Why don’t schools have PR?

It has become increasingly more apparent in recent years that our schools; those revered institutions of knowledge, excellence and creativity must operate like a business.

Metro Station billboards have long placed private schools alongside the latest theatre listings

Metro passengers often see private schools advertised alongside the latest theatre attractions
Image courtesy of iambigred

Advertisements for schools are plastered all over our public transport systems; private schools have marketed themselves in this way for some time and public schools are beginning to follow in their footsteps.

But is advertising the best use of school funds?

Business
Look at the principles of business and marketing and apply it to the functionality of an English secondary school. They compete for customers (pupils) and strive to attract the best staff. They shamelessly extol their virtues to unwitting parents and primary schools flaunting their best features and encouraging further contact with those whom they court. Sound familiar?

Reputation
In the context of a time when the flow of information is in the hands of the masses, and journalists welcome with open arms a lovely negative news story, schools need to protect their reputation.

In a world of funding cuts and institutions being asked to justify their existence in an expanding free market where competition for pupils proceeds over competition for places, schools need to build their reputation.

The Press

Numerous negative news stories concerning schools, their pupils and their staff frequent the news agenda on worryingly (for parents) regular basis.

The Mirror published a story of a teacher from this school accused of rape

The Mirror printed a story featuring a teacher from this school

Every school has a duty to its staff and the local community to be recognised for the good things it is doing; the positive effect it has on the lives of pupils and the things it does to enhance the community it serves. Diminishing resources in local newsrooms have forged a big opportunity for stories to make it to editorial; this is an opportunity schools are not taking advantage of.

Public Relations
I’m not claiming that schools should pay for full-time in-house press officers, having an extra (non-teaching) name on the pay roll will not appeal to many head teachers or governors, but using an agency is a serious option. And not just during the spring term when the enrolment drive is in motion. Reputation management should be an on-going initiative.

It is not just about someone within the institution finding the time to curate all of the good news stories in one place and showing them on the school website – which many schools already do. It is about building a strong campaign around business and PR objectives, with creative tactics that connect to a purposeful, carefully considered strategy.

Messages need to be tailored to the correct audience, and thus, communicated through relevant channels; having a great website is fine, but how are you driving traffic to it? And, how are you engaging with your stakeholders?

A two-way symmetrical model of communications is something every business, especially state schools, should strive to achieve. How can you know you are making the right decisions if you don’t understand what your stakeholders wants and needs are?

A good PR campaign, informed by accurate research will not only build the schools reputation, but also help to improve the learning experience for current pupils.

What do you think?

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