Making Your Messages More Relevant and Effective

Making Your Messages More Relevant and Effective

If you follow the advice of Ken DeSieghardt’s book Think Like a Patron, your communication effort may become more effective and concise in reaching more audiences with the information they seek. He notes that we must give our audiences what they want to know—even though it may not be exactly what we want to tell them.

Ken DeSieghardt, an NSPRA member, has been completing communication-related research and compiling data for more than 20 years. The full title of his book is Think Like a Patron (Without Losing Your Mind) and it is available from NSPRA at It is  an informative, quick read of just over 100 pages that will make you take stock of just which messages may work for you. Of course, researching your own audiences is often the best thing you can do, but you will most likely find—as I did—that DeSieghardt’s results match NSPRA’s findings gleaned from our communication audits during the past 10 years.

Here is just a sampling of what is in this practical book:

A Twist on the 80-20 Rule

In school communication, most of our interaction is with the 20%, whom DeSieghardt notes can be divided into two 10% audiences, the Happys and the Unhappys.  

He touches on approaches to use with both groups, but notes we are missing some opportunities with the remaining 80% who cover the majority of costs of our schools. Too often we do not communicate with this group at all, or if we do, our communication is off target so much that it reminds me of the old Peanuts cartoon strip where the teacher is talking to Charlie Brown and all he hears is, “Blah, Blah, Blah, and more Blah, Blah, Blah.”

We often speak, but no one is really listening.

The 80% seem too busy. Or it may be that they just don’t care until something operationally goes very wrong in your system. They then start paying attention. They often are fine in knowing that things are running smoothly, and that your costs, results, and overall value are equal or better than neighboring systems.

DeSieghardt’s Patron Information Pyramid

At the heart of DeSieghardt’s work is the analysis of his findings, presented in an inverted pyramid. He lists content items as essential, important, and as needed.Most of the book then gives vivid examples of how these three categories play out for the Happys, the Unhappys, and the remaining 80% of patrons in your school community.  Here a just some of the items in each area:

Essential Topics

Teachers,   school facilities (quality, maintenance, upkeep), quality of education,   preparation of students for next phase in their life, taxes, etc.

Important Topics

Principals, student safety, tech for student use, class sizes, spending balance, etc.

As Needed Topics

Extracurricular   activities, news about Central office, Superintendent, Board of Education,   etc.

The remaining pages describe ways to talk about taxes and funding, renovations versus new buildings, teacher quality, and many more topics that are regularly on our communication plates.

DeSieghardt ends his book by saying communicators have two choices:

  •   keep telling them what you think is important, or
  •   concentrate your efforts on subjects that matter to them.

He urges us to stick primarily to the general issues of our audiences and then enhancing that core list with topics that are unique to our districts and of interest to our audiences.

As a school communication professional, this book directly gets to the core of what you do every day. It’s a “must read” to challenge and improve your school communications program. And it reminds us all that researching our target audiences is the very first step in our communication efforts.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

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