It was 3 p.m. on a Friday and my superintendent asked for a newsletter to be drafted and ready to send by Monday.
Apparently, teachers, parents and community members weren’t getting information on time, thus missing deadlines. And at the last moment, it became mission-critical to get the information out as soon as possible.
Being the school PR newbie that I was, I scrambled like a pan of runny eggs.
The end result was incredibly mediocre. Open rates were in the teens and hardly anyone bothered to click through to my amazing write up on the school board meeting from the night prior.
To make matters worse, I had to send out a correction.
Despite the kerfuffle, I was asked to make the newsletter a weekly occurrence! Don’t make the mistake I did — instead, get ahead of your newsletter needs by following these five tips that to help kickstart your email marketing journey:
1. Make a plan and stick to it
Oftentimes, you’ll be asked to create a newsletter for information that should’ve been out yesterday. You’re given little information and have to seek out content pretty quickly. Sound familiar? My advice: Be consistent with your communication practices.If the district sends out a weekly newsletter already, why not add this new piece to it? If social media is an option, determine if it’s appropriate for that channel.
The families we serve rely on consistent and accurate information that’s easy to digest. Don’t feel like you have to shy away from what you think is best for the district. Being confident in your ability to communicate is one of the reasons your district hired you. Own it!
2. Don’t think that you have to publish everything for everyone
A lot of departments think their update is critical for ALL families. Walk these staff members through your process and let them understand what the purpose of your newsletter is before saying yes to them. Your newsletter should have a goal in mind, so publishing everything under the sun is undermining your goal.
Parents will thank you for not subjecting them to niche content that doesn’t concern them at all. Check out Senior Strategist Nicole Kirby’s tips on how to communicate during tough financial times – this is when it might be necessary to change your approach to communication.
"Don't feel like you have to shy away from what you think is best for the district. Being confident in your ability to communicate is one of the reasons your district hired you." - Liz Anderson
3. Images and graphics rule (but only when done well)
Get that Canva account dusted off! Providing graphics and images that support your communication helps families understand what is being shared more quickly. It’s also a great indicator for multilingual families to use when understanding important articles. When graphics are done poorly and/or are not that visually appealing, it isn’t a great representation of the district. Consult a designer if need be and create a few templates you can work off of that will help you appeal to the audience and stay on brand.
4. Find the best time to send
It’s helpful to know when your school community actually reads your newsletter. It’s different at every school. Some apps like MailChimp can create an optimization schedule based on past data. In this digital age, most people are looking at their phones multiple times a day. However, if you see your open rate is dropping drastically, consider switching up the time.
5. Do a readership survey
This is my biggest tip for you. Conduct a readership survey to your families with questions that help inform you of what they want to hear from the district. This is invaluable information and a really easy way to know if what you’re doing is helping or harming. Here are some questions to consider:
- What time of day do you read this newsletter?
- How often would you like to receive this newsletter?
- What type of content would you like to see? (Calendar Updates, School Board Updates, Student & Staff Stories, Athletics & Activities, Deadlines for Programs & Clubs, Community Events, etc.)
- Is there any content that you don’t care to see? (Short answer)
- What school does your student attend?
- How many students do you have at our district?
- Do you feel well informed?
- What other feedback do you have for us?
The aim is to always send the right message to the right people at the right time, and while it takes some intentional work to find out what your district community needs, it's totally worth it.