Archive for the ‘school choice’ category

Get Aggressive in Building Your Communication Budgets

01/07/2018
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Pulling for Your PR Budget

In an era of public-education bashing coupled with increasing competition for students, school leaders must integrate communication into all that we do or we will risk losing the battle we now face. A strong communication function will help you advance your system during this period of uncertainty.

But you can do only a little bit — and in inconsistent ways — if you do not have the resources you need to make a difference. Yes, money does make a difference.

Here is a case in point:

NSPRA members tell us that most NSPRA districts spend just one tenth of one percent of their entire school district budget on communication.

One tenth of one percent — that’s .001%! Really?3

Non-NSPRA member districts most likely spend less than that.

Our assessment is that corporate charter companies are spending from 10 to 25% or more of their budgets on their communication and marketing efforts.

In comparison, this is not a fair fight!

Think about it. A district with a total budget of $100 million sets aside just $100,000 to cover a full-time experienced professional and possibly a part-time assistant. That leaves little or nothing in the budget for tech tools of mass communication and engagement services, video capabilities, software for efficiency, tech equipment, professional development, and more. Although talented NSPRA professionals are known for stretching the impact of their dollars, there are only so many times that they can consistently pull rabbits out of their respective hats if they don’t have the money to back up their herculean efforts.

Former Vice President Joe Biden often says he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. And this sentiment is painfully obvious to us as we look at the dilemma that school communication professionals face today. It may be time for your leaders to look at your budget and consider what your district needs.

Most school districts are now in the midst of building their operational budgets for the year ahead. So, now’s the time to get aggressive in making sure that your system has what it needs to be competitive in the school choice movement.

To get started on persuading leaders to increase communication budgets consider these two approaches:

Use a Cold-Cash Accountability Model

For years, NSPRA has asked decisionmakers to look at enrollment swings in this era of choice. The more students you lose to competition, the more money you lose from state reimbursement.

With a well-planned marketing communication effort, you can retain students and recruit new students, which can make a long-term impact on your budget realities. For example, if you recruit 15 first graders who earn a $4-6K state reimbursement in just 1 year, you will have added $60-90K to your district’s budget for that year. If you retain them for all 12 years, your district would earn between $720K-1.08M over their school career. And that’s for just 15 students.

Investing in an accountable communication and marketing effort can reap large financial dividends for your system. But the investment must happen now to develop a marketing and engagement effort to retain and recruit students.

Budget for Schools that Are Most Vulnerable  to Lose Students to Competition

Another accountable approach to communication budgeting is to select a few schools who may need extra communication assistance to help them build their brand in a competitive marketplace. View competition today as more of a school vs. school model rather than pitting your entire school district against one competing charter school. Parents are judging one school against another. In other words, think about how your Valley Elementary stacks up against the new ABC Elementary Charter just three blocks away. Changing your view of school choice will help you build your case for increased funding for your marketing efforts.

Each school needs to look at itself, assess it strengths and weaknesses, and then work on becoming your community’s school of choice. Communication and engagement efforts are key to this phase. Then your branding and recruiting efforts can effectively occur. You need to budget for the communication and engagement facet of the plan or you are surely bound to fall short in view of the competition.

By setting aside funds for this initial type of effort, you will help more budget decisionmakers understand where your communication dollars go. And you will assist in retaining and recruiting students, adding positive numbers to your district’s bottom line.

We need more effective communication to combat new education alternatives in our local communities. It is time to get aggressive in building a budget to meet these new communication needs in our schools. To make and market your schools as schools of choice in the year ahead, you need additional resources.

If we don’t do it, who will?

Remember, don’t create a communication vacuum because your competition will gladly fill it if they haven’t done it already.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

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A New Strategy for Marketing in this Era of Choice

03/13/2017

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Recently, I spoke before a group of superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. I most appreciate that honor and I also used my acceptance to speech to share some messages with these leading superintendents who rally around public education.

One topic I covered was marketing in this era of choice. What follows is an excerpt from that speech:

 

Focus on the LOCAL SCHOOL, Not the School District Per Se

Now may be the time to take a different strategy when it comes to competing in this era of choice.

We can continue to whiz on one another when it comes to achievement results, graduation rates, college acceptances, etc. We also can brag about the fact that we teach ALL students — not just those who could be considered— in youth sports vernacular— the traveling squad of an elite under-13 b-ball team.

But, guess what?

Much of what we say doesn’t matter.

As much as that hurts me to say it, much of what we say doesn’t matter. But we do need to continue to say it — except with new approaches and different audiences.

Only our advocates and perhaps a few reporters seem to listen to us. So to return to this era of political communication, you can see that OUR base listens to us, while THEIR base obviously doesn’t.

I am asking you to consider switching strategies.

Focus on your individual schools because on the local level, your Snyder Elementary School is being compared to the ABC Charter Academy down the street.

It is time to talk about individual schools and not just your school district.

For most parents and decisionmakers, it becomes a SCHOOL versus SCHOOL issue.

I urge you take fresh look at this approach and begin a process of defining an identity program that is built by parents and staff at each of your schools. Your staff and parents need to believe that their Snyder Elementary School offers a great opportunity for their children and that your staff goes the extra mile and cares about their children.

Late this summer, NSPRA will be offering a guidebook on Making and Marketing Your School as a School of Choice. The booklet explains a process of getting staff and parents together, collaborating to solve some image problems that their school may have, and then developing a marketing plan to maintain and boost enrollment in their school. It also urges readers to look at the messaging of the ABC Academy on the other side of the street, see what they tout that may be attacking one of your perceived weaknesses.

Taking this School versus School approach allows you to play your comprehensive district’s card as a value-added benefit. All the auxiliary services and benefits that you provide — from counseling, the spectrum of Special Ed programs, co-curricular opportunities, and enhanced technology programs — all add up to a major plus when people consider choosing a school.

If what you offer is unmatched, say so with a checklist approach similar to a report card that clearly communicates what your competing charter doesn’t have. We need to be proactive about our attributes in this era of competition.

A commitment to this school-by-school strategy can benefit you in various ways:

  • It can reduce your need to focus on perceived Big Public Education problems. You know that past national surveys like the Gallup/PDK say that schools across the country are not doing well. But then they , for the most part, give favorable rankings to their local schools. You will be dealing with what’s really important to your local community, their kids, and their schools.
  • Our research over the past 10 years continues to reveal that school-based communication is often the most read communication offering in school districts today. You have always had the attention of parents. But now in this era of over-communication, it is more important than ever.
  • Believe it or not, in a single second, 2.5 million emails are sent, and in that same second:
    • 193,000 text messages are posted
    • 219,000 posts are added to Facebook
    • 7,2590 tweets are sent

 

To break through this clutter, you need an interested audience.

And you have it, for the most part, with your PARENTS.

Most parents and families have a vested interest in their child’s school — much more than in your school district. Take advantage of it and build support at the school level.

It will spill over into their next school in your district and continue through their entire time with your schools. You can then convert these parents into supporters for your schools. They understand your schools and will not believe the public-education bashing because their experience trumps all the negative rhetoric they hear.

But this will not happen unless we continue to be proactive in developing school communication programs at each school.

Begin looking at your individual schools and assist them in getting better and building an identity. And then make sure parents know of all the good things happening in their local school along with the value-added support provided by your district’s array of additional services.

We urge you to consider this school versus school approach as that’s how most parents and families approach their “choice” decision.

 

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director