It’s a frenzy for retailers promoting everything from clothing and backpacks, to cell phones and laptops. It’s back-to-school time, and that means heightened communications opportunities for your district or school.
Yes, August is more than a mid-year boon to retailers; it’s the school equivalent of New Year’s Day. It’s an annual opportunity for the media, parents, and community members to focus on your school. But this focus won’t come without some planning and execution on your part.
School communicators can take a cue from teachers returning to their classrooms preparing for another school year. As your colleagues meet with their fellow teachers and map out some back-to-school classroom activities, now’s the time to put together a plan to use this time of year to capitalize on school communications opportunities.
Establish a kickoff theme.
Start by giving some thought to a back-to-school theme. It can be as blase as “Back to School 2016.” Or come up with something original that puts your audience in the right frame of mind. Tie it in somehow to the start of the school year.
Campaigns are unifying and make it easier to bring your entire school community together under the theme or banner message you create. Themes can be set well before school starts and carried through right up to and even beyond the first open house.
Seize the day.
Seize the day, or weeks, as the case may be. You’ll find the media and parents especially receptive to good content during August and early September.
The back-to-school timeframe provides a friendly window of opportunity for your school to re-connect to key community stakeholders and confirm its place as a part of the community bedrock. It’s kind of an annual honeymoon period for schools to set the stage for a school year’s worth of news, information and stories about how great your school and the people in and around it are.
Tap all your communication channels.
Your back-to-school promotion should be more than an abruptly worded sign on the school marquee.
The first few weeks of school (and the weeks preceding, really) are a great time to set the stage for community outreach using your school websites and teacher websites, local media, social media, and traditional take-home materials. Make sure your school website is ripe with fresh content about all the back-to-school activities, events and information.
Other modes of back-to-school channels to consider include speaking opportunities for champions of your school. If you don’t already have one, create a speaker’s bureau comprised of staff and parents. Start small. Staff and parents bring authenticity to topics surrounding the school and can speak directly to inform and educate the community about key content initiatives in your school or district.
Connect with local media and parents.
Now’s the time of year to reach out to local TV, radio and community newspaper assignment editors with your list of what’s new and what they can expect from you in the coming school year. Many media are hungry for good news, and welcome news releases, tips or just a get-acquainted phone call from school PR managers.
NEWS TIP: Weekends, when local newsrooms are understaffed and pulling news from national feeds, are ripe opportunities for ‘soft news’ like school news. So come Thursday, touch base with assignment editors about some cool upcoming weekend activity surrounding the start of your school year.
Key parent leaders too are looking for direction from you for content and talking points you want them to carry to all your parents. (See speakers bureau above.) Any back-to-school or early school year news should automatically be shared with those designated parents who can galvanize other parents and serve as champions to getting the school year off on the right foot.
Give early-season tips and advice.
Everyone want success right out of the gate: the student acing that first test; parents witnessing first-hand good study habits; teachers developing early positive rapport with parents.
There are many online parent resources and school-centered parent resources that can be served up from the outset of the school year. Use take-home materials, personal notes and emails to parents, and social media postings to offer up helpful school advice.
Heavy up your content early to condition your audiences to be on the lookout for more as the school year unfolds. Beyond tips and advice, be sure to include news/info and human interest items. Use my “Rule of Thirds” formula when it comes to content creation: one-third of your content should be news/info, one-third tips/advice, and one-third fun stuff. Trust me: follow that formula and you’ll never come up short with content, and will keep it fresh and varied – any time of the school year.
Embrace your back-to-school open house.
Remember the axiom: you only get one chance to make a first impression? If you approach your open house as just another routine mandatory that you can’t wait to end, think of how that comes across to your students, staff and parents. Try a fresh angle.
Approach your first open house of the year strategically. Set the theme, promote the heck out of it through all your school digital communications channels and your non-digital communications channels.
Try setting goals for parent attendance. You can even create a competition between teachers to see who can get the most parents and guardians to show. You can extend your open house accessibility by offering online open houses by appointment. Check out this article by Eric Fulkert on how to how to use Hangouts to enable parents to do virtual open house/parent conferences.
Plan your back-to-school communications
Think of the back-to-school period as your school’s grand opening – the start of spring training or any preseason when hope springs eternal. It’s a time when the stock in your school is usually at its highest. A time when the media and parents are most receptive, if not thirsty for info about your school.
Combine the collective anticipation and buzz of the first day back for students, teachers, parents and staff – spirits are up, fresh start and clean slate. Now, step up and take advantage of perhaps the most positive environment and time of the school year ,and put a back-to-school communications plan together.
Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate. Start simple, cover all or even just some of these tips, and you can join all the retailers who make hay out of the back-to-school season.
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.