that’s not how people engage, right? And so figuring out that tone of your emails is really important. And the segmentation you mentioned. Is incredibly, um, important because people want to know that this is applicable ac applicable to them. Right. So when you’re sending, I think you gave, um, in one of your presentations the, you know, you have an admissions event, but why would you be sending it to a current parent? Like, unless they’re like in your admissions funnel too, for their secondary child. Even then? I don’t think that would be app applicable, but something like the, that being very targeted, specific and then I think. You know, sort of, you alluded to this, but consistency. So if they’re used to getting an email at a certain time and they know it’s filled with value, they’re more likely to open it. So those were so many wonderful tips and strategies. Now I’m gonna throw one, I can almost hear the voice of our audience cuz you know, , we know our schools. Um, they’re going to ask the next question. I feel like they’re gonna ask. So what tools should we use? So like not only with email marketing, but also like the subject line tester tool or anything like that. Do you have any tools of the trade that you’d like to share that you think would be beneficial Rebecca: to schools? Yes. So subject line tester. I’m a big fan of co schedules. I can share that link with you guys to include. They’re my number one. I go to them all the time. Um, but also there are so many great tools out there to have your email. To get very creative with your emails. So I love using Canva to create specific email headers. You’re, it’s a free tool. There are so many great templates If you, you know, need a little help to get started or you can completely build your own, um, And then of course, I just have to say this, if you’re doing email marketing, you need an email marketing provider. This cannot be done. Please don’t like create a P D F and just attach it to an email that’s not email marketing. Um, you need an email marketing provider. These are, they’re gonna be the verified businesses that are gonna be able to give you the tools that you need, like the analytics, like the ability to segment, the ability to test all of that, all of the tools that you need to really grow and succeed in email market. Thank you so Tara: much. Those are great tips. I, you know, I, I forgot about the subject line tester. I think that’s something I need to revisit myself. That’s such a great idea. Just it completely slipped off of my radar. Uh, what, what kind of trends, I know you’ve talked a lot about this already, so we may have covered it, but in case we missed any, are there any trends that you’re seeing? I know video you mentioned is such a great thing that we see in emails. Also, tell me a little bit about emojis and emails. I’m curious about those cuz I see them, uh, in emails a lot and wondering how they, um, how they come across and that type of thing too. So I’m curious about Rebecca: emoji. Yeah, so emojis. I’m a big fan of emojis in your subject line. Obviously, you know, use your own discretion. If it’s a very serious email, I don’t think you need to be including an emoji in that. But for, you know, our monthly e-news, including a heart emoji for your February E-news, it’s very, it’s a simple, cute way, but it’s a great way to stand out. Um, other trends, I really love seeing schools and organiz. View email marketing as a storytelling tool and not just a promotion tool. You’re not just trying to be promoting your school and look how great we are. Look at what you’re telling a story. Talk about, you know, Your donor interview, a staff member, share the heart and the personality of your school, and that’s done through storytelling. Um, I love seeing people use email marketing as part of their admissions process or the donor journey. Again, like as you were talking about different touchpoints throughout all of this, this is email marketing is a great way to, you know, make those touchpoints. Include a video that shows your alumni students as part of your admissions process to show you know, where your students grow and go to after your school, use a video to show what donations do and like that you were able to build a new technology lab or whatever it is. This is a great way to, you know, really. Reach out and make those connections. Um, along those same lines, this is something that I really get so happy every time I see. I love seeing people utilizing students as storytellers. So having, you know, an eighth grader write a little piece about their fundraising efforts for their class trips and including like, you know, pictures that they took. Um, anything like that. I really love seeing that, cuz again, Your emails are a way to connect to your school and what better way to connect to your school than with your students. Um, and this, just have fun with it. I love when the personality of the school really shines through in the email. This is why you have people signed up. They’re not trying to, they already like you. You know what I mean? They like you for a reason. Show those reasons. Show the heart, and. Spirit of your school, what sets you up? What makes your community so wonderful? What makes your students so special? And just celebrate that. I love that. I Aubrey: think that storytelling is so key. I mean, there’s, and, and using your students, I mean, how many people, I mean, first, I think that’s a great way to show that your students have this, um, It’s part of like almost your curriculum in your program that they’re allowed to be allowed. I mean, , uh, there’s, they’re allowed to be involved in this, this skillset building. I mean, they’re learning how to create something to either maybe take photos or do a video or write something like write a blog or something that you can feature. That email that really does so much for the school and it does help your school’s personality shine through. So thank you so much for sharing that. Cause I think that’s really important. And a lot of schools, um, Either aren’t thinking like that’s, that’s what we should do doing. Or maybe, um, they haven’t figured out how quite to do it. But I think this is just a great reminder storytelling and using students to, um, so important in email marketing now. Um, I wanted to switch gears a bit. So through the lens of our podcast, we talk about mindfulness and how it applies to school marketing professionals. What does mindfulness mean to you and how do you apply mindfulness to your work with independent schools and marketing in. Rebecca: I love this question. Mindfulness is actually very important to me, and I really do believe, without a doubt, that without mindfulness I would not be able to do my job, much less enjoy doing my job. Um, to me, mindfulness really just means. Pausing, and that could mean pausing and, you know, taking a breath because everything’s crazy and it’s gala season and admission season, and I just need to pause. Um, it could also mean pausing and enjoying the moment. So, so often in marketing you’re always kind of thinking of like, oh, that make a great photo. Oh, I need to set the, I should use that quote, or I need to post that on social media. Your, your mind’s always going, so it’s nice to be able to. Pause and sometimes just take in a moment and not, you know, think about how am I going to use this in my marketing, but just enjoy it and reconnect with why you love the school that you’re at and why you love the students in the community. Um, I’m actually really lucky, so the school that I work at, the Wolf School, it. Is very important here that we teach students and staff mindfulness. So every week at our all school assembly, we collectively do a mindful minute together. And it’s just a really nice way to, again, just take one minute to just breathe and ground ourselves and just take pause. Um, I think it’s necessary. It’s necessary for everyone, but especially again, if you work in marketing, your brain is always going. It never really stops, and that’s, you know, the nature of the game. But using mindfulness really helps me to just appreciate every moment and really be able to take, pause and breathe through the more challenging moments. Thank Tara: you for that reminder. Yeah, it is. It’s so easy to go in million different directions and uh, that’s why we’re doing this podcast cuz it reminds us too, . We’re gonna go into some rapid fire questions now, which is the questions that we ask all of our guests at the end. And the first one is my favorite, which is, if you could put one book as mandatory reading on the high school curriculum, what would it be? Rebecca: This is the hardest question. There’s so many. Um, honestly, I would have to say, Everybody writes by Anne Handly. So I think anyone who works in marketing com and communications, it’s an absolute must, but I would recommend this to literally everyone. I think writing is so often seen as this like daunting task. But everybody does write, whether it’s an email or a cover letter or a text message, we are all writing. So this book really helps you gain confidence in your own voice and your own writing style, and just really helps take the stress of writing away and makes it makes you recognize that it really is a very powerful and enjoyable task. I Tara: have to say now with chat G P T, I wonder how that’s gonna change too, because if you don’t like writing chat, g p T can kind of take over that job for you. So I wonder if, I wonder if there’s gonna be another book about everybody writes, um, end Users chat, G p Rebecca: t or something. . Right. Well this is why we have to get it into the high school curriculum now, so No, exactly. Aubrey: I love that. I mean, it’s true. I mean, I think that writing can be seen as, you know, this overwhelming task and a lot of, a lot of school heads that we talk to, they just kind of dread that, that like monthly head of school email and they’re like, oh, it’s coming up, you know, but I, it can be seen as enjoyable. So thanks for that reminder and I can’t wait to check out that book. Now this is a, I’m very curious about the answer to this next question. What is one app you can’t Rebecca: live? I have two answers. , I couldn’t, I couldn’t just narrow it down to one. Um, my guilty pleasure app is. Pinterest a hundred percent. I love it. I love finding recipes. I love looking at organization that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to achieve, but I can always hope to one day be able to achieve. Um, it’s just a really, it’s nice to connect with creativity on like a different level. I love seeing, um, travel locations and just all that stuff. So Pinterest definitely. Um, and then, My other one would be unwinding anxieties. So I love this app. It has tons of mindfulness exercises, it has journal prompts, and you’re able to, you know, digitally write out a journal entry. And it also really has like lessons to help break down, you know, stress and mindfulness and how to use it in everyday life and actually recognizing your own. When you are getting too stressed and what you can do to get yourself out of that before you know you go into a tailspin. So that one is probably the one I really couldn’t live without. . Wow. Cool. Tara: I’ve never heard of it. I’m definitely gonna check that out. It sounds great. Uh, kr next question. What are you reading right Rebecca: now? So this is, I just started it, but my friend Lend, uh, lended me this book and it’s her absolute favorite book. So it’s My Brilliant Friend by Elena Fete. I’ve never read it before. She swears by it. It’s a whole series, so I’m very excited to dive into it. Tara: Yes, I love that series. And it’s also an H B O special and it’s beautiful. Woo. Aubrey: Yes, . I did not know that. Look, we’re learning something new all the time on this podcast, . Um, Great. I am curious about your answer on this one as well. What is one great piece of advice you’d like to leave us with? Rebecca: Trust the process and trust the timing of things. I think it’s so easy, and especially in, you know, today’s culture, to always be worrying about if you’re doing enough, if you are enough, comparing yourself to others and just really. I think everyone just really needs to focus that and recognize that they are exactly where they need to be. They’re exactly who they’re supposed to be and just whatever goals and dreams that they have, they will be able to get there. You just have to trust the process. It might not be on the timeline you think, but you will get there. I wish I had had that Aubrey: when I was 20. That’s such great advice, Rebecca: right? Such Aubrey: great advice. Yes. Tara: Thank you so much. It’s been great having you on the show. Thanks so much for sharing all this great email information. Now I’m inspired to work on my own emails, actually. . Rebecca: Awesome. I love it. Thank you guys so much for having me. We’re so Aubrey: glad you were here. Now, where can people find. Rebecca: LinkedIn please. I love connecting. Um, once I got married I hyphenated my name, so I am the only Rebecca Bernardo Hartley out there . So it’s very easy to find me. Please connect with me on LinkedIn. I love just hearing what other schools are doing. I love, you know, sharing any tips that I can, um, offer. So please feel free to reach out. Thank you. Thanks so much. Have a great day Having you on. Thank you. Aubrey: Thank you.