Beyond the Franchise

The majority of people reading this are probably familiar with franchises, but here is a very short overview. A franchise allows someone to start up a business that has all the tough branding and central organization done for you. For example, if I wanted to start a sub shop, I could start from scratch and start a sub shop. Or I could franchise a Subway.

The difference is, people already know what Subways is. They know what there favorite sub there is, what it will look like inside, and the general experience. All that is figured out for you, and it takes care of all the work and risk that is associated with starting up a business from scratch.

The Franchise School

I don’t hear many people talk about Catholic schools like franchises, but let’s think about it. When a Catholic school is started, what set of tools is already at their disposal? Well, people generally have an idea in their heads about Catholic schools. That image may be from TV (guys in sweater vests, nuns, etc.) or it may be something else entirely for people more familiar with Catholic schools.

That something else is what I like to call the “Catholic School Franchise Brand”. It is a set of elements that Catholic schools inherently have because of the very fact that they are a Catholic school. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • A mission of faith, community, and charity
  • Some sort of seal or emblem with religious imagery, such as a cross
  • A tradition of high standards in education

As you’ll notice, these are all positive things, and no matter what Catholic school you are at, these sorts of things just come with the territory, and are important branding elements of any Catholic school.

So, what is the problem?

Catholic Schools Aren’t Franchises

Many schools stop at the Catholic school franchise brand. They take those elements, and they run with them. Their website may be shiny, well-organized, and professionally done, but they don’t go much farther beyond “Educating the heart and mind” type of message that every Catholic school communicates.

This is the Catholic school as franchise model, and it isn’t working.

What Makes Your School Special

I was reading the Catholic School Chronicle today and came across a great video about Detroit Cristo Rey. The blog post is here, and I’ll embed the video below for convenience.

For me, this was really refreshing and new. A Catholic college prep school showing me exactly what makes it unique. Do they value faith and excellence in education? I have no doubt that they do, but what would I learn from a video about that? In a few short minutes, we hear about why Detroit Cristo Rey is different right from the people who run it.

Now, not every Catholic school is going to be like Detroit Cristo Rey, but that is the point. Each Catholic school is different, (or needs to develop some unique traits). Your unique feature may be a commitment to a certain type of charity, your above average faculty, or a focus certain part of a city or suburban area. You could have a focus on college placement, or the arts.

Whatever it is, take that unique element (or those unique elements), and use your website and other communication methods to lift that message up above the Catholic franchise ones.

By all means, make Catholic virtues and excellence in education a point, but if every Catholic school throughout the US is pitching just that, they are going to start to blur together, and another Catholic school is going to look like another Subway.