In this pre-pandemic photo, children from Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, pray during the 2020 Catholic Schools Mass. Catholic schools are encouraged to think of themselves as a business as well as a place of education – highlighting what sets them apart from others. Mike Ehrmann photo
In this pre-pandemic photo, children from Sacred Heart School, Mount Holly, pray during the 2020 Catholic Schools Mass. Catholic schools are encouraged to think of themselves as a business as well as a place of education – highlighting what sets them apart from others. Mike Ehrmann photo
When it comes to bolstering Catholic schools and retaining families, understanding value and purpose goes a long way.

That was the message Catholic school principals from throughout the Diocese of Trenton and beyond learned during a webinar featuring Stan Phelps, certified professional speaker, marketer and author of the Goldfish Series on business success.

Phelps’ goal was to get administrators thinking about Catholic schools as a business as well as a place of education, and to use strategies to attract and keep school families.

Those lessons came in the form of “Red Goldfish” and “Purple Goldfish,” after Phelps’ most recent publications.

“The ‘Purple Goldfish’ is the experience you provide; the ‘Red Goldfish’ is the way you leverage your purpose to stand out,” Phelps explained. Noting that research has indicated that 80 percent of how people view one another has to do with “what is this person’s intent toward me, and what is their ability to carry out that intent,” he pointed out that “social psychologists say it breaks down to warmth and competence.”

“That’s over 50 percent of how people view your school,” he emphasized. “Great brands don’t exist just in the brain; they exist in the heart.”

The Catholic school brand is something Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, wants to highlight in the Diocese.

“We have to be competitive, have to be sure [our schools] are of high quality, which we do, but it may not be well-known,” he said. “The message is sometimes as important as the product.”

Dr. Schmidt stressed that Catholic schools are naturally mission-driven, which shines through in every aspect of school life. “Mission drives the program … rooted in 2,000 years of history and doctrine,” he said.

Phelps explained the reasoning behind the colors: purple for experience and red for purpose.

“Purple is a metaphor for being able to do the little things to demonstrate warmth and confidence,” he said. “You really need to focus on the experience,” since success as a business is often “based on what others tell people about your school,” he said.

Red represents the idea behind the RED campaign started in 2006 by rock group U2’s lead singer Bono and activist/journalist Bobby Shriver. They partnered with for-profit companies to sell items from which a portion of profit would go to charity.

Himself a product of Catholic schools in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, Phelps realizes the unique position administrators are in when deciding how best to promote their schools.

“‘Red Goldfish’ is a great fit for Catholic education,” he explained. “[In 2020], millennials became 51 percent of the workforce … they put purpose as one of the main things they look for in a business – a for-purpose versus a not-for-purpose business. How do you stand out by embracing your school’s purpose?”

Phelps stressed how marketing is changing rapidly, particularly in social media. “The customer now has a much bigger voice,” he noted. “Our brand is not what we tell people it is; our brand is what our customer experiences, how they feel about that experience, and what they tell others about who we are and what our brand is.”

When choosing education for their children, parents can read reviews of others’ experiences online, Phelps pointed out. “Catholic schools have a great opportunity with their foundation and purpose that makes them different,” he said. “They have to find ways to bring that to light.”