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Most consumer industries have short, straightforward buying cycles—at least compared to the education market. When you buy new shoes, for example, you don’t typically spend a year evaluating and comparing options. Even a big, considered purchase like buying a car usually doesn’t take that long.
But education is different. In education, the long buying cycle is dictated by the school year, budget schedules, funding availability, and more. To succeed in education sales, marketing, and PR, you need to schedule your communications and media coverage so it appears at a time when the schools, districts, or educators you’re targeting are motivated (and able) to act on it.
The first and most important thing to understand about the education buying cycle is that it’s long. It starts at the beginning of the year before a purchase is made.
Let me repeat that: You need to start your PR outreach at least a year before you probably think you do. Well, technically, public relations never stops. You should start your PR efforts from day 1. But to be clear, schools are evaluating their needs for the 2023-2024 school year now. They might be evaluated during the entire 2022-2023 school year before making purchases next summer.
My point is, when a school hears about your product, they’re not swiping the credit card right away. They’ll often file it away for later. Educators and district leaders are constantly on the lookout for new educational tools. They gather lists of the best products and save them for later.
When a school or district is out of money for the year… they’re out of money for the year. Sorry. No amount of PR or marketing is going to make them buy a product that’s not in the budget—at least until the next year rolls around.
At the same time, some districts will come to the end of a budget cycle with money to spend. Your prospective customers might have “use or lose it” funding, and just be looking for the right place to spend it.
So how do you know which is which? Should you spend resources to reach your buyer at the end of the school year?
To make things more complicated, funding sources often come at different times with different restrictions. Expect a school to spend funding earmarked for summer learning at a different time than the rest of their funding, for example.
That’s why PRP always says that education PR must be focused on building long-term relationships with your prospects and buyers. If you’re building goodwill, asking questions, providing free trials, and continuously learning about your audience, you’ll be able to time your outreach a lot better. You’ll have a better idea of who has funding they’re ready to spend, and who doesn’t.
Since we’re talking about budget cycles, here’s a reminder that schools are currently flush with cash they will need to spend. Be sure to listen to our podcast episode with Tucker Capital to learn about how schools are going to be spending that money.
There are few industries with quite so many gatekeepers as education. Your products and communications usually must reach and convert:
Your communications will often make their way up from the first users or early adopters through to the final decision-maker, which might be a committee. At each step, these gatekeepers will be looking for data and justifications for the decision to purchase (or renew) your product or service. This extends the timeline of your PR and communications work and guarantees that you will need to send out more outreach and increased touchpoints over the course of the sale process and beyond.
We can’t talk about the school year without talking about the emotional experience educators and students have. The beginning of the year is often full of excitement, hope, and sometimes a little trepidation. The end of the year can be filled with exhaustion, burnout, and a sense of longing for summer. In the middle, there are many ups and downs, from holidays to homecoming or the prom. And of course, summer combines moments when teachers just want to get away and moments when they’re readying themselves for the upcoming school year.
So as you plan your public relations and communications calendar to align with education buying cycles, don’t forget that emotional component. Match your audience’s emotions and recognize how they’re feeling.
Once you know what to do, it’s never too early to get started. From crafting the stories your audience will remember to developing your crisis management plan to, education PR should be at the top of your brand-building agenda.
Need some help getting started? Let’s chat.