Articles & Resources About Marketing & Messaging

Marketing and MessagingIf you do an internet search on “marketing” or “messaging” you usually end up with a bunch of results that don’t really apply to your organization’s needs.

The tips and information below apply the basic principles of strategic marketing and effective messaging to the unique needs of your education or non-profit organization so that you can begin using these tips today!

20 Creative Social Media Content Ideas

I don’t know about you, but developing ongoing creative content for social media can become a challenge sometimes.  We know that creative content grabs your audiences, encourages them to act, and drives results for your organization, but sometimes we get into a rut.

Our friends over at Buffer created an awesome visual (see below) that provides 20 great social media content ideas.  You could seriously produce over a month’s worth of content with these ideas!

  1. Turn a blog post into a video:  We know that video captures peoples’ attention and results in more shares than most other social media posts.  Why not repackage a blog post into a video?  Why not use Superintendent’s welcome back message, and, rather than getting a picture of the Superintendent at his or her desk, why not get some great B-roll of your students, teachers and staff engaging in activities that support your superintendent’s message, and use the message as the narration?
  2. Create a how-to video: As YouTube has shown us, people love how-to videos.  If you have a non profit organization, maybe you can create a how-to video on donating or contributing to your organization. Here are some video ideas for you:
    • Tips
    • How-to guides
    • Customer stories
    • Behind-the-scenes
    • User-generated content
    • New service announcements
    • District/organization announcements or milestones
  3. Go live: Facebook’s “go live” feature is a great way to bring the news to your followers as it’s happening. Non profits–this is a great way to capture footage at an event as it’s happening; schools can capture real-time “first day of school” activities and more.
  4. Interview someone (live):  Go out to one of your district’s schools during an anti bullying week, and play the role as the roving reporter that asks each student about how they will prevent bullying.
  5. Post 360 photos or videos: Buildings and campuses look pretty cool in 360 degrees!  So do groups of people–inside or outside.
  6. Attach a GIF: What is it with GIFs? Somehow they capture the essence of a thought or mood in familiar and silly ways.  “How principals feel on the first day of school” with a fun (and positive) GIF is one way to capture people’s attention!
    An idea to try: Buffer suggests using Animoto (or your favorite video-editing tool) to turn one of your recent blog posts into a short 30-second video.
  7. Curate user generated content: Curate photos that people have posted on your social media accounts, or, experiment with a short user-generated content campaign (and you can decide if you want to continue with it after the experiment).
  8. Use a self-explanatory image: Self-explanatory images can fully explain a concept or an idea without people having to click on the link and read an article. On the other hand, quality stock photos are usually too abstract to convey the message.An idea to try: Try answering these three questions (thanks to Buffer for these ideas!) the next time you want to share an image on social media:
    • Would this image make sense with no caption at all?
    • Does this image contain relevant or insightful content?
    • Would I share this content myself?

    If you answer “yes” to at least two of the three questions, you have likely found yourself a self-explanatory image.

  9.  Use charts or graphs: Another type of explanatory image is charts and graphs. Use a graph or chart to illustrate key information about student performance, expenditures and more.
  10. Share a relevant infographic: Using an infographic creator, you can easily explain the nuances of school district budgeting, how test scores work, and more!
  11. Partner with another organization: One of my favorite tactics to build into my clients’ social media strategies is the idea of leveraging partnerships–mutually-beneficial partnerships will help you reach new audiences and grow your social media following.  Maybe you have a partnership with a large non profit or a business that is helping your students.  Work together on content that leverages both of your organizations.
  12. Do a social swap: Similar, but simpler that partnering with another organization, in a social swap, two organizations exchange relevant content regularly and share the other company’s content on their own social media accounts. With a social swap, you get great content to share on your social media accounts and benefit from having another organization share your content.
  13. Organize a social contest: This is another tactic that I love building into client’s social media strategies–a contest.  First, people do not expect school districts or non profits to hold a fun social media contest!  These posts also generate the most engagement from followers.  This is a way to actually let your organization’s fun side show.  Use anniversaries, a new program launch, or another cause for celebration to create a basis for your contest.  Here are a few things you can invite your followers to do to participate:
    • Comment
    • Tag a friend
    • Share a post
    • Tweet with a hashtag
    • Post a photo and use your branded hashtag
  14. Poll your audience: People love sharing their opinions, and you can use the poll as a means to collect data from your audiences.
  15. Ask a question for help: People love to help, and if you ask people about their favorites (what is your favorite school event? What can our district do to better serve your child?), preferences, etc. this is another way to help you better understand your audiences and their motivations.
  16. Pull interesting stats from a blog post:  Using a statistic in your introduction is often recommended as a way to “hook” your readers and keep them reading. If the statistic is relevant (and shocking) to your followers, they might be more intrigued to read your blog post or watch your video.  Use this as an opportunity to share statistics that help your organization or can help parents with their child’s educational experience.
  17. Pull a meaningful quote from a blog post: This is a great way to summarize the information from the blog post, and you can also use it as a way to engage your audience (do you agree, disagree, why?)
  18. Create a list in the caption: Provide a picture that draws someone to a list of information on your website.  Use a portion of your post to include this list, but a teaser to bring them to your website for more information.
  19. Add emojis or symbols: Emojis have become quite popular with audiences–in fact, 6 million emojis are shared on social media each day! I hesitated on whether or not I would support this idea, but here’s the first rule of thumb-consider whether emojis are consistent with your brand and image.  Here is some great info on shortcuts and how to use emojis in your social media posts.
  20. Share or retweet your followers’ posts: Don’t you love it when someone retweets your posts?  Well, do the same for your followers!  Retweet blog posts, social media posts, and more–it shows you appreciate what they are doing, as well.


Want more inspiration and examples?  Visit Buffer’s blog post on this topic.

20 Creative Ways to Share Your Content on Social Media

Image courtesy of Buffer social

Branding—A Personal Point of View

Branding be like a mysterious journey…so often, we equate branding with logos, colors, typefaces and taglines. But, branding is really about what makes a company or organization special, what differentiates it from all others. It drives the customer to make a decision to purchase…or a person to donate to a cause…or parents to choose a school for their child.

Since launching Sounding Board Marketing and Communications eight years ago, I decided that I wanted my company’s brand to be centered around its mission, values and philosophy:

Mission: Sounding Board Marketing & Communication’s mission is to increase public confidence in public education and improve opportunities for education non-profit organizations to suc
ceed through proactive communication and marketing.

Values: Sounding Board Marketing & Communications believes in collaboration, respect, professionalism, honesty
and integrity, and delivering high quality results to every client.

Philosophy: The name “Sounding Board” has two meanings: the client is the expert for their organization; and the consultant is the sounding board upon which the client can have their ideas and expertise translated into messages that will resonate with their audiences. Sounding Board Marketing & Communications spends time listening to its clients, then brings forward ideas to address the client’s needs, collaborates with the client throughout the project, and develops and implements results-oriented, effective and successful strategies that bring measurable results and outcomes.

Over the past few months, I had an opportunity to test Sounding Board’s brand, and I learned quite a few things. One of the most important things I learned is that while Sounding Board’s brand encompasses its mission, values and philosophy, these elements by themselves do not define my company’s brand. Ironically, I tell my clients this all of the time—but, as an emerging business owner several years ago, I leaned on these to define my brand while I let my business take shape. I took my time to find out what differentiates my business from others. I listened to my clients’ feedback on my services, and began focusing on what I do best for them. I studied my competitors—and reaffirmed that the work and outcomes I deliver to my clients are not only outstanding, but also an incredible deal.

In 2009, I was transitioning from an employee to a consultant. Eight years later, my consulting practice has guided school districts, county offices of education and non-profits to incredible outcomes that have increased enrollment, public trust, passed bond measures, increased membership numbers and more.

So what is Sounding Board’s brand?

Impeccable, clear, and timely customer service: Clients receive the best of care, timely responses, and clear communication of deliverables throughout the course of any contract. I never want any client to ask, “When will this be done?” I always ensure that clients know what, how and when deliverables will be completed, and strive to meet or beat your deadlines.

High quality, creative, powerful and captivating messaging and marketing: Your schools, your district, your program or organization are unique. I capture the best assets of your organization and I partner with some of the best and cost-effective graphic designers, website developers and videographers to deliver creative print and online media and videos that rival those of more expensive firms. Cost-effective doesn’t have to look or sound cheap.

Authentic guidance…with the right dose of humbleness: My clients seek my expertise—and I deliver that expertise with a thoughtful leadership approach. It’s why I named my business “Sounding Board”—I respect your knowledge, expertise and experience with your organization. I know I haven’t lived in your specific organization, and I will always take a thoughtful approach in developing strategies, public relations and promotional approaches that take your input, feedback, and organizational culture into consideration.

Results-driven: You hired me for a reason and with specific outcomes in mind. Whether you’re seeking to boost enrollment, increase engagement, reputation management or more, I will strive to achieve the results that you are envisioning for your organization.

Best and most ethical practices: As a professional who has earned an Accreditation in Public Relations, I am demonstrating my mastery of strategic communications practice and my commitment to lifelong learning and ethical standards. Attaining this valuable distinction is a professional achievement exhibited through successful completion of a peer-evaluation readiness process, successful completion of a rigorous exam and ongoing commitment to the development of other practitioners.

Nimble and Indispensable: Being a small business, I take on enough clients to keep Sounding Board sustainable…but also keep myself nimble and indispensable to avail myself to anything my clients need.

We are in an era of choice and challenges…it doesn’t mean that school districts, county offices of education and established or emerging non-profits should flounder. There are incredible opportunities to shine a bright light on how your organizations are the schools and organizations of choice for your stakeholders. It’s why Napa Valley Unified School District, Redwood City School District, Align Capital Region, Associated General Contractors of California and others have chosen Sounding Board to resonate their messages.

Thanks for supporting Sounding Board over the past eight years—I look forward to working with you in the future.

To Your Success,


Branding…What it IS and what it ISN’T

I am so excited to kick off not one, but THREE re-branding processes for three different clients—one is a new International Baccalaureate school, and two are existing organizations that need their branding to align with their current and future vision for their organizations.  With each client, I am taking the time to clarify some of the confusion surrounding branding.

In this day and age of highly visual communications, most people think that branding is just designing a new logo. And, while new logos are certainly a part of the branding process, they are NOT THE only element of branding for organizations.

There are a lot of great articles that talk about the history and evolution of branding (this one from Forbes, What is a Brand, Anyway?, does a great job of this), but I know your time is limited, so I would like to give you the quick and encapsulated version of Branding 101. I could spend a lot of time on this, but here is what branding is and isn’t, in a nutshell, and some steps you can take to develop your organization’s brand.

collection of brand logosTake a look at the image to the left: You are likely to recognize most, if not all of the company logos you see.  At the same time, you probably also remember something about each company, beyond the actual physical product they sell: maybe it’s a certain feeling, perhaps it’s a certain quality offered by the company, or possibly you are recalling the company’s tagline or services.  Strong branding doesn’t happen by mistake–it is the result of a well-researched strategy and approach.

So, first let’s talk about what branding IS:

  • What your audiences think of of when they hear or see your brand name
  • Everything your audiences think they know about your name brand offering—both factual and emotional.
  • What sets your organization apart from other organizations—it defines what makes your organization different and what makes it special…and what makes it valuable.

Here’s what branding ISN’T:

  • A new logo or a logo refresh
  • New typefaces
  • A new website

While the above-listed outcomes are ways in which to convey a new or refreshed brand, they are not, by themselves, branding.

Without clearly defining your organization’s product and what makes it special and valuable—through new and consistent messaging, improved customer service and organizational services that are consistent with your new messaging, AND a powerful visual identity– then your organization is not engaging in branding, but just re-writing website content, putting a pretty new logo on existing publications…and missing an incredible opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with its audiences.

You’re probably asking where you should start with a re-branding process. Research is an important component: start by obtaining stakeholder feedback on your organization’s value proposition and services. Utilizing focus groups to obtain feedback on new branding messaging, services, and the visual identity is also an important part of the research process. Be prepared to spend a few weeks (or months, depending on your organization) on this valuable process and developing its outcomes—you will be glad that you took the time to be purposeful and thoughtful in your approach in developing a strong and sustainable brand for your organization.

Need more help in developing your organization’s brand? Contact Sounding Board Marketing & Communications for more information about our Branding Strategy and Implementation Services.

Going the Extra Mile With Communications Helps Students and Families Reach For the Stars

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss and provide counsel to a number of school principals regarding their school outreach approaches. These hardworking principals are busy, wear many hats, and have the success of their students at the core and purpose of what they do every single day.

It is in this work that I have noticed a few patterns….now, there are studies that will back up everything I have to say here, but I know that real world examples speak volumes to those who are seeking inspiration for their day to day work. So here it goes:

  • All principals are busy
  • The principals who take the time and make communication a priority see major gains in parent engagement, particularly with bilingual parents
  • The principals who try reaching out to parents, but give up when they don’t have enough participation are probably quitting too soon
  • Regular, positive two-way communications goes a long way in increasing trust and a positive school climate among parents and
  • Principals who are too busy to proactively communicate typically have more conflicts to resolve and have a more difficult time getting buy in, participation and support from parents and staff members on new initiatives.

stars-shootingSo, why wouldn’t you communicate? Why wouldn’t you take 30 extra minutes each week for home visits or to invite parents and students to meet with you in a positive environment?

Okay, for those of you who are more analytical, here are the studies that back up these thoughts: According to a 2006 National School Public Relations Association White Paper, How Strong Communication Contributes to Student and School Success: Parent and Family Involvement, the research is clear that communication plays an important role in the type and quality of parent/community involvement. In A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement, Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp examined 51 research studies conducted between 1993 and 2002 and found there is a positive and convincing relationship between family and community involvement and improved student academic achievement, including higher gradepoint averages and scores on standardized tests, more classes passed, higher enrollment in more challenging academic classes, better attendance and improved behavior at home and at school. This holds across families of all economic, racial/ethnic and educational backgrounds and for students at all ages

I can’t think of anything more difficult than climbing a mountain alone. What if you need someone to pull you up? What if someone can help find an easier path? The opportunities that come with communication and outreach are endless. You don’t have time not to do it.

5 Components of GREAT Story Telling

What is your story?Blogging, social media and video provide organizations excellent platforms to tell your story. However, if your stories aren’t interesting, then your audience will quickly lose interest….and they’ll stop paying attention to your stories.

The one thing that some of the most viral stories have in common is that they tell the story well. Well, what makes a great story?

However, story telling does not need to be complex or difficult in order to be compelling. After reviewing a number of different sources, I came up with five components of great story telling. With a few tweaks, and a little practice, you can turn your descriptive paragraphs into great stories that lead to excellent results.

1-Begin in the action

Draw readers into your story by beginning with the action. Instead of starting your first paragraph with, “On September 9th, ABC School students had an exciting Patriots Day assembly that included a SWAT helicopter, a fire truck and a flag raising ceremony” why not draw a picture of the students’ actual experience, as if one were watching a video of the story? “On the grassy field, students’ hair blew all around while they watched, wide-eyed, as a SWAT helicopter landed in front of them….” From there, you can then continue describe the audience’s experience, versus merely describing what happened.

2-Evoke Emotions

Using descriptive words and sharing the emotions of the participants, try to evoke those same emotions in your readers. Did some students jump up and cheer when she saw the SWAT helicopter? Or, were they so impressed that they looked up in awe as the helicopter came down onto the field? Including these details in the story keeps your reader’s interest.

3-Keep it True and Real

The good thing is, when you’re in the people business, like education and non-profits, it’s easy to keep stories true and real. Reinforce this by getting quotes from participants. Ask them open-ended questions about how they felt, whether they were surprised or excited about the event, and what they liked the best or what they learned from the event. Their responses highlight the true experiences of your participants, and are much more interesting than the usual canned, “We want to make sure students remember how important our public safety officers are to them.” Zzzzzzzz….

4-Highlight a struggle

Most great stories describe a challenge that was overcome. How many of your favorite movies or books involved a character that just skated through life? Audiences like to know that there was some type of challenge involved. Part of your story could be about the challenges of organizing the event itself—and how your event/community partners came through in the end. It’s a great way to highlight your organization’s gratitude for your community partners.

5-Keep it simple

The day of the week, describing what people wore (unless it’s relevant to the story), and other nuances aren’t necessary for an impactful story. One of the most interesting stories can be the shortest ones. A famous example that I keep in mind when I find myself “writing in the weeds” (i.e., getting too complex) is a six word short story (often wrongly attributed to Stephen Kind and Ernest Hemingway): “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Begins with the action, evokes emotions, true and real, and includes a struggle or conflict.

Bonus Tip-Include a Call to Action

Great story telling can also help your organization gain more supporters and partners for its endeavors. So, including a call to action at the end of your story is a great way to encourage audience members to be a part of the action, solution or support your organization needs to be successful.

Want to learn more? Here are some great resources:

TED Talks on Storytelling

The 5 Common Elements of Good Story Telling

The Secret to Great Story Telling

How to Tell a Great Story

21 Call to Action Examples

5 Ways to Build a Blog Following

keepcalm-and-follow-my-blog-keep-calmYou’re blogging…but are you reaching ALL of your audiences?  Building your blog’s audience is critical to your blog’s success–here are five ways to build your following:

1. Take advantage of existing email lists. You probably have an email database of for your organization or school. Why not repurpose blog content in the next email or e-newsletter to that audience? Tease these readers with a tweak of your blog headline and give them a link to your new blog (even ask them to subscribe so they can get each new post right in their email inbox).

2. Start with your own employees. Don’t forget, your employees are your best evangelists. Arm them with the information they need to share your blog posts with their friends, colleagues, and families. Maybe it’s a sample tweet or Facebook update along with a link to the post. Or, maybe it’s a simple reminder on your intranet each week with that week’s posts. Either way, make sure you share blog posts regularly with your internal teams.

3. Take advantage of speaking engagements. Whether you speak at a conference or at a PTA meeting, you have an opportunity to market your blog. After all, all your speakers need to do is include the blog URL in the presentation deck and work a mention of it gently into his or her speech. Minimal effort with a potentially huge impact.

4. Insert the blog URL into your email signature. It’s simple, but you’re looking to build the blog into your comprehensive marketing approach. Keep in mind that by inserting your blog URL into your email different audiences will get a glimpse of your blog, including audiences—vendors, analysts, journalists, etc.—you may not have been targeting.

5. And…integrate your blog into ALL of your operations. I’m not simply talking about adding your blog to your website, but instead integrating your blog into your actual operations.  Beyond including a link to your blog in your email signature, include the URL on all organizational communications, meeting agendas (“Let’s continue to keep the lines of communications open—follow ABC Organization’s blog at!”), business cards, outgoing voicemail messages, and more.

Want more ideas?  Here are 16 LOW- and NO-cost ways to market your blog!

16 LOW- and NO-Cost Ways to Market Your Blog

Marketing your blog doesn’t have to be a high-cost adventure.  In fact, taking advantage of each of your organization’s touch points offer a number of low- and no-cost opportunities to market your blog.  Here are a few ideas to get you started!

  1. Insert the blog URL into your email signature. It’s simple, but you’re looking to build the blog into your comprehensive marketing approach. Keep in mind that by inserting your blog URL into your email different audiences will get a glimpse of your blog.
  2. And…integrate your blog into ALL of your operations. Beyond including a link to your blog in your email signature, include the URL on all organizational communications, meeting agendas (“Let’s continue to keep the lines of communications open—follow ABC Organization’s blog at!”), business cards, outgoing voicemail messages, and more.
  3. Put a sign in your organization’s/school’s office window or announcements area (or bulletin board) to promote your blog.
  4. Include a blog link and a call-to-action in everyone’s email signature file. Make sure that you can change these signature file URLs centrally.
  5. Have a sign-up sheet at your organization’s/school’s meetings to collect email information by hand. Don’t forget to simultaneously gain permission to contact signees.
  6. Create a handout for visitors/meeting attendees using a few of your best how to articles as a take one in your place of business.
  7. Identify a volunteer of the week and promote them using your blog. Recognizing volunteers is also a great way to retain volunteers!  Provide background information about why the person was selected—this individual and their friends will certainly share this announcement via their social media and email channels. (Just remember to get people’s permission.)
  8. Promote the blog via customer service using mentions on written emails and phone hold messages.
  9. Include a blurb about your blog on customer facing materials.
  10. Ask partners to promote your blog. PTA, boosters, business partners…and, remember this should be a two way street. You need to offer to help their promotion efforts in return. Coordinate efforts!
  11. Make a decorative sign promoting your blog and its URL. Hang it in a critical area with a lot of traffic like a conference room or, even, the restrooms.
  12. Place a computer in a public place in your location so customers can check out your blog and register for emails.
  13. Write a column for a local newspaper that helps build interest in your product and your expertise. For example, an “Ask the Principal” feature can answer readers’ questions. Include a mention of your blog in your column bio with a link back to your blog.
  14. Work with a local business. For example, you can offer a series of talks or demonstrations related to your organization’s offering and use the opportunity to promote the blog through their communications channels.
  15. Offer to help one or more of your local houses of worship and cross promote your blog through their communications vehicles.
  16. Use other tools creatively to promote your organization/school. Ifyouspend a lot of time in your local Starbucks, why not put a URL with an attention getting sign on your computer so people see it as they pass by?

We like to give credit where credit’s due, and inspiration from this blog post was drawn from Heidi Cohen’s “24 Ways to Promote Your Blog With NO Budget, NO Time & NO Resources”.  Read the full blog here.

5 articles to help you boost, fix, or improve online engagement

I love learning new things (or getting an affirmation that old things continue to work) to help fix and improve the ways I do my work.  These are some recent PR Daily articles that I found particularly useful for boosting, fixing or improving online engagement:

3 Key Tips for PR/Marketing Spring Cleaning & Organizing

gerberdaisiesWith Spring, comes….Spring cleaning, of course! This is a great time to start getting your marketing, PR and communications organized for the upcoming school year or for the quieter days of summer.  But, you’re probably asking yourself,  “What should I focus on first?”  Here are three ideas:

  1. Content.  Develop a gameplan over the next few months to update content on your organization’s web pages.  Delete now-expired deadlines and dates, update calendars, map out blog entry topics (including planning guest bloggers), view currently posted or linked videos (and remove any outdated videos), check links to make sure they still work, and rework messaging, where needed.
  2. Planning.  If you don’t already have a Three Year Marketing & Communications Strategy, this is the time to start the process of outlining your strategy and the steps involved, so that you can plan ahead for holding focus group meetings, sending out surveys, and implementing the first year of your strategy.   A thorough strategy includes taking inventory of how well your print and electronic methods of communications are working for your organization. If you’ve been feeling like you’re “just keeping your head above water” then run, don’t walk, to developing your strategy.  Need help?  Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help you develop your strategy.  Are you a DIYer?  If you opted-in emails from Sounding Board, you received a FREE “Marketing & Communication Strategic Planning 101” Guide—use this guide to develop your own Three Year Strategic Plan!  If you haven’t yet opted-in to receive emails, then fill out the contact form to the right!
  3. Learning. Take the time to focus on your professional growth in marketing, PR and communications.  Even us marketing experts and consultants are lifelong learners—I know there’s always, always better ways of doing things.  Read articles on and PR Daily (and, if you’re on social media, you can follow their pages for daily updates…and, if you follow Sounding Board on social media, I post PR/marketing/communication best practices articles on my pages, as well.  In addition, I also write blog posts on a variety of best practices (click on the topics linked above, and if you want to see them when I post them, follow Sounding Board on social media—click on the social media icons above!).

I genuinely want to help you accelerate your organization’s marketing, PR and communication efforts.  If there’s anything I can do to help YOU in your efforts to obtain, maintain, retain, and strengthen your organization’s stakeholder relationships, please send me an email at or call me at 916.673.8868.

Fantastic Focus Groups-A Key to a Successful Marketing & Communication Strategy

focus-groupGathering stakeholder input is a critical part of your communications, PR and marketing strategy process.  As PR and communication practitioners, we can make some assumptions about how well our organization is relating to its stakeholders, but directly facilitating feedback from your stakeholders is the only way you can accurately gauge the success (or challenges) of your efforts.

Focus groups are a great way to generate in-depth, valuable feedback from each of your stakeholder groups.  Focus groups allow for thoughtful discussion on the areas that you are evaluating in your organization’s communications, marketing and PR.  Surveys are useful for gauging behaviors and preferences of your stakeholders and are encouraged to be used in tandem with your focus group research.

When planning focus groups, ensure that your focus groups are just that…focused! You are asking these individuals–from their stakeholder perspective–to answer questions that will provide you valuable information about your organization’s communications. To achieve this, guarantee that you:

  • Ensure that each focus group member is sent an invitation well in advance of the meeting, and that the time, date, location and purpose of the focus group meeting are clearly stated in the invitation.
  • DO schedule focus group meetings at a time and location that is feasible for each stakeholder group. For example, avoid scheduling focus group meetings with teachers during instructional or non-contractual hours. Do provide parent and community members focus group options of daytime and evening hours.
  • Be aware of the Brown Act when scheduling focus groups with elected officials from the same government (your school board, the city council) to avoid violations—this may require scheduling individual interviews instead, or two separate focus group meetings for each group.
  • Plan no more than one hour for each focus group meeting. This will allow enough time for thorough responses, but is short enough for individuals’ busy schedules.
  • Develop the same questions for each focus group but make adjustments to ensure that the questions are appropriate for the audience. For example, when inquiring about opinions about your organization’s website, students may use the site differently than parents, and parents may use the site differently than Board of Education members. Therefore, instead of asking, “What are your opinions of our website?” you may want to start with a question like, “How do you use our website?” to obtain valuable information about its use by each stakeholder.
  • When opening the focus group meeting, set some key ground rules: Encourage honesty, ensure confidentiality (meaning, people’s names will not be used in the focus group report or communication audit), keep discussion relevant to the question, and  respect the role of the facilitator (this is important, because when the facilitator either you or another staff member needs to cut off discussion to move forward to the next question, or redirect the group to the discussion, participants tend to bristle at the facilitator’s role!).
  • Have both a facilitator and a scribe: It’s challenging to do both roles successfully!
  • Provide refreshments for focus group participants: People tend to talk more when they’re not hungry…and people naturally like to talk over food!

Next, prepare your focus group, interview and survey questions based on your communications/PR research goals.  Here are some examples:

  • What are the strengths of ABC organization?  Keep this broad–the PR/communication strengths will be mentioned by participants in this discussion, but it’s important to learn the other organizational strengths, from their perspective, to tie them to the PR/communication strategy, where applicable.
  • What are its challenges?  Again, keep this broad–PR/communication challenges will ultimately be highlighted here, and there may be trends in organizational challenges that may link back to PR/communication challenges.
  • How do you receive news and information about ABC organization? Which do you use most frequently?
  • What is working well/not well about ABC organization’s: website, newsletter, social media, email system, customer service, phone system (and, add any other communication, news, PR, and/or marketing mechanisms used by your organization, here)
  • What are some of your ideas on how ABC organization can improve its communications?  You will be amazed by your stakeholders’ creativity…but also gain some insight into what they value most.

Lastly, have fun during this process!  Stakeholders value the opportunity for their opinions to be heard, and focus groups provide a great PR opportunity for your organization to show your stakeholders that you listen to them and value their feedback!

These tips were pulled straight from Sounding Board’s Unleash Your Best Communication guide.  Click here to download FULL guide, which includes more tips and advice—including a handy workbook with a communications audit guide and Heather’s five-step PRIDE Communication Audit Process!