The Mail Online recently reported that a school spent £6,500 on Public Relations and legal teams to suppress rumours about a major playground brawl.
The incident at Sir William Stanier Community School in Crewe, Cheshire, sparked an unscheduled Ofsted inspection in February, saw parents pulling their children out of school and a raft of complaints to the schools’ watchdog.
As a result, the school, which is an academy so controls its own budgets, spent £6,500 on managing the crisis - paying a lobbying agency to manage the media and law firm Hill Dickinson to threaten legal action over the story.
A school spokesman said: “This was an isolated incident several months ago but prompted rumours on social media that were categorically not true, as the police confirmed.
“These unfounded rumours led to some inaccurate media coverage, and we enlisted the help of specialists so that we, as teachers, were able to concentrate on our most important work, which is providing the best possible education for the young people of Crewe.”
Of course the fact that a school had “wasted” £6,500 of money that could have been earmarked for pupil’s education caused outrage – with many Mail Online readers saying it was not right that money from the school’s coffers was being spent on marketing.
But nowadays a schools’ requirement to invest in a solid PR and marketing strategy goes far beyond trying to keep negative news stories out of the press or from appearing on social media.
Today our schools are forced to run themselves like efficient businesses to ensure targets for student enrolment are met.
No successful business would ever dream of competing within a competitive marketplace without a PR strategy, and with competition for students now being higher than ever, schools are no different to any other business.
And whilst often overlooked within the education sector, PR and communications plays an incredibly important role in helping to position the school within the community it serves.
Communication efforts beyond newsletters and brochures must be an integral part in the everyday operation of a school in order to achieve success and the support of the community.
So why should your school invest in PR and marketing?
Create an enviable reputation and increase enrolment
If it’s only staff within your school who know what a good job they’re doing, then you are missing a huge trick. Good news stories should be shared with all stakeholders via the media to create a positive reputation for the school. Whether it be an excellent Ofsted inspection, great SATs results, individual pupil achievements or fundraising activities – all these are good new stories which will bolster the perception that this school is one you would want your child to attend.
Build community relations and dialogue with your stakeholders
PR and marketing will help educate the local community about all the positive things your school is doing and the benefits you bring to the community. Through the media and social media platforms you can not only share all your great news but have access to a direct forum to actively engage with parents, governors, local residents and wider stakeholders. In the age of social media domination, it’s crucial to be active on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and you can also use social media to boost SEO and drive traffic back to the school’s website – which should be updated regularly with relevant news and useful content.
Please see our blog The Importance of Keeping Website Content Fresh for tips on how to do this.
Create positive engagement with the media
In order to create a positive relationship with your key media titles and a profile of the school with relevant journalists, a PR company will introduce school spokespeople to journalists from all the regional publications and the regional correspondents of the trades. We firmly believe that it is invaluable to spend time meeting the press and providing a first person introduction to your school - and its vision and values. This enables you to have a two-way dialogue with the press to establish what issues will interest them and what input they are looking for from you to help inform their readers. Ideally it would be nice to hold these meetings at the school so they can see first- hand the good work you are doing. Investing the time in creating a positive, long-term relationship with the media will also pay dividends in terms of the relationship you have with them should a crisis ever hit.
Prepare for and positively manage any potential crisis
A schools’ reputation is a delicate thing, which can take years to build up and mere moments to sully. And the way a school communicates with parents, pupils, stakeholders and the general public during a crisis can be pivotal in determining whether it bounces back stronger than ever or is irrevocably tarnished by its response to the situation. With schools under ever-increasing scrutiny, a PR company can help your school properly prepare and plan for any negative press or social media fallouts with a robust crisis communications strategy that ensures your reputation remains intact.
Of course schools need awesome teachers, dedicated administrators, safe facilities and all the supporting resources required to deliver a well-round programme of education. But all of these components combined can fail to produce successful pupils and schools if the mix is missing one vital ingredient: the active involvement of parents and the community. And meaningful school communication is the essential catalyst to getting the kind of parental and community engagement pupils and schools need to succeed.
How we can help
Our dedicated team has decades’ of experience of delivering meaningful media relations and marketing support within the education sector. We can help you implement the right types of campaigns, communications and digital marketing strategies that will get your message across to the people that matter to your school. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help your school or fire over a tweet.