How to crank up your school’s PR machine

5th October 2018 at 00:00
Headteachers arriving in the job generally have little experience of public relations, but leadership requires a great deal of skill in this area. Here, Claire Price offers some advice and explains how her school benefited hugely from a multifaceted marketing campaign

My first headship was in a school in challenging circumstances, and, as a new headteacher with a lot of fires to put out, it was easy to keep marketing low down on my list of priorities. However, I soon learned that marketing should be viewed as an integral tool in your school improvement strategy.

Because it is not all about adverts or networking. Marketing is about selling the ethos and values of your school to stakeholders, like you do to students in assemblies. At its best, it should align with the rest of the work that you are doing to develop and improve your school.

My marketing strategy started with using social media to raise the school’s profile. Twitter and Facebook accounts were set up and were used to talk about positive things that were happening.

We began to change the narrative around the school and, from that, we started a positive cycle of reputation building.

Social media became a home-school communication channel, too, while teacher Twitter accounts became part of the school’s professional learning strategy, and staff were encouraged to use these to establish and develop teacher networks. The school received many student and professional opportunities as a result of this engagement with our wider community – a win-win for the marketing campaign.

At the same time, I looked at our outward-facing image. I introduced a school logo to better represent our new ethos of collaboration and respect, and to help amplify our messages. The new logo was launched on the first day of a new school year, with stickers put on all the windows at school, and branded bags were given away so that the image and message were literally carried far and wide.

The school website was redesigned to carry lots more photos and stories that reflected the new ethos, as well as holding statutory and useful information. Local newspapers published the story of the website launch. It was all about making sure that our school was seen as we saw it.

Active engagement

Once the story of the school had been told often enough, I became keen to engage more and broadcast less. I contacted a parent who was a director of a marketing company and also got in touch with a social media PR consultant I had met via Twitter. Both agreed to support our school. For free. This is easier than it sounds; I have never yet been turned down when asking a business for free support, and I’ve asked a lot of people.

Together we developed a more nuanced marketing strategy that used a wider variety of tools. We decided to engage with all stakeholders at every opportunity.

We responded to everything that came our way, especially criticism, and used this as a means to reaffirm our message. We found out what stakeholders wanted and, where possible, implemented it. I wanted our stakeholders to be active advocates of our message, not just recipients of it.

For example, a parent focus group was involved in the implementation and evaluation of any new school initiatives. And because these parents were part of the story, they told it to others as well.

The social media consultant worked with students using Snapchat and Instagram – platforms that young people prefer – as well as those that the school already used.

She trained students to use social media appropriately, and they developed a social media campaign based on our work on equality and respect, including designing a Snapchat filter. This created a huge buzz and the school trended on social media during the campaign. Students were given responsibility for social media marketing of school events, from shows to parents’ evenings and everything in between.

The marketing impact of all this was huge. At a time when teacher recruitment was difficult, my school enjoyed large fields of strong applicants, many coming to us through interactions on social media. Staff benefited from wider professional opportunities and students from wider curriculum experiences.

Importantly, the school roll increased, and not just because of rising student outcomes. When I left the school, many parents wrote to me reflecting the new ethos and values of the school and saying that these had been key to their decision to choose it for their children.

So, here are some of my top tips to help schools with their PR:

* Marketing is no longer static; you have to use it to interact as well as to tell.

* Engage with everyone. I got a lot of support from local businesses simply by engaging with them on social media and asking them for some real-life support for free.

* Use your community to harness stakeholder expertise to support you.

* Engage, even with negativity. It can be effective in winning hearts and minds.

* Publish your message where your stakeholders spend their time if you want them to hear it.

* Marketing has to be multi-platform; you will still need traditional tools. I wasn’t afraid of using a glossy banner when I felt it was needed.

* Marketing should be a core activity of the school, not a side line. It should be used to manage change effectively and to help to develop pride in the school community.

Claire Price is a former headteacher

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