What if You Had a Party…and No One Came?

partyA few years ago, I was invited to speak to middle school students about careers in marketing and public relations.  I was trying to figure out a way to explain marketing in terms that they would understand, and bingo…a party came to mind.  I took the students through the process of how they would tell other people about the party, and essentially taught them the marketing mix (product, price, place and promotion), as well as some basics of public relations (“What if the neighbors had a problem with the party?”  “What if someone got hurt at the party?”  “What if you needed more people to support having the party?”).

I was reminded of this analogy when I had the recent opportunity to conduct a Communication Audit for a school client as part of their Three Year Marketing & Communication Plan.  This client is challenged with negative public perception problems, along with impending direct competition from a charter school that will be opening its doors this fall right in their neighborhood.  Added to this challenge was the fact that the school has a very attractive program of choice commencing in the fall, and little had been done to promote it.  However, after talking with their administrators and stakeholders, a few things became very, very clear to me:

1)      The positive things happening at their school GREATLY outweigh their challenges.

2)      The school has a much higher number of collaborators and supporters than they do competitors.

3)      The school had greatly neglected is communication and marketing to its external stakeholders—as well as their internal ones (central office, school board, feeder school parents, teachers and administrators).

4)      The school was doing nothing to celebrate their students’ or schools’ achievements in visible ways on campus.

In other words—this school has an AMAZING party going on, and only a few people know about it!  And, guess what?  No one’s complaining about their loud music, either.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of relationships—relationships with both internal and external audience members.  There’s little that this school can do between now and the fall to pull back parents who have already decided to send their children to the new charter school (or other charter or private schools).  Undoing relationship neglect does take time and effort.  However, this school can begin changing its marketing and communication approaches in simple, inexpensive and quick ways to both begin nurturing their relationships and to reduce the flight of their students to other schools.  All it takes is the willingness, some time and effort.

I realize that schedules get busy—no, make that overwhelming—and marketing, PR and communications gets put on the back burner for “the time we really need it.”  But, what if the time you “really need it” is close to “too late”?  Relationship maintenance is a strategic, proactive and ongoing process.

I have created some other blog entries on relationship management, as well as some tips on marketing schools—if you’re in a different industry, these tips can also be used for your relationship management and marketing.

No one will come to your party…unless they’re invited!  And, unless people know about your party—they won’t tell other people about it.

If you need resources or assistance with starting or maintaining any step in the communication process, Sounding Board can provide you the resources you need.  Contact us if you need assistance!

Guest Blog: Why Quality Matters…Marketing is More Than Advertising

It is my pleasure to kick off Sounding Board’s guest blogs!  I love to share the advice and expertise from other marketing experts who want to help organizations like yours advance their goals through strategic, integrated marketing, communications, and public relations.

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Why Face Time Still Matters

Education and non-profits are truly in “the people business”, or, as I sometimes say, “the relationship business.”  Your products are social goods, improved educational opportunities, the future workforce, the future leaders, and more–each of which come in different colored, sized, and shaped packages.  Our brands are not as easily identifiable as Pepsi’s, Nike’s, Apple’s, or Ford’s, but yet at the same time, our public school brands are shaky because they rely upon the overall strength of the statewide and national public school brand–even if our neighborhood schools are strong.  And, unless they’re Goodwill or the United Way, non-profits’ brands often get muddled with those of organizations with similar names or missions.  Who’s going to differentiate your organization’s brand from others?  You–not behind a computer, but in a face-to-face meeting with those you need to influence.

That’s why face time still matters.

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Who’s Sinking Your Marketing/PR Battleships?

Battleship Board GameConsider the following scenario: Your superintendent (or board) has asked you to develop a marketing strategy for two of your district’s schools.  Each school has undergone amazing physical, programmatic and achievement improvements over the past year, yet they are still challenged by perception issues—people still think “gangster kids” go to these schools, and that they are underperforming schools.  While you’ve successfully obtained a couple of positive stories in the media, these perception problems still persist.   Your board thinks that some slick flyers and creatively designed posters will help attract more students.  The parents of current students at the schools share that people keep their children away—and send them to the local charter or private school—because they don’t really know how well the students are performing.  The mayor still describes these schools as being in disarray during his most recent state of the City address.

You’re thinking about the relationships…at least, you will be after reading today’s blog.

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6 Easy Ways to Build Your Organization’s Social Media Following

Building your organization’s social media following is comprised of activities that should be part of your overall social media strategy, and occur on an ongoing basisRemember, relationship-building and nurturing is not a one-time activity!  These are six easy ways to build your organization’s social media following, which will, in turn, also build your social media presence.

1.    Cover the basics. Make sure the bios/profiles for your social media accounts are complete. They should include clear and concise descriptions of your organization, your organization’s logo and your website URL.

2.    Share the news — and make sure yours gets shared! Retweet and share posts from others that you are following. And make sure you have sharing buttons on your content (blogs, news posts on your website, and of course, on your social media accounts).

3.    Promote your social media presence. Add social media badges (icons) to your organization’s website, blog, email signature, on your business cards, in your storefront and in email marketing.

4.    Make sure your content is interesting, useful, and interactive. Use photos, videos, write about engaging topics that leverage your expertise, and find ways to interact with your followers.

5.    Provide some exclusive offers to your followers.  Whether you’re a school and you offer free spirit items to the “next 20 followers” that comment and share a photo that you post, or a non-profit, and you offer an exclusive discount on your next event to the “next 10 followers” that share/comment on your status update, make sure that you are asking your followers to take an action (or actions) that helps build your following and social media presence, while providing a valuable exclusive offer that builds your brand.

6.    Network in person and online! Go to Tweet Ups, networking events, and other events in your market niche (or, better yet, start your own networking event/Tweet Up for those in your niche!). Find and follow partners, donors, supporters and others that support your organization’s mission via social media searches.

Check out Sounding Board Marketing & Communications’s Savvy Social Media Guide and Video for more tips on how to harness the power of social media to advance your organization’s goals!  Need help with developing your organization’s social media strategy or presence?  Contact us for more information about our social media services.

5 Social Media Content Ideas Readers Love

One of the biggest mistakes that marketing and PR people (or those who wear that hat) make for their organizations is pumping out website and social media content that I roughly define as content that “makes their organization look good” but isn’t necessarily interesting to readers.

One of the biggest challenges of social media is developing constant content that compels followers to come back for more.

Many education and non-profit organizations are challenged to come up with ideas of how to create this type of content, so, using some inspiration from a recent ragan.com article highlighting 20 content ideas readers love (you can read them here).  I’ve narrowed down the list to just five content ideas that will resonate with your education and non-profit audiences:

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Increase Resources. Save Time. Advance Your Goals…and Resonate Your Message

I am so excited to launch Sounding Board’s new website, which includes an awesome new blog feature (fabulously organized into different, value labeled categories), new products, new messaging and an overall new look and feel!

It is my sincere hope that you will find this new approach valuable to advancing your organization’s marketing and communication goals, and that it will help your organization Increase Resources. Save Time. Advance Your Goals…and Resonate Your Message. I wanted Sounding Board’s new website to not only sell and communicate my business, but to be a service to those who have the unique task of communicating the value of public education or a non-profit organization.  I know it’s not easy.  Marketing education and non-profits doesn’t fit into a neat little “product” box that has your typical “promotion” approaches like the rest of the “marketplace.”  Yet, everywhere you turn for resources on marketing, it seems that you have to fit your strategies into this box.   The same goes for communication—do a Google search on “Crisis Communication” and you’ll get a bunch of results that don’t really fit your organization’s needs.

That’s why I started Sounding Board Marketing and Communications, and that’s why I’m re-launching the website with information and resources (free and paid) to help you meet your organization’s goals through proactive and strategic marketing and communications to help your organization Increase Resources. Save Time. Advance Your Goals…and Resonate Your Message.

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Congratulations! Your district passed a general obligation bond or parcel tax….now what?

Over the past few years, faced with huge budget reductions and increasing facility and operating costs, school districts across California successfully obtained approval from their local communities for general obligation bonds (GOB) or (and in some cases, AND) parcel taxes.

The bond funds provided much-needed financial resources to districts facing new, ongoing and other facilities and technology infrastructure costs, and the parcel tax dollars helped to stabilize certain areas of districts’ operating budgets.

Now that your district has the money….how are you going to ensure that tax payers not only know how their money was spent, but how their taxes resulted in positive outcomes for your district?  Furthermore…how will you ensure that the next time you reach out to voters isn’t to ask them to approve another bond or parcel tax–but you approach them before you make this request?

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10 Ways to use Instagram and Pinterest to Market Your Organization

Photo-based Instagram and Pinterest have built followings based on the compelling, fun and interesting photos posted by users…and in Pinterest’s case, providing decorating, clothing and other sources of inspiration to its millions of users.

Corporations to small businesses are boosting their brand identities and expanding their reach using these free services…why can’t your district, COE or non-profit organization?  Your brand is about great programs that advance important outcomes—education, interventions to help students be successful, making learning fun, great teachers, great staff members, improving a social good, and more.  I’d be willing to bet that there are hundreds of photo opportunities each day.  And with Instagram’s availability on just Apple iOS and Android mobile phones, your photos are available to quickly build awareness and loyalty in a personalized approach.

Here are just a few tips* how you can use Instagram and Pinterest to take your organization’s marketing and communications to the next level.

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Keys to Inspiring Confidence During “The Critical Hour” Category: Crisis Communication

Little did I know, the second entry in this blog series, “Inspiring Confidence Through Communication” would come just three days after one of the nation’s worst school crises — the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

As we slowly learn more about this tragedy, much is focused on the gunman, school safety and the like. However, early in the crisis, the news coverage featured — in addition to the press conferences with the police department — interviews with parents. One thing I noticed about the interviews with the parents was their initial confusion about where they could find more information during the first hour following the crisis, including where to locate their children. As more information and misinformation came out during the early hours following this crisis — including the fact that a key communicator, the school principal, died in the incident — there are several explanations for this confusion.

In the aftermath of this crisis, decision-makers, community members and parents are asking whether more can be done to prevent this from ever happening again. In addition, parents are also inquiring how they will be contacted should a crisis of any magnitude occur at their school. Because they are entrusting the school with their child’s (or children’s) safety, they want to receive the information from the school, first — NOT the media, and not the police.

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