What Kevin Costner Can Teach You About Marketing Your Private School

This is a post about Kevin Costner and the lessons that he can teach you about marketing your school. Actually, this is one of the emails from my “Five Greatest Lies of Private School Marketing” email series. Click the link to join the series and get the rest of those lies in your inbox this week. 

No, Kevin doesn’t know a thing about school marketing (that I know of). No, he’s not the one who wrote this email (sadly). But, taking a page out of his playbook will 100% be the most valuable way to spend your time today. 

Yesterday I was jotting down ideas for this email. Suddenly, the phrase “if you build it, they will come” popped into my head. Then, it plopped down on the page. 

For some reason, I thought this phrase came straight out of the Bible, but I wasn’t quite sure. So, you can imagine my shock when I found out that not only was it NOT from the Bible, it’s actually a misquoted quote.  

Here’s what a quick Google search told me. The quote actually came from the 1989 film Field of Dreams.

In the movie, Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, is wandering through a cornfield when he hears a strange whisper “if you build it, he will come”. Remember that scene? 

Somewhere along the line, we changed He to They

Anyway, Ray builds a ballfield, and the ghosts of the greatest players of all-time start to show up. For the purpose of this email that’s all you really need to know. But, if you haven’t yet, check out the film.

See, following that whisper turned out great for Ray. But, there have been quite a few times that following this exact same whisper has led people and businesses down a treacherous path. 

I’m sure you can think of a few companies that have launched products or services that nobody ever wanted. 

Remember Clear Pepsi? Flop. 

Coca-Cola’s “New Coke”? Flop. 

Windows Vista? Flop. 

Heinz Colored Ketchup? Flop. 

Flop. Flop. Flop. 

These are just a few examples of the biggest companies of all time building things just to have no one show up. If you want to have some fun do a quick Google search for the biggest failed product launches of all time.

In a delightfully ironic event, Kevin Costner was featured in a 1983 ad for the Apple Lisa. 

This was Apple’s groundbreaking desktop computer which was the first desktop EVER to have a mouse. Seems like it’d be a big deal. 

The big problem was that this bad boy cost $10,000 at the time (over $23k in today’s dollars) and suffered from a case of overpromising and under-delivering. Spoiler alert, it flopped. 

In other words, Apple built it and nobody showed up (even with Kevin Costner’s movie magic). Millions of dollars, some really smart people, and a movie star weren’t enough to get this thing traction. Tough crowd right? 

But you’re not a computer company or a soda company. You don’t have millions of dollars or access to movie stars. You’re a school. So let’s learn from the mistakes of others and apply them for your benefit eh? 

Here’s the big takeaway; JUST building a new sports program, sprucing up your fields or stadium, or bringing in an all-star staff is not enough. You can certainly build it and the students could certainly NOT show up. 

Yes, having a great school with great programs is great… for those that know about it. 

What if you built it and no one even knew that it existed? What if you built it and no one really wanted it? What if you built it and it underperformed?

Building it and hoping they will come will leave you holding your breath (and maybe your chest as the heart attack pains set in). It’s leaving too much up to chance. Fortunately, there is a better way than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. 

Here is a better process to follow. Answer the following questions BEFORE building ANYTHING. Any new program, new initiative, new construction. A new “anything”. 

  1. What is the one bottleneck that when fixed will solve a ton of problems?
  2. What is the one lever that when pulled will solve a ton of problems?
  3. How can I fix the bottleneck or pull the lever?
  4. Once fixed or built, how can I show people that it makes their life better?

If you follow this process you will save a ton of money & pretty much guarantee that the people will line up for what you’ve got. This is a valuable use of your time. 

In part 3 I’ll tell you why spending your money on “making your school better” vs. spending it on marketing will only keep you where you are. 

Let me know what you think of this post by sending me a message on LinkedIn, I’d love to continue the conversation with you on there. Until next time, I’ve been Nick and I’ll see you next week! 

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