Effective Practices : Development
Publicity and Public Relations
Development Section 1
1. What person or organ of the school is responsible for publicity and public relations?
2. Who serves as spokesperson for the school?
3. What sort of training is needed to serve as the spokesperson for a school?
4. How should a school react when a crisis occurs?
5. What are some examples of good public relations or publicity work?
6. What are the benefits of getting involved with the local Chamber of Commerce or other civic organizations?
7. What are the key points in a schools philosophy regarding publicity and public relations?
What person or organ of the school is responsible for publicity and public relations?
The responsibility for publicity and public relations is generally held in one of two places in the school, either in the enrollment office or in the development office. This is due to the dual nature of outreach and publicity functions in our schools, serving to promote the school to potential students and their families and to build general and event specific awareness in the community in support of fundraising and friend-raising goals.
In a large school there is enough work in this area to warrant creating a half time job dedicated to publicity and public relations. As there can be real peaks and valleys in the quantity of this work it is frequently combined with other responsibilities in the development area. This creates a full time job and allows for reasonable fluctuations in the workload.
An example of this is found in a school that has created the position of Development Associate-Marketing and Events. Her duties include all internal and external advertising and promotion. She places ads for enrollment outreach events and all other events at the school. Consolidating all advertising and promotion in one office ensures that all collateral materials are consistent with the image of the school. She is responsible for editing the weekly school bulletin, and posting it to the web site. Half of the families in the school now receive the weekly bulletin as an emailed PDF file. Design and upgrades to the school web site are also her responsibility.
The school has a very successful fundraiser, a Waldorf watercolor calendar and note card program. Responsibility for this program is part of the Development Associate’s position. The Development Associate also is responsible for the annual report and the design of all collateral materials for the annual giving campaign.
The Development Associate also coordinates speakers and conferences at the school and does the necessary outreach for any speaker forums. She generates press releases and works to get stories into the local media. This kind of work requires a lot of relationship building and follow up to ensure that the press release actually gets to the proper person at the newspaper or station, and she is using volunteers to help with this follow up.
The Development Associate is also responsible for coordinating events including Grandparents Day, Graduation, and two annual Welcome Evenings for New Parents to the School.
Who serves as spokesperson for the school?
It is vital for schools to have a pre-identified person named to serve as the primary contact with the press, whatever the school’s size or staffing configuration. This helps schools ensure that all inquiries are handled promptly and professionally, forwarded to the best spokesperson on a particular topic for the school.
Typically these inquiries are routed to either the Development Director or the Development Associate responsible for public affairs. In some cases the designated contact person is the faculty chair, but schools with this arrangement note that this can only happen in cases where faculty chairs serve in this office for many years. This long tenure allows the chair to build expertise over time; schools that rotate their faculty chairs every few years are not best served by this arrangement.
What sort of training is needed to serve as the spokesperson for a school?
One school that has named its Development Director to serve as the primary point person for all contacts with the press can serve as a good example of the type of training and background that is helpful in this area. In this school the Development Director has a strong professional background in media relations, having done this type of work for many years. She has attended numerous workshops in the area of media and public relations. She coaches faculty and the Admissions Director for speaking engagements on the radio on topics related to education. She has much experience working with print and electronic media personnel and in writing press releases. She has fourteen years of experience being a spokesperson for a non-profit, both at the school and elsewhere. For schools that do not have this level of experience available, it is essential that the designated person find at least basic media spokesperson training, and that clear guidelines are developed among the staff on how to deal with situations needing public relations expertise.
For example, the school should strongly consider developing and maintaining a spokesperson manual that contains guidelines as well as easily accessible talking points, salient facts about the school and the movement, and contact information for AWSNA, the Anthroposophical Society, the Waldorf Online Library, etc. (See Media Resources) Developing capacities to answer the questions posed on the internet by various critics can also be extremely helpful as the media is likely to ask for responses on these in almost any situation (See: Rudolf Steiner: An active Opponent of Anti-Semitism) (See: Overcoming Racism through Anthroposophy: Rudolf Steiner and Questions of Race). Spokesperson resources and capacities need to be available even when there are personnel changes and periods of relative quiet in regard to media/spokesperson activity.
How should a school react when a crisis occurs?
In the school described above the Development Director has attended a number of workshops in the area of public relations and crisis management. When a serious issue confronts the school a special task group is formed. This task group includes the Development Director, the Collegium Chair, the Administrative Coordinator, a senior member of the faculty, and if needed, a volunteer attorney (usually a parent, Board member or alumni parent). The task group will discuss the situation, determine the School’s main talking points, and identify the individual in the community best able to respond to inquiries from the press. This individual may not be the Development Director, but perhaps is a member of the faculty with a depth of experience and understanding of the particular issue involved.
What are some examples of good public relations or publicity work?
One school reports that community service activities generate the most positive press for the school. An example is the school’s participation in the United Way Day of Caring. In this event various organizations give their employees the day off so they can do work for one of the member agencies of the United Way. The school receives good publicity at the event’s kickoff breakfast, and name recognition on all printed material. There is great coverage for this event in the press, and the school has enjoyed being featured in several photos and an article. The United Way also provides coverage, as does the particular member charity being served by the school’s volunteers.
It is easy for the press to make a presumption and perceive the school as a hoity-toity private school. The ability to counteract this false impression is one reason why service outreach is so important. Recently a second grade class received good press for its efforts to write letters to senior citizens who are receiving meals from Meals on Wheels. This project allowed the students to work on their writing skills, providing a direct tie with the curriculum, and built good bridges with the community.
Another school operates in a very challenging market. There are a particularly large number of independent, private schools in the area, making it very difficult to get coverage by the press. In addition, the city is a one-newspaper town, further reducing the number of opportunities for publicity. There is tremendous competition for space. A few years back the paper made a commitment to public education, and the independent schools had to work hard to get the paper to provide coverage. Despite these challenges, the school has gotten good coverage by providing high quality press releases, ensuring consistent contact with the press, and supporting a high professional level of media relations work. Working pro-actively to develop ongoing personal contact with your local media will be far more effective than calling only when you need something from them.
Another success has been in the area of radio talk shows. One Development Director has arranged for Waldorf representative guest speakers several times when issues related to education have been discussed. She has also helped the speakers prepare for their roles by providing guidance on what to expect and direction on avoiding common pitfalls in interviews.
This Development Director has also joined a PR Directors Roundtable made up of the public relations directors from other independent schools. They meet for lunch once a month, and invite a publisher or reporter to join them. The group shows a non-competitive face to the media, and in turn the media is comfortable in letting all the schools present have a turn with getting publicity. The press is able to learn about schools they haven’t heard about before, and the development directors and PR directors in attendance are able to build productive personal relationships with their guests from the media.
It is important that the Development Director and her related committees all understand the environment in which the school is trying to do development and publicity work. This helps ensure that time and effort are not wasted, and that the projects that are undertaken bear fruit. This strategy includes making a point to support the highest quality of photography for activities at the school. The school now has a large bank of photos available to it, all generated by a paid professional photographer. There is also a commitment to professional graphic design for all materials that go to the wider community. Those materials that go out for the world to see are of high quality and enjoy a unique design. The annual reports, in particular, are of high quality. The schools annual report was used recently in a design class at a nearby university as an example of quality design work for this type of publication. This focus on quality in the written word, graphic design and photography make the job of interacting with the press much easier. The school is able to quickly and professionally meet the needs of the press, helping to ensure a positive and mutually beneficial relationship. (See also: Successful Community Outreach in a Waldorf School)
What are the benefits of getting involved with the local Chamber of Commerce or other civic organizations?
One school shared an important lesson it learned about the value of working with local officials. In their state boarding school’s are subject to taxes, and one year their local assessment went up from less than $10,000 to $75,000. After working with the city the school learned that it could provide an important benefit to the town by providing communications support for the area’s emergency system. Once that agreement was made, the taxes were returned to their old level and have remained there since.
Another example is the close association a school developed with the state and local fire departments. This association allowed the school to work with officials in a positive way to bring the school up to the level required by new codes. The school has even hosted state officials at a luncheon, and took the opportunity to show the improvements they have made to meet the new requirements. Working as an active citizen has been very positive for the school. Chambers of Commerce are also good places to meet the well-connected professionals such as real estate agents and others whose good opinion can be beneficial for site search, zoning questions and enrollment.
What are the key points in a schools philosophy regarding publicity and public relations?
- Recognize that whoever walks in the door is a public relations opportunity.
- Everyone at the school is responsible for public relations. The way in which each member of the faculty and staff conducts himself with neighbors, parents and the public is crucial to the school’s positive profile.
- All public relations work has a dual purpose. Raising the profile of the school and making positive changes to the school’s image serve both the fundraising and enrollment efforts.
- The Development Office must work in collaboration with the Admissions Office. The Development Director is the point person for all contacts with the press, but the Admissions Director frequently sets the details of a visit schedule and coordinates this with the teachers.
- Develop a written public relations crisis policy and plan.
- All printed materials must reflect the work we do in the classroom. The whole image and tone of our advertising and promotion must be a reflection of the school’s values. Don’t allow the richness of what’s happening inside the classroom to get overlooked by using materials and visuals of lesser quality.
- Name recognition is vital. It takes constant work to ensure a high level of awareness in the broader community.
- Find the right language that communicates quickly and easily the vision, mission and values of the school. That message must be well crafted and consistent, and in language that everyone understands. These statements help people know about the school and its purpose, and must be clear to all, especially those unfamiliar with Waldorf Education or anthroposophy.
- Be clear about the school’s target audience. This is vital if the school is to be successful in getting the right message to the right people.
- Electronic media is the way of the future. Consider adding a community forum to your site, and perhaps an e-commerce section that allows people to make on-line purchases from the school store.
- Take advantage of public service announcements on local radio. They are a great way to get the news of your event out to the community.
- Relations with state and local government are very important. Encourage everyone at the school to join local civic committees.
- It’s all marketing! Keep your school clean, beautiful, and well lit. Provide visitor friendly signage.
- Good public relations and publicity work begins at home.
- Are ongoing communications with the immediate community and parent body regular and clear?
- Is there full disclosure of the philosophical/spiritual background of the school? (See Sample brochure statements)
- Are the school’s key messages reviewed periodically? Is the school program steadfastly congruent with its mission and value statements?
- Are difficult discipline and special needs cases fully documented and communicated effectively? One person badmouthing the school “because I was never told” can cause damage to a school’s reputation that is far more difficult to repair than to prevent.
- Are all complaints and concerns dealt with promptly and professionally? Is there an agreed upon standard of professionalism among staff on this issue? (Hint: It is not about being right or wrong, being anthroposophical or not. It is about the person being professionally acknowledged as a human being and yes, as a valued client of the organization. All other issues about the merits of the complaint can be dealt with in due course after the person has heard clearly, “Thank you for taking the time to bring this issue to my attention. It will be handled by [name of person/committee] by [reasonable time].” A school that treats its public with courtesy will generate good publicity and public trust and can weather public relations challenges far more effectively.