School districts and academic institutions, K-12 and beyond, benefit from communications strategies in a number of ways. The types of public relations a school or school system might engage in will depend on the goals the school has: maybe you’re a college working on boosting enrollment; maybe you’re a middle school raising money to start an after-hours program. No two institutions have the exact same needs, limitations, and timelines, so having a communications plan tailored to your facility’s unique situation is necessary to harness the full benefits of PR in educational institutions.
But maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you’re thinking, We’ve never spent any time on PR in the past, and we’re doing just fine! But hang on a minute. Just because you’ve managed your school’s affairs so far without any major PR projects (or any you thought of as PR) doesn’t mean you’re doing as well as you could be. Let’s take a closer look at the good things that communications strategies can do for you.
Proven Value: The Importance of School Public Relations
First of all, schools need PR. Public relations and schools are in many ways inseparable, so even if you think you don’t do PR at your school, odds are you do, but you just call it something else. Do you ever send kids home with a newsletter? That’s PR. Do you have an email account that parents can use to raise concerns or offer feedback? PR. If you work in higher education, the chances that you do no PR at the moment are even slimmer. The two-way communication that PR in educational institutions brings about can amplify whatever good things you’ve already got going on: skilled teachers, a well-funded facility, and an administration that’s on top of things can go to new heights when kids’ families and the greater community begin to participate as well. Likewise, in-the-loop alumni are more likely to remember their alma mater at donation time if they feel like they have not been forgotten themselves.
That’s why creating a bond between your school and members of the public is a principal value of public relations for academic institutions. When family members and parents are included in the goings-on at their kids’ school, or community leaders in the affairs of a local college, they have more incentive to support your academic strategies and initiatives in their own lives.
Moreover, in times of crisis or hardship, or when you’re fundraising for important initiatives, this public bond gives you a leg up: your assertions are regarded with more trust, your mistakes with more forgiveness, your requests with more willingness to help. A PR strategy drawn up by people who know their stuff may be one of the most important tools in your arsenal as an educator or administrator.
Measuring Success of PR for Education Providers: Key Metrics
OK, so you’re on board vis-a-vis public relations and schools; now you need to know how to make your campaigns sing. There are a few areas in particular to watch when gauging what’s going right and what’s going wrong in your PR endeavors. These are metrics you can track, both with respect to quantity and quality, that together point to the likelihood of success with your school PR. They include:
- Internal Communications
- Communications with Family/Parents
- Marketing/Brand Communications
- Crisis Communications
It may seem like a lot, while you’re juggling everyday responsibilities within your school. But sound PR in educational institutions relies on a balance between these metrics; ignoring any one of them leaves you with a sub-optimal PR strategy. Let’s go through these points one at a time.
This might not itself be public relations, because you’re not actually speaking to the public with your internal communications. However, making sure your faculty are all on the same page when they’re making their individual correspondences with outside audiences is a first step in a PR plan. Taking this step can lead your school, later, toward brand consistency, superior efficiency, a sense of ownership and teamwork, and accountability for deviation from the overall plan. Public relations and schools are similar in that both require a high level of organization to run smoothly; you already know how to get a team organized, so put that ability to work in your PR campaign as well.
Bottom line, there are many elements of PR for educational institutions besides what you broadcast to parents, students, alums and other stakeholders. Your school’s internal communication plays a vital role in shaping the effectiveness of the message that ultimately travels out to the community.
Communications with Family/Parents
Obviously, your school’s communications with students’ families and parents is a central piece of your PR plan. These, after all, are the people who’ll be most affected, besides the students themselves, by your school updates, your policy statements, your requests for funds; they are also the tip of the spear when it comes to enforcing student guidelines, encouraging academic excellence, and so on. Monitor the tempo and tone of your communications with this audience; you’re going to want to be communicating often enough that parents never feel the channel of communication might be closing down, and your tone should strike a balance between professionalism and affability. You’ll know you’re getting it right when your communications establish trust, incline people to like you, and make the rationale for your policies clear all at the same time. This is one of the most important types of school public relations.
The volume of your PR in this area will vary greatly depending on your school’s characteristics, need for capital, etc. A college, for example, will need to do much more of this conventional PR in their quest to attract new students, woo investors, and so on. A public elementary school would probably need a less robust array of communications centered on their brand, but they’re still going to need some. When it comes to this part of your PR campaign, no matter how large or small a part it plays, the standard rules apply: create a story for your school’s brand that people will find compelling, cultivate beneficial relationships with reporters, influencers, and other media entities who can raise your profile with audiences you’d never address otherwise, jump at any chance to get good online reviews or personal recommendations from people, and be consistent.
When something goes wrong at your school, every second counts. You don’t want to leave a piece of unsavory news festering in the public mind without promptly making a response that restores trust, shows empathy, and shows what is being done to correct the problem. Crisis PR in educational institutions is perhaps of even greater importance than in other sectors: people, understandably, tend to be protective of their children. The longer you wait to issue a response after an unfortunate incident, the more damage will be done to your school’s reputation and relationship with the community. For that reason, you’ll want to make crisis communications a point of emphasis in the constellation of PR tactics you choose for your school.
Example of Academic Institution PR Policies
All this theoretical information is valuable, but you may be curious how public relations and schools intersect in the real world. For an example, here’s an actual list of PR activities used by public schools in Bergen County, New Jersey, to accomplish their communications strategy over the past five years:
Start Building a PR Plan for Your School
And now you may be wanting to get going with a PR plan of your own. The bad news is that this plan will include a daunting list of objectives, such as:
- Developing an overall policy
- Choosing someone to be a PR spokesperson; hiring from outside if need be
- Developing an email news portal and other means of two-way communication
- Diversifying your methods of communication if they don’t already include social media, email, and community outlets
- Meeting with figures in the community who can further your goals, including media officials, parents, local business owners, clergy, civic associations, and so on
- Supply your own faculty and board with key talking points and help them understand the overall strategy
And that’s not the end of it. This set of tasks could be a tall order when taken up alongside the everyday business of your academic institution. But luckily, trying to address all of this in-house is not your only option.
So, what’s next for public relations and schools?
Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) is a thought leader in the field of educational PR. PR and schools go hand in hand, and our services fit both like a glove! For help with your upcoming school PR campaign, get in touch with us here.