A lot has changed in my position as Communications Director at an independent school. I’ve been at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Baltimore for 16 years, had relatively no staff changes (it’s me and a graphic designer), and in that time, I have:
- Created four websites
- Learned three different Content Management Systems for said websites
- Launched Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages for my school
- Published six newsletters a year…then four…now two
- Published an annual report with donor lists
- Stopped publishing a print annual report and opted for online donor lists
- Republished an annual report with donor list
- Published class chatter in print…then online…and will be revisiting going back to print
- Eliminated printed school directories and parent mailings in favor of online communications
- Sent out countless of press release
- Practically eliminated press releases in favor email pitches
You get the idea.
Amidst the changes, some constants have held true and have grounded good, flexible communications and marketing at a time when nothing stays the same for very long.
Know your audience. Whether you are creating a view book or annual appeal, knowing your audience is key. Are they conservative, liberal, male, female, engaged, disenfranchised? Knowing to whom you are speaking helps answer the other logical questions of “What do you want to say?” and “How do you want to say it?” Remember, your internal audiences (faculty, student, parents) are just as important as external audiences (media, local government, prospective applicants and donors).
Make data-driven decisions. Data that backs up your plans—or changes to your established plans—is the best way to gain your supervisor’s respect and support. Demographic information, readily available from NAIS and CASE, can help target an admissions ad buy. Year-to-year donations tracking can help determine the number of solicitations to make in a year. The number of social media followers can reveal how much time you need to devote to new media.
Assess. Ways to assess the effectiveness of your tactics are readily available. Facebook insights let you know what content is best received on your Facebook page. With easy-to-create surveys on Survey Monkey, you can gauge if you have swayed the opinions of your target audiences. Google insights are invaluable in determining how people use your site (albeit there is a bit of a learning curve). Yes, assessment takes time, but the up-front investment helps tighten planning and execution timetables.
Take a long view. This is especially hard in a small shop, where you are constantly torn between the day-to-day and the big picture. Keep up with the education and communications/marketing/PR industries. Join your local marketing or PR group. Go to professional conferences. Read professional journals like PR Strategist, Ad Age, PRSA’s Tactics, CASE Currents, your local business weekly. Not every idea will apply directly, but often a kernel will inspire something exciting.
True confession. I never majored in PR, marketing, or communications. My intention was to become a college professor. However, like a lot of professionals of my generation, we stumbled into this work and it has proven to be exciting, challenging, rewarding, and fun. Working at a school has been icing on the cake! I learned the “four-step process” of research, planning, execution, and assessment on the job, but these fundamentals have helped guide decision making and enabled me to roll with the many changes facing not only the communications industry but also society at large.
Hey, if my 81-year old mother can have a Facebook presence, the 143-year-old Notre Dame Prep can, too!