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School Resources

This page contains a collection of school resources, designed to help with everything from winning an election to marketing a school.  You can use the material here to become a more effective educator.

This page contains...

Ten Tips for Winning Your Next Election

The ABC Marketing Primer

and is expanded periodically.

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Ten Tips for Winning Your Next Election

Dr. William J. Banach


Almost everyone believes that education is important. And, almost everybody believes that children are “the future” and that we must invest in them.  Given these beliefs, how can voters possibly vote no in school elections?

            People vote for or against school ballot issues for myriad reasons.  That is what makes every election unique. Yet, those school districts that generally win at the polls exhibit some common characteristics.  The characteristics and related tips are the subject of this article.     

Build a support base

            School leaders know that most voters in school elections decide how to vote long before election day.  On election day they step in to the voting booth, close the curtain, and pull one of two levers—yes or no. 

            School leaders also understand that campaigns don’t win elections. Campaigns simply harness support that is already there.

            And where does support come from?  It is the result of doing good work and making sure people know about it. In short, when school people compromise on communication with constituents, they build barriers to a successful election.

            Tip One:  Think long-term.  Build a base of support for your schools by doing good work, engaging people in the educational process, and communicating effectively.  Use campaigns to reinforce the support base that you build and tap it for yes votes on election day.

Know who will vote

            If we called a one-hour school election for two o’clock this afternoon, three categories of people would show up—yes voters, no voters, and undecided voters. The same categories of people will show up at the school election that you have called for next year.  The challenge is to discover how many of each category resides in your school district.  Once that is done, the job that needs doing is fairly straightforward: Reinforce yes voters, generally ignore no voters, and try to move the undecideds into the yes voter column.

Tip Two:  Know how many yes voters you need to win.  Find them and get them to the polls on election day.

Know people’s perceptions

            Do you know what people think about when they think about your schools?  Do you know what they like and don’t like about the school district?  Do you understand what school information they want and how they want it delivered? Unless you have completed a survey, odds are you are just guessing at the answers to the above questions.

            Perceptions are important to understand.  You can have great schools but if the perception is that you have mediocre schools, guess what?  You have mediocre schools.

            If public perception is that the new high school you plan to build is too expensive, guess what?  Your election may be headed south.

Tip Three:  Understand that subjective perceptions usually count for more than objective information.  Get a statistically sound assessment of perceptions in your school district. Then keep it up to date. 

Attend to process

            You are not doing an effective job of marketing if all you do is put up a billboard.  You are not doing a good job of communication if all you do is put or four newsletters each year.  Marketing, communication, and school elections are all processes.  Each of these processes begins when you decide to do something.  None of these processes has an ending.

            An election campaign is not a single thing or event.  It is a complex process that must be goal-oriented and flexible enough to accommodate changes in the campaign environment.

Tip Four:  Process requires people and a plan.  Winners know what they want from their “three Ps”—their plan, their process, and their people.  Don’t get trapped into believing that your campaign ends on election day. (Actually, that’s the day your next election begins and the election process recycles.)

Commitment is critical

            Winning school districts have a vision and they are committed to it. They know where they are headed and they have the plans they need to get there.  And, they are committed to attaining their vision.

            The same dogged determination is required for election success.  Have a clear understanding of your election goals, and do whatever needs doing to end election day with a victory celebration.

Tip Five:  Know where your school district is headed and how the election relates to this vision.  Send a strong signal that says this is the most important thing on the agenda.

Citizens lead campaigns

            But “knowledgeables” map out the parade route.  How much do most citizens know about conducting election campaigns, systematically assessing public perceptions, and producing communications that build understanding?  Citizens can and should be out front in school elections, but they need guidance to keep them moving in the right direction.  That’s why politicians rely on a bevy of expertise—from campaign consultants to media specialists to pollsters to people who stage events.

Tip Five:  Citizens should be the out-front leaders of school campaigns, but they should receive all the support that they need.

Facts and logic don’t sell

            Campaign messages must be relevant to the voter.  School leaders generally believe that means voters should be barraged with facts and the campaign should appeal to the voter’s sense of logic. But facts and logic don’t sell! We know from basic psychology that most people make unconscious decisions (and then they try to justify their decisions consciously, sometimes using facts and logic).  Winning campaigns target the hearts and stomachs—not the heads—of voters.

            While election facts and financial logic may provide the foundation for the ballot issue, the message should become more emotional as election day approaches.

Tip Six:  Make sure your statistics, pie charts, and architectural drawings are wrapped in a message that is brief, easily understood, and relevant to voters. If you need help doing this, seek it.

Execute the plan

            A great plan isn’t any good unless it is executed; that is, unless you do what you planned to do.  Winners effectively execute their plans because they organize so the campaign can be executed in the high pressure environment that characterizes most campaigns.

            If something cannot be done, it should not be in the plan.  If it is in the plan, everyone connected with the campaign should assume that it will be done.

Tip Seven:  Put your campaign in the hands of one person.  Give that person authority and responsibility and all the support he/she needs.

Stay loose

            A famous Polish general said that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy.  The same can be said for a campaign plan.  Odds are good that you will need to make a host of changes as your campaign unfolds.  You need to organize to do this.

            If your message is about science labs but voters are concerned about playgrounds, you will have to adjust your message.  If you plan a heavy communication initiative using the Internet and find that half the people in town aren’t connected, it is time to adjust strategy.   Know how, when, and if you will respond if unknown “midnight riders” surprise you with a negative message two days before the election.

Tip Eight:  Develop a rapid response team to work with the campaign coordinator. Charge them with anticipating events and doing whatever needs doing to keep the campaign on track.

Know your targets

            A college is planning to build a new arts and science center.  To whom should the campaign be targeted?  Students?  Parents of students?  Alumni? Public school parents?  All these targets seem logical, but in the case of one of our clients they proved to be wrong.  The most support for the construction project existed among preschool parents!  The campaign strategy was adjusted to accommodate this survey finding and “voters” approve bonds for the construction project.

Tip Nine:  Know your targets.  Know who supports your issue.  And then make sure you have enough targets to win if you can turn out half of them on election day.

Face to face is best

            People long for personal contact.  Every technological connection—it seems—has been enhanced. We are connected like never before. Yet, we miss the human connections we used to enjoy.

            Related this thought to election research which indicates that most people vote for something because someone asks them to vote for it.   Don’t skip on personal contact with members of your community and, especially, the people your campaign is targeting. Involve them in small group discussions. Ask them to volunteer.  Phone them on election day with a reminder to vote. And thank them personally when you win.

Tip Ten:  Make sure key targets audiences are connected to you, one-on-one.

            Will the ten tips make you a winner?  There are no guarantees.  But one thing is certain:  If you attend to the suggestions above, odds are better that you’ll be standing in the winner’s circle on election day.


© 2011 Banach, Banach & Cassidy • 68050 Hartway Road • Ray Township, MI 48096-1433

586/784-9888 • www.banach.com

The ABC Marketing Primer

Dr. William J. Banach

"Why should we market the schools?   After all, the taxpayers already own them."  That's how educators reacted to marketing ... 25 years ago!  They just didn't understand the implications of change, the forces of the marketplace, and the value of addressing people's needs and wants.

Today, school people are using the M word with increasing frequency.  Teachers and support staff people are saying that we need to do a better job of marketing.  School board members are calling for help in the design of marketing programs.  And central office people from a variety of responsibility areas are looking for ways to market their programs and the schools they serve.

But what is marketing?  Is it just another word for communication?  Is it advertising?  Is it engaging people?  And how is it related to planning for the future?

Let's begin with a definition:  Marketing has to do with discovering, defining, and delivering what people need and want.  Marketing is also helping people see things that they haven't seen before.

While this seems easy enough, it really isn't.  What does it take, for example, to discover what people need and want from their schools?  Some people will say that all students need are the basics.  Others will agree that the basics are important, but they'll also say that students need to know how to use technology or how to work in groups or that they need to develop an appreciation for the arts.  

Marketing requires that you engage the people in your community to help them define what an education is and isn't.  Then--to the best of your ability and available resources--you have to deliver what they need and want.  

In short, marketing is a process.  It begins with analyzing the environment in which your schools function, and projecting what you want your schools to become.  Analysis is the first--and the most important--step in the marketing process.  

Marketing is not buying 500 bumper stickers, nor is it getting news media coverage, nor is it one newsletter a month during the school year.  These may be components of a marketing initiative, but--by themselves--they are not marketing.

Theodore Levitt of Harvard said the purpose of marketing is to create and keep a customer.  That's as true today as when Levitt first said it more than 30 years ago.

So, marketing is the process of discovering, defining, and delivering what people need and want, and its purpose is to create and keep a customer.

Let's begin developing your marketing program by thinking ... by conducting a simple analysis:  Do you really know what people need and want from your schools?  Let's look at just one target audience of your marketing program--parents.

Given a choice, here's what parents are looking for in a school:

They want--more than anything--to believe that their child is safe and secure.  They are more interested in this than in test scores and the size of the budget.  If parents are uncertain about their child's safety, they are unlikely to be interested in anything else.

Once parents perceive their child's school as safe and secure, they express an interest in the quality of staff, the nature of the instructional program, the human interactions between teacher and student, and the standards and expectations of the schools.

And this is exactly how people choose schools when they have a choice.  They look for safe schools with a caring environment where their child will learn what he or she needs to function in the real world. 

This has everything to do with marketing.  How safe are your schools?  How have you communicated this to parents?  If there are problems, what steps are you taking to correct them?  How are you keeping people informed about the action you are taking?

How caring are your schools?  When is the last time you asked your parents to rate you on how well you treat them and their children?

And what about the quality and diversity of the instructional program--how are you explaining this to the parents of every child?

Marshall McCluan said that the image is the reality.  The same is true of perception--what people perceive is what they believe, and what they believe is usually repeated as fact.  Marketing addresses perceptions.  It can help us learn what people are thinking when they talk about a good education or quality instruction or the real world.  In short, marketing can help us understand what's on people's minds.  

When it comes to schools, most people don't care how good you were, and they don't know how good you are.  But they do have perceptions about you and your schools , and that's the reality you have to address.

Even this simple marketing analysis --looking at just one target audience--raises interesting questions.  For example, what about your reporting system--how do you report progress and problems to parents?  Do you surprise parents with bad news?  Are your parent conferences, newsletters. and annual reports focused on what parents want to know?  Test yourself:  Parents are interested in the staff members who work with their youngster.  For example, they ask:  Who is my child's teacher and what qualifications does he or she have?  Is my child's teacher an interesting person?  Does my child's teacher want me involved in the educational program, and, if so, how?  

Parents also are interested in the school curriculum, the process of instruction, and indicators of school success.  How are these items reported?  Low on the interest list of most parents is school financial information, unless there's a shortage that affects their child.  

If school finance is of limited interest, why do schools keep featuring it as part of the superintendent's message on the front page of every newsletter?  These are questions you need to answer to market effectively.

Analysis is a fascinating exercise.  It can be enlightening, exhilarating, and frustrating ... simultaneously.  But unless you understand your marketplace and the target audiences in it, you'll develop a plan that leads no where. 

Step one in marketing schools is to conduct an analysis.  It is the first and most important step in the process.  Marketing is hard work that requires commitment from everybody, but in an environment where people have choices and a host educational alternatives from which to choose, this is what it takes to survive.  

Sometimes school people say that listening to people and engaging them in dialogue and designing and delivering the educational programs they need and want--all this planning and training and preparing--takes a lot of time.  Yet, what could they possibly be working on that's more important? 

It's just good business to treat people courteously, to address their needs, and to listen to them.  It's even better business in this environment of choice, charters, and vouchers.

From an economic point of view, helping people feel good about their schools also makes good financial sense.  Like it or not, many of our state funding systems are based on body counts.  The more students you have, the more money you receive.  The more 

students you lose, the more money you lose.  That's a good reason to create preschool customers and work to keep them with you as they progress through the grades.

Focus on strategy

Development of a strategy is the second step in the marketing process.  But before you can develop a strategy, you need to ask  some questions about your schools and the way they operate.

Let's start our discussion by asking what you want to market, to whom, and why.  Those questions lead us to a strategic marketing concept called targeting.  And, the key question associated with targeting is:  Who cares?

When you tell me what you want to market, it's legitimate for me to ask, Who cares?  And it's the answer to this question that determines the odds of your communication being "on target."

Have you ever wondered why newspapers have sections?  It's because some people care about sports while others care about cooking.  And some people care more about entertainment than both cooking and sports.  You can turn to what you care about because the newspaper people organize the news to meet your needs.  That's targeting.  

Think about television.  There are programs for those interested in history, theater, gardens, science, old movies ... the list seems endless.  In fact, if you want you can watch news, weather, or sports all day long.  That's targeting.

And the Internet has potential for becoming the ultimate targeting medium, addressing each person's needs and wants individually.  That's targeting. 

But how do we apply the concept of targeting to schools?

Let's assume you want to market your new third grade reading program.  Start by defining the target market your third grade reading program or--put another way--by asking, Who cares about the school district's third grade reading program?

If you  say, "parents of third graders,"  you're probably right.  But parents of youngsters in kindergarten, first, and second grade may also care to receive messages about the third grade reading program.  That makes them targets, too.  (Conversely, parents of  high schoolers probably do not care about your third grade reading program.)

What about partnerships with the business community?  Who cares?  The audience is bigger than you think.  It includes students and parents, of course.  But it includes students and parents at almost all grade levels!  And it includes teachers and administrators, members of the business community, and, no doubt, others.  

Do all these audiences have the same informational needs?  No.  High school students are probably interested in different things than parents of fourth graders, and what interests high school students may not interest the business community.

This is what makes targeting more difficult than it seems at first glance.  Something you want to market may have a relatively narrow audience (as in the case of the third grade reading program), or a broad audience with diverse interests (as in the case of school-business partnerships).  To communicate effectively, you need to determine who cares about what you want to market and what their interests are.   Sending your messages to those who have an interest in what you're doing, and  forgetting about those who aren't interested is what makes targeting both effective and efficient.

Now let's apply the targeting strategy to something most school districts produce--a districtwide newsletter.  Think about the front page of your last newsletter.  The most important position in the newsletter is at eleven o'clock (or , generally speaking, the left-hand column just below the masthead).  Research indicates that a reader's eyes naturally go to this position when they pick up a newspaper, magazine, or newsletter.  And that's why your most important story should go there.  (Newspapers employ the same strategy, placing what they deem most important at eleven, twelve, and one o'clock.  The headlines for their lead stories are always "above the fold.")

But what do we tend to put in this position?  A five-year-old picture of the superintendent over a boring headline--something like, "Message from the superintendent's desk" or "The superintendent speaks."  Most often, the focus of the article is school finance or the school district budget.

We have three things going against us here:  First, the picture--an outdated mugshot--isn't captivating.  Second, the headline is boring.  After all, who really cares about something as static as "The superintendent's message"?  And, third, as we've already discussed, the budget isn't high on the interest list of most readers.  (Granted, the budget is important and if it gets too far out of wack it can get a superintendent fired, but what a child is learning and who is helping him learn are more important topics to most readers, both parents and nonparents.)

From the eleven o'clock position people read clockwise around the page.  That means your second most important article should be directly below the masthead of the newsletter at the twelve o'clock position or in the right column at the one o'clock position.  

At the bottom of the left hand column there should be a box that tells what's inside the newsletter so readers can easily find articles that interest them.

Consider  the school lunch menu.  (It's the most widely read school publication in America!)  We've been printing lunch menus for a long time and most of us have been doing it wrong.

We put twenty boxes on the paper, five for each week.  Then, in each box, we tell people what's for lunch on a given day.  So, on Monday we have pizza, on Tuesday we have hamburgers, and so forth.  Wrong.

Put ten boxes on the paper, five for week one and five for week two.  Use the rest of the space to send targeted messages home.  Talk about school successes.  Invite readers test themselves on school facts.   Share information about school events.  Put the other ten boxes--weeks three and four--on the other side of the paper with more facts and success stories.  

Some principals  are quick to point out that it will cost 1.3 cents more to print on both sides of the paper.  Spend the money.  There simply isn't any cheaper, more effective way to get your message posted on the communication center of everyone's home--the refrigerator--for 30 days.

For each informational item you print in the menu, ask yourself, Who cares about this?  Remember the target audience.  Know who reads the lunch menu and what interests them.  Then write to that audience about that subject.  That's targeting.

If your lunch menu is on the district web site, you can modify the strategy slightly by displaying "this week's lunch menu."  Then, on the same web page, display your targeted informational items (much like pop-up ads).  Change the information every week. 

Now, let's return to the all-important marketing process.  We have analyzed our marketplace.  That analysis has given us insights into a strategy which helps us determine what we need to market, to whom, and why.  In short, analysis is the key to developing a strategy for targeting to people who are interested in your messages.

If you don't know what you want to market, you have some strategic thinking to do.  And if you don't know to whom you want to market or if you discover that your primary target audience is really small or if you find out that those who care have multiple interests, you've got to some strategic rethinking to do.

For everything you want to market, learn to identify your target audience and its needs and wants.  Sending the wrong message to the wrong person at the wrong time is  lousy targeting and a waste of time and money.

What do people think about when they think about you?

Positioning (or branding) has to do with your identity in the marketplace.  To discover your school district's position or identity, ask this question:  "What do people think about when they think about the school district?"  (In the marketplace, your answer to the question isn't as important as how the people in your community answer the question.)

Do the people in your community like your school district?  Do they believe the school district has  a vision of the future?  Do they think the people running the school district know what they're doing?  Or do they look at your school district as run of the mill and at your teachers as workers who lack enthusiasm and commitment?

You might think your school district is wonderful (and it probably is).   But if that is not the perception in your community, your first step is to develop a plan for addressing the perceptions held bythe people in your community.   That's the reality of marketing.

Positioning has to do with what happens inside people's heads.  You know you have established an effective position when people use you to describe all products or services in a category.  For example, people don't ask for tissue; they ask for Kleenex.  They don't ask for a copy; they talk about making a Xerox.  And, people don't ask if you would you like a cola?   They say, "Would you like to have a Coke?"

Kleenex, Xerox, and Coke are extremely well established positions in people's minds.

To establish a position, you need to relate your message to what people believe, value, or have experienced.  In other words, your message has to be relevant and ring true.  

School people aren't very good at developing relevant messages that people can understand and remember .  Here's an example.  It's a public communication from a state superintendent of public instruction.  Ask yourself what it means, let alone whether it's relevant:

"... elements of the special education task force recommendations are beyond the scope of credible analysis without at least a tentative approval to go beyond speculative hypothetical analysis to an active analysis involving strategic and tactical planning for implementation."  

This passage didn't communicate anything.  Most people couldn't understand it and certainly would have difficulty relating to it or remembering it.  This message is best described as gobilitygook.

The question is, What message do your words leave and what position do they create or reinforce?  Take the words school improvement.  They imply that something is wrong with schools, because, after all, they need to be improved.  Or, restructuring.  This word implies that we are reorganizing things because they don't work.

Have you ever heard of a car improvement program?  Did any of the major auto manufacturers ever say, "We're making some real junk here.  We need to restructure and have a car improvement program."

No.  Ford went about making better cars under the banner Quality is Job 1 while Cadillac focused on creating a higher standard.  

Schools worked to improve while Ford focused on quality and Cadillac pursued  higher standards.  Based on what they said, which organization was least appealing , exciting, and memorable?

Some positioning proponents say you have to make your communication resonate in such a way that people can finish the sentence you start.  Let's try it.  See if you can complete these sentences:   Fill in the ____.  This rings a ____.  I wouldn't touch that with a ____.  I want you to remember this for the rest of your ____.

People do remember words that resonate for the rest of their lives.  See if you can complete this sentence:  You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with ____.  This commercial for Pepsodent hasn't run in over 30 years, yet most people can complete the sentence.  It still resonates.

Here is an educational truism that resonates:  an education is more important today than ever before.  You can use this widely held perception to help position your school.  Start by agreeing with those who say it. 

In our surveys people tell us that you can't get ahead without an education.  Several people actually used these words to express their belief:   "You ain't goin' no where without an education."  We need to resonate in people's heads by telling them that they're right--an education is more important today than ever before and--they're right--you ain't goin' no where without one.

Why do people read and watch commercials for products they already own?  They read and watch things that reinforce their beliefs, values, and experiences.  That's why resonating communication works.  

What's your position?

No discussion of positioning would be complete without a few words about themes or positioning statements.  Let's reflect on a few familiar positioning statements, and see if we can relate them to targeting.

Fly the friendly skies.  What's the airline?  Most people can name the airline the moment they hear this four-word positioning theme.  (When United became an employee-owned airline, the theme was changed to Fly our friendly skies.  To some this implied that the friendly skies now belonged to the employees, not the customers.  Was this as friendly?  Was this customer-focused?)    

It melts in your mouth.  The candy is M&Ms, but what's the target?  A child?  Teachers?  Mothers?

Be all you can be was the theme of the new American Army.  If you're up to the challenge--said the theme--the Army will help you become your best.  Was this positioning statement designed to appeal to high school dropouts?  Guess again!

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.  You know the company.  Did they violate some basic rules here?  Some people say good positioning themes have seven or fewer words--seven or fewer small words.  Think of the target.  This message was not targeted to forty-five year old functional illiterates.  They don't send overnight mail.

All this is fine, you say, but schools are not widgets.  We aren't selling cars and toothpaste and overnight delivery services. That's true.  We are not selling tangibles.  We are selling intangibles.

Intangible products such as education need to be associated with reassuring tangibles.  The surrogate of the intangible is called a metaphoric reassurance.  These metaphoric reassurances are things like appearances and perceptions.  And people use them to make judgments about realities.

What are some of these metaphorical reassurances?

The appearance of the school buildings is one of them.  Odds are that most people in your community have never been in your school, at least not recently.  They judge what's going on inside by the way it looks outside.  So give folks a metaphorical reassurance--make your building look good.  Cut the grass, remove the litter, and make sure the message on the marquee is properly spelled and doesn't refer to last month's events.

The appearance of people is another metaphorical reassurance.  Name some professionals--doctors, lawyers, dentists.  How do they dress?  Like professionals.  The old cliche is true:  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.  If you look professional, you must be a professional.  Looking good is metaphorically reassuring.

And what about the quality of your publications.  They are metaphorical reassurances too.  They represent you.  Look at them.  Then ask yourself,  "Do I want this out there representing me?"  What kind of a message am I sending when I send this publication?

You can work on your identity by asking the key positioning question:  What do people think about when they think about our school district?  Once you know the answer you have two options:  reinforce the position or work to change it.

What can we do about our communication problem?

When we work with school staffs and the topic is communication, someone will usually say, "We need to improve communication."  Occasionally they'll  make reference to  "a communication breakdown."  When we ask what might be done about their communication breakdown, invariably the answer is, "We've got to get more good news in the newspaper."

But who in America reads a newspaper today?  In one study, married people ages 65 and older, unmarried people ages 65 and older, and married people ages 45-54 led the list of most frequent readers.

Least likely to read a newspaper were married people age 30 and under who have children (parents!!), unmarried people age 30 and under who may or may not have children, and single parents.

Quite simply, those most likely to read a newspaper may be least likely to be primary targets for the school message.  And, so, while it never hurts to have positive news in the newspaper, we need to broaden our approach (that is, to use a multimedia approach or what marketing people call a "marketing mix.")

Let's retreat for a moment to step one in the marketing process--analysis.  And let's play political consultant.

In the annual PDK/Gallup Survey of Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,  survey respondents are asked what grade they'd give the nation's schools, all things considered.  Every year--for four decades!-- about 20% of the respondents give the nation's schools a grade of A or B.

When Gallup asks the same respondents to rate the schools in their community, the A and B rating doubles to about 40+%.  And when the pollsters ask the same parent respondents to rate the school attended by their oldest child, the rating soars to more than 60% A and B.

There's a lesson here.  Suppose you told a political consultant that you wanted to run for your state's senate.  Suppose also that you had done a survey which revealed that you had a 20% public confidence rating.  What would the political consultant tell you?  An ethical professional would say that people don't know you well enough ... or that they don't know where you stand on the issues ... or they don't like your stand on the issues ... or that they don't like you.  In any case, you'd probably be encouraged to drop out and save your money.

Now suppose that you told the same political consultant that you wanted to run for the senate and that your poll produced a 60% confidence rating.  What would the consultant say to you if this were the case?  "Sit down.  Let's talk."

While we need to have school district and building-level communication and marketing plans, we believe that the key to effective marketing is personal--that school people need to build relationships with folks in the community one person at a time. 

  So, if you want "to improve communication," here's what we can do about it.  We can market ourselves personally.  This means that the teacher, the custodian, the secretary, the bus driver--all these people need to develop a personal marketing program targeted to the people they serve.

To help you get started, let's look again at a primary target audience--parents.  And, let's ask what parents want from their schools.

First, parents want to know that their children are safe and secure.  (This is not a recent survey finding.  Parents have always been concerned for the safety and security of their children.)

Once safety and security are assured, the most important thing is who is in front of their child.  In fact, some people (me included) believe that a school only can be as good as the teacher in front of their child.  So, if you're in front of a child, let people know who you are and how good you are.  Show them you are competent and caring.  Explain how you take an individual interest in their child.

Second, parents are interested in what their child is learning, and how well their child is doing.  They want this communication to be frequent and personal.  They don't want the quarterly report card to be the only way they can find out what is happening (or, more correctly, what has happened).

Third, parents are interested in their child's learning environment ... they want an environment where the people are friendly and caring, where the people in the office are responsive, where their child knows someone in the school besides the teacher.

And, finally, people want to feel that they can get to the principal.  They want to believe that the principal is "normal."   (Being perceived as "on the ball" is a plus.)  They also want to hear about the principal's vision,  the plan to move the school forward, and that the school is always concerned with becoming better than it already is. 

These are perception kinds of things.  To effectively market a school, everybody in a school needs to address them.

Good staff members know how to market themselves.  They are the people parents and others think about when they think about your schools.  They are the people who create positive perceptions, and they are the people who turn these positive perceptions into a marketable reality.

So, begin from a position of strength.  People know you have "good" staff members, and, odds are, they have a high level of confidence in them.  That's what you should market first.

The right strategy for you

There are four basic marketing strategies.  They are lead dog, the strategy for marketplace leaders; I spy, the strategy for leader wannabes; end run, the strategy for niche seekers; and, sniper, the strategy for opportunists.  Your position in the marketplace determines which strategy you should use. (It is likely that you'll use all of the strategies at different times.  There is, after all, a little sniper in all of us.)

Nonetheless, let's focus on dominant themes and look at the strategy that's most appropriate for a lot of public schools--lead dog.

The lead dog marketing strategy is the one used by marketplace leaders.  So, how do you tell if you're a marketplace leader?  Start by asking questions about your identity.  Remember, analysis is the first and most important step in the marketing process.

Here's an example:  What are the top five school districts in your state?  Use any criteria you want to name them.  If your school district is on the list, you're a market leader and can use a lead dog strategy.  But maybe your  school district is one of the best in a particular region of the state.  This, too, could indicate a lead dog marketing strategy.  And, at a micro level, you might have the best educational institution in your community or in your school district.  That, too, could qualify you to use the lead dog marketing strategy.

If you have a leadership position, here's what you should do:

First, run fast.  Everyone is following the lead dogs.  To keep their leadership position, they have to run faster.

Second, lead dogs have a destination in mind.  This means that they run smarter!  They know where they are going.  (By the way, one of the problems with yesteryear's business fad du jour--"management by wandering around"--was that many managers wandered around without understanding where their organization was  headed and what the people it employed should be doing.)

Third, lead the competition.  Do whatever is needed to be the best.  Improve your programs, your customer service, your responsiveness--whatever it takes to keep your leadership position.  Nothing beats doing a good job. 

Reinforce perceptions of greatness.  Leaders let people know that they are leaders.  They "brag" about their leadership position, reinforcing perceptions of greatness.  Hallmark reminds you to send the very best, Coke defines itself through association with winners and life's unforgettable moments, and Master Card implies that it's the only card that can give you priceless memories.  If you're doing a good job, no one will know unless you effectively communicate how well you are doing.

That said, our bet is that you cannot marketing yourself by waving a large styrofoam index finger and proclaiming, "We're #1."  Why?  Because you probably aren't #1.  Or, people don't believe that you're #1.  (Hertz was the last major company to say, "We're #1."  That claim ended when Enterprise took the leadership position.)

As we say in The ABC Complete Book of School Marketing, you might be able to use a lead dog strategy for your entire school district.  If not, you may be able to use that strategy to market an outstanding program.  But you should never use it to shout, "We're #1."  

Truth be told, most educators and school board members want to market their school district as a progressive, future-focused enterprise.  This self-perception isn't always the reality.  You need to determine if those you serve see you as you see yourself.  Your analysis may indicate that it's be necessary to spend time improving your school district and its programs before you even think of marketing them.


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