If you’ve recently joined the school communications field or are starting fresh in a new school district with similar responsibilities, this blog is for you! This guide aims to help you create a stronger foundation for a strategic communications plan so you can hit the ground running and start making a noticeable impact at your district.
Starting any new position can be overwhelming but as you ease into your role, the key focus of your first few months on the job should be:
1) Conducting a situation analysis 2) Reviewing secondary research and data 3) Building relationships
These three focus areas should make up 90 percent of what you do, with the other 10 percent dedicated to “keeping the lights on” in your department and assisting administrators with their immediate needs.
Let’s look at 10 significant ideas and suggestions to help guide your first 90 days as a new school communicator.
I recently partnered with Glenview District 34 in Glenview, Illinois, to develop the #BeWell34 virtual space for students, employees, and families to find resources to encourage mindfulness and support well being.
#BeWell34 has separate calming centers for each age group and delivers focused, scientific-based strategies to visitors based on their current mood and feeling. Glenview 34 uses the Finalsite content management system, Composer, which allows users to create highly-dynamic, granular designs.
Glenview 34 Director of Communications & Strategic Planning, Cathy Kedjidjian, APR, encourages anyone to use the system!
Gosh, I love this profession. I recently asked school PR and communications professionals to submit their real or imaginary school PR headlines. I’ve pulled out a few amusing ones. Anonymity kept. Enjoy!
Local PR Pro Switches to Holiday Playlist, Annoys Coworkers, Defends Decision as “Self-Care”
After Three Years of Complete Silence, School Staffers Flood Communication Team’s Inbox to Correct Spelling Error
Executive Team Shocked to Learn PIO is Not a Clairvoyant
Parent Posts on Social Media with Questions About Confirmed COVID Case. Doesn’t Read Entire Email for the Answers
Communications Director Tries in Vain to Respond to Nonsense Comments with Accurate Information
New COVID-19 Dashboard Garners Impressive Numbers of Suggestion Emails, Ranging from Ridiculous to Impossible
Record Number Of District Staff Add Impressive Credentials To Their Title: “Medical and Contact Tracing Expert”
Studies Show Mad Men-Style Bar in Comms Department Office Would Lead to Safer Work Environment for All Who Dare Enter with a Random and Last-Minute Request
24 Hr Babysitting Not Provided by Schools: Parents Shocked to Learn They Have to Monitor Students’ Chromebook Use at Home
Angry Parent Complains About Lack of Communication a after Unsubscribing from All District Messages
BREAKING: Top Scientists Agree That Fitting An Entire K-8 Curriculum On One “At-a-Glance” Document Would Defy The Laws of Space, Time
For many school PR and communication teams, the thought of tackling a district website redesign project seems like a significant commitment. Well, I have news for you: It is.
As an experienced school district web developer and consultant, I’ve jotted down some tips to consider before beginning your journey:
1) Understand your needs.
You know your district and community better than anyone. You have the power. Think about what your organization needs from a website. Why do you need a new website? Does it need a simple facelift or will it require a complete overhaul? What specific features will it need to include?
Identify your needs and search for a vendor who can meet them.
2) Use data to guide your decision making.
After understanding your needs, you now need research to guide your project. Research is an essential phase of any school communications project. Consider the following research methods before writing your request for proposal (RFP):
Focus groups. What does your community like and dislike about your current website? What information can they find quickly/not quickly? What areas of your website are pain points? What “competitor” websites do they like, and why?
I suggest conducting focus groups with two internal audiences (students and staff) and one external audience.
Analytics. Analyzing data seems daunting to some, but it’s easier than it sounds with tools like Google Analytics. Be sure to explore at least 1-2 school years of analytics from your current website. This data allows you to evaluate the most accessed pages and content and learn more about your audience and their behaviors.
Market research. Find the districts serving students and families well and use their work to inspire your new website. Imitation is the most effective form of flattery, and there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.
3) Understand time frames and commitment.
Projecting a time frame for a new website is difficult. It depends on several factors such as: Will you be working yourself or hiring a consultant? How busy is your schedule? How big is your team? Do you have an intern or a special assistant? How many sites do you need?
Also, consider the time needed for vendor research, request proposals (RFPs), and contract approval. This phase alone could be a one or two-month process or more for some districts.
Email me if you want to learn more about redesign time frames.
4) Focus on solutions and growth, not costs.
My mom once told me that I should never skimp on pots & pans and bedsheets. I would add school district websites to this list!
I strongly recommend investing in a premium content management system (CMS) that will provide a strong digital foundation for years. To get the most out of your CMS, it should:
Allow you to produce beautiful, friendly content that enhances your district brand.Your website is no longer a cheap storage unit — it is your community’s digital home.
Be intuitive and user-friendly. Your CMS should allow you and other staff members to make updates quickly.
Be dynamic and powerful. You should never spend hours editing the same content in multiple places! A quality CMS should all you to update numerous areas of your site at one time, from one easy-to-use dashboard.
Be driven by constant innovation. Your CMS vendor should be constantly searching for ways to improve their services.
5) Don’t fill your new site with junk from the old site!
Be strategic and thoughtful when migrating content. Focus on optimization. I recommend launching your website at 75% readiness and then migrate older content as it is needed.
6) Enjoy the journey!
Whether you go it alone or hire someone to help, ENJOY THE JOURNEY! Launching a new website is incredibly fulfilling!
When you think school websites, I hope you think of me. Please reach out if you have any questions! – Joshua Sauer, APR
Last month I released a fun and useful #SchoolPR notepad. A few folks on Twitter are asking, “How can I order mine?!” Keep reading to learn how!
How do I get my School PR notepad and how much does it cost?
Well, the truth is they’re free! If I see you in person, you can have as many as you’d like. I’d be happy to send all of my friends one today, but shipping adds up! So, I’m sending them for free with any purchase of $8 or more in the Swag Shop!
Right now, we have discount #SchoolPR and #PublicEd Has You Covered masks available. All items ship within a day. More fun and amazing products coming soon. Enjoy!
This section is for your master to-do list. It feels good to complete a task, doesn’t it?
Check this off as you move through the day. Grab your coffee, check (or write) the news for your district, check your mail, and turn on the music! Then, circle or color your state of mind. Full of love and joy, feeling mindful/need mindfulness, or maybe you’re a bit stressed and need to yell, “OMG!”.
Use this section during a meeting or phone call—a great place for details.
Questions, Ideas, or Distractions
Use this section when you have questions, ideas you want to save for later, or distractions that you need to acknowledge.