Why Market Public Schools?
Public schools have begun to recognize the importance of branding, marketing and self-promotion. They’ve always competed, albeit to a very limited degree, with the limited classroom capacities of private schools. Private schools, however, were never a enormous threat due to the tuition and fees required versus the financial stresses on low- to middle-income families; most children simply attended the closest public school to their home.
The age of open enrollment, pubic charter schools, magnet schools, tax revolts, home schooling options and funds based upon student performance has changed the situation entirely. Public schools now not only compete against private schools, they also compete against each other for students, reputation, athletic prowess, state and federal funding and community acceptance.
Why Is Public Relations (PR) Important to a Public School?
Edward Bernays, a pioneer in the fields of propaganda and what is now known as “branding” recognized the need for these services in the latter half of the 20th century. Also known as “the father of public relations,” Bernays once said, “Today’s public school must have the support of parents, civic and government leaders and the business community. Educational communications is not, as some believe, a one-way street of dissemination of facts and opinions about public education.” Rather, he continued, “it functions as a two-way street, interpreting the public to the school system as a basis for its actions, as well as interpreting the public education system to the public.”
Examples of School Public Relations Programs
Depending upon the school’s location, reputation and degree of immediate threat from other competitors, PR campaigns have varied. In fact, most are developed at the school’s district level, owing to regulations that still require school superintendent approval of campaigns and active discouragement for teachers or principals to speak to the media unless the situation is prearranged.
Spring Branch Independent School District
The Houston, Texas-based Spring Branch Independent School District takes Bernay’s philosophy to heart. In a long and detailed document intended for its school principals, “Marketing Your School As a School of Choice,” district official emphasize that “[M]arketing is an essential part of our school district’s communication plan, as it is in any successful business. If it is not, we could very well be out of business.”
Spring Branch instructs principals on how to change the culture of their school and the education they provide from one of a forced compliance to that of a customer-based program performed well and publically advertised as such. After specifically identifying the many public audiences with which the school interacts, principals are advised to market themselves to these subpopulations in order to build community rapport. While most marketing is that of print and radio spots, schools are encouraged to hold events to which the public is invited.
Public Schools in Harlem, New York City
As noted in a “New York Times” piece, schools in the city’s borough of Harlem have experienced particular difficulties in retaining current students and soliciting new ones from throughout the city. Writer Jennifer Medina relates some of the techniques utilized by schools to garner the attention—and hopefully the enrollment of—new students.
School logos have been redesigned and placed on advertisements, T-shirts and public spaces. Many schools now underscore special after-school programs and have professionally designed websites and blogs. Medina notes that “brochures, fliers and open houses have become all but required” for schools in certain neighborhoods. Safety concerns are of particular concern in this borough and individual schools often cite their attention to available safety details, including resource officers, anti-bullying programs and traffic safety around the school’s peripheral streets.
Lammersville Elementary School District
The Lammersville Elementary School District of Mountain House is a customer of the Foundation for Educational Services, a private company designed to help school districts market themselves, specifically with the use of electronic communication. The Foundation for Educational Services carefully designs websites for schools and school districts depending upon budget and school sizes. After careful study, the company makes sure to provide the information on websites that their research indicates parents specifically want, including:
· District contact information;
· School board minutes;
· District versus national test results;
· School forms;
· School calendars and
· Lunch menus.
Lutheran Church Extension Fund
This Christian denomination has developed a specific plan and mission statement for private schools run under its auspices. As indicated on its website, the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) acts as the resource for Lutheran private schools. “LCEF offers resources and campaigns to create a meaningful, memorable impression for your Lutheran school” promises the website. In addition, brochures, booklets and information are available for four separate marketing campaigns depending upon the age of the student. The organization also offers explicit information on branding one’s school and workshops and webinars for staff and principals.
Public schools have begun to learn the value to marketing, branding and public relations. Further, they have come to recognize that these efforts must extend beyond the subset of community members who have children in the school system. Couples without children—newly wed or retired—have to be marketed to in order not to have tax revolts and other funding issues arise.
Instead, this subgroup could learn from realtors and sales documentations how a nearby school with an excellent reputation influences home values or potential sale prices. Area and local businesses require marketing to see students as customers and sources of sales income as opposed to behavioral problems. Details regarding the different groups to target and the means to make positive impressions are available through purchased marketers and at no cost on the Internet.
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