Spring Conference: Don’t follow the crowd with your school’s communications

1 June 2017
Posted by Heidi Salmons

IE Today, 30.05.17, Julie Drummond CEO of Drummond Central and Vice-Chair of Governors at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, reflects on the art of communication following her session at HMC's Spring Conference.

I’m not an educationalist. I’m a marketer. That may be a dirty word to some, so I was interested to be invited to speak at HMC’s conference on the importance of brand, communication, and how they need to reflect a school’s ethos in a genuine way. I’m also Vice-Chair at the Royal Grammar School (RGS) in Newcastle, which my sons attend. It’s given me a unique perspective on the school, from both an external and internal point of view.

My marketing background is what led to me being invited to join the governing body; a skill set that’s sadly lacking from many governing bodies and boards.

The importance of clear communications for any organisation is crucial.

Academic results are obviously a big priority. So making sure you have a clear vision for your school may not be top of your to-do list. However, a focused communications strategy is the most important foundation to any organisation. No matter what industry, it is fundamental to achieving success. It’s about far more than just a pretty new logo; it’s about your purpose as an organisation and how you communicate it.

The key to any brand’s success is its ability to create shortcuts through the decision-making process. If I’m a parent, why should I send my child to that school? If I’m a teacher, why should I work at that school? If I’m looking to support bursaries or alumni activity, why should I support that school? Apart from Ofsted ratings and exam results, how do people honestly perceive your school? You need to be mindful that perceptions often become reality if they’re not addressed.

People usually think that creating a communications strategy for a school comes with a big price tag. It’s simply not the case. Typically, it’s down to a lack of marketing or brand expertise. The simple way to solve this is by making sure you have a marketing specialist on your board of governors; then ask them to help you.

Traditionally, a board of governors includes accountants, lawyers, educationalists, HR specialists and asset managers. Marketers are not the first specialism that springs to mind. You can have the best product in the world, but unless you communicate the relevant benefits to the relevant people at the right time, it just won’t work.

Before I became a governor at RGS I was a prospective parent. My perception was of a very traditional, academically driven school. However, once my son joined, my experience was very different. It is also a very nurturing, perceptive and caring school. No one gets left behind. How could my external impression have been so wrong? This was something I could address when I became a governor.

Effective internal and external communications are vital ingredients for success, and you need to understand the relationship between the two. Both need to be genuine, convincing and, most importantly, consistent.

It’s astonishing how many school communications say the same things. If you want to get noticed, don’t follow the crowd. Why be a lemming when you can plough your own furrow?

Look at most schools’ current advertising and you’ll find the same happy-faced pupils and ‘inspirational’ headlines such as ‘An exceptional education starts here’. This is what’s known as wallpaper advertising. You have to be brave with your communications. You wouldn’t settle for mediocre exam results, so why settle for mediocre communications?

My final recommendation is that you must be genuine. You can’t hoodwink people with unrealistic claims.

The people who are most genuine are the pupils themselves. They are your biggest asset and should be listened to and consulted. Don’t underestimate their power and insight. Listen to their suggestions and they’ll keep your communications genuine and honest.

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