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Articles > Building Your Community > The art of war in marketing: strategic planning and proactive communication for success

The art of war in marketing: strategic planning and proactive communication for success

This article delves into the insights gleaned from an informative and engaging session led by Katy Steventon, Director of the Rugbeian Community at Rugby School, during the IDPE 2023 Annual Conference. In her session, Katy shared how she utilised military strategic planning and clear communication tactics to transform her team into a force to be reckoned with, driving efficiency, enhancing team morale, and paving the way for success. Additionally, key takeaways shared below highlight how the principles of military strategy can be skillfully adapted to invigorate marketing initiatives and foster growth in school development teams.

Background: Military marketing:

In 1995, Katy joined the Army Cadet Force, where she learned the essence of leadership. By 2013, she had taken those skills to the British Army’s Recruit Partnership Project, where she served as a Marketing Manager for Army Officer and Specialist recruitment. Returning from maternity leave in 2017, Katy began a new role, Head of Regional Marketing and Events. The challenge, however, was that she was now managing a fresh team struggling to fulfil their mandate.

The battlefront: Key challenges

Katy’s boss briefed her with a straightforward command’ “Fix it and stop the noise”. As she observed the landscape, the problems became clear - she found a geographically spread team working independently and constantly fire-fighting without direction or strategy. There was no sense of unity - a critical ingredient for any successful team. Additionally, Katy had to contend with numerous senior stakeholders with little background in recruiting or marketing - making the noise even louder.

The strategy: Changing the way we speak and work

The solution lay in leveraging familiar language and planning techniques reminiscent of army operations. Katy realised that marketing planning closely mirrored the way the army plans and delivers its orders for battle. Incorporating the military’s ‘battle rhythm’ and language was essential in involving her team in the journey. Meanwhile, she also employed a mix of military and civilian methods to build her team.

Combat estimate: The Military’s framework in marketing

Katy applied the ‘Combat Estimate’, a series of seven questions used by military commanders to plan their response, in marketing and preparation amongst her team. The combat estimate process forces commanders to critically think about the situation, the actions required, the resources needed, and the coordination measures to be imposed - providing a robust framework for planning, even under the most challenging circumstances. This strategic approach brought about significant changes.

Results: From chaos to order

With the consistent ‘battle rhythm’ in place, the noise stopped. A sense of security was restored within her team, and stakeholders were reassured. They managed to develop a national strategy that was refreshed annually, and had regional plans to support it. Katy’s campaign efficiency increased, and staff retention improved. This result allowed her to focus on developing her team, and build on individual members’ strengths.

Translating army strategy into school marketing teams

The structure of a boarding school shares similarities with the military - in both cases, communication needs to be translated into a format easily absorbed and understood by the intended audience. Katy’s experience serves as a reminder to avoid demanding people to adapt to our communication style, but rather, translate it into a format that suits them.

Katy’s experience serves as a vivid reminder that, whether on the battlefield or in the school development sector, effective planning, strategic thinking, and clear communication are critical to success.

Key takeaways:

  1. Embrace strategic planning: One crucial takeaway from Katy’s experience is the value of strategic planning. Just as in the army, a detailed plan can help identify objectives, allocate resources efficiently, and formulate a robust approach. School development teams can apply this by developing detailed marketing strategies that consider the school’s unique attributes, target audience, and overall goals.
  2. Prioritise team cohesion: A successful team is a unified one. Emphasise your collective goals over individual efforts.
  3. Adapt to your audience: The importance of communicating in a language and format that your audience understands cannot be overstated. This doesn’t mean dumbing down your message; instead, it’s about presenting your information in a way that is most accessible and meaningful to them. In a school setting, this means making sure your message resonates with various stakeholders, including parents, students, donors, and senior leadership.
  4. Create consistency: Introducing a ‘battle rhythm’ brought about a sense of security and structure, which improved team performance and stakeholder confidence. School development and marketing teams can apply this concept by establishing regular routines for communication, updates and strategy execution - as consistency cna provide reassurance and clarity to key stakeholders.
  5. Empower your team members: Katy’s focus on developing her team and utilising their strengths played a significant role in improving the team’s reputation and performance. Recognising individual strengths and allocating roles and responsibilities accordingly optimises team output, and boosts morale and job satisfaction.

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