I've decided to start writing again. There are so many words of frustration boiling in my head, and I need my place to vent. And so, I've ventured back into The Deelirium!
My gripe for today: I've come to the conclusion that there are maybe five to ten public school PR / marketing / social media professionals truly active on social media, especially Twitter.
I'm out of school PR right now, not of my own choice. That means for the most part I'm outside the walled garden of content (albeit meager content) and socialization that occurs in the school PR world.
But why is it a walled garden? In this age of the Internet and social media, there is so much to be shared, so easily! Livestreaming, livetweeting, Flickr, email newsletters and listservs, discussion boards... I mean, come on — discussion boards are not exactly cutting edge technology!
Yet very little of this technology is used to share our knowledge among one another in the school PR world. Maybe I'm wrong and I just don't know where to find it. But I don't think I'm wrong. I think my colleagues are missing such wonderful opportunities to share in their knowledge and ongoing learning in our field.
Let me provide some examples—
- Today, as I write this, there is a local/state chapter conference being held in the middle of the state. I'm technically no longer a member of the chapter because I now live on the other side of the country. So obviously I couldn't attend. But there are a bunch of chapter members that I'm sure would have liked to attend but couldn't justify the cost or the travel. What about them? Why is there absolutely NO ONE livetweeting or livestreaming or even mentioning that the conference is occurring? Maybe I'm just a tech/social media snob, but if it isn't being mentioned on Twitter, then it might as well not be happening.
- The national association has so egregiously abandoned social media and new technologies that I don't even know where to start. The website is actually decent, but the discussion board is hidden and mostly ignored by members. Most content is hidden behind a members-only paywall. There is next to nothing on their Twitter and Facebook pages, save for some automated job announcements. There is absolutely no interaction, and quite frankly, I wonder how often they even bother to check social media or the web for mentions of their own association or of school PR content.
Ok, I get it - they don't want to lose revenue by putting all their content out there in the open. But don't you think there are a gazillion other organizations out there that have figured out a better way to monetize than by hiding all their content behind a members-only paywall? There's got to be. Figure it out, pronto!
- Finally, and a little less relevant to the topic, is the local chapter where I've moved to. Again, I'm not actively working in school PR right now because there haven't been any openings at the local districts. But I did decide to join the local chapter to keep up with the topics and maybe chime in when I could help with a social media / technology / web / design question. After months I have received only one email. I emailed one chapter rep to ask if there was a listserv or where do the discussions occur. No answer. A couple days ago I emailed another rep with the same question. Thus far, still no response.
Furthermore, there is a very active group of charter and private (or 'independent' as they like to say) school PR pros providing content and engagement online all the time. How are they monetizing? Somehow, they 'get' it.Public school PR pros? I'm not sure most of them get it — yet.
So, basically if you're not in the same room with other school PR pros, then there is little or no discussion. Not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on discussion boards, and as I recently discovered, not on email either.
I feel like I'm shouting into a vacuum.
I don't know. Maybe I'm the only person who cares to find and share information in these ways. Maybe it's better that people socialize and learn together face-to-face. But I do think it's kind of ironic, considering how much lip service is given to the concept of using social media and web tools in school PR these days.
And it does make me feel like a total outsider, now that I'm not currently active in the field. And maybe that's what this all comes down to, and why I'm bothered by it so much: without online interaction and social media, I'm now an outsider to the world of school pr.
On my annual "spend-all-my-xmas-money" trip to the mall this week, I decided to stop into Delia's. If you've never been, it's a lighter version of Wet Seal. I checked out their jean wall and to my surprise I saw stickers that said "petite" and those that said "short." "Huh?" I thought. What's the difference? Surely a store wouldn't carry TWO petite-length inseams. "It's probably a difference in the rise, then," my mom suggested.
Well, I thought hell had frozen over when the salesgirl told me the difference is 2-inches. Petites are 26" inseam and short are 28" inseam. Not to mention that they carry down to size 00, which was pretty tight on me, and I'm only 95 lbs or so.
So, Delia's made my day. I walked out with a fab pair of Bailey low-rise flares in size 0-petite for $40. And they felt great, too - not stiff like many other new jeans I've bought.
Turns out they've had down to a 26" inseam for the past year, but I've never noticed. So right now there aren't many on their website (www.delias.com) but I'm sure they'll have more when the new season starts up just before spring.
And if you're like me and hate paying shipping, try the coupon codes at RetailMeNot.com (http://www.retailmenot.com/view/delias.com):
$25 off purchase of $75 or more cannot be combined, exp. 1.31.08
Free shipping on entire order
free shipping over $25
Free Shipping on your first purchase
Well, my boss basically just told me that we have no budget to do marketing research this next academic year. No money to figure out the readership of our employee and community newsletters, no money to ask people why they send their kids to our schools or why they take them out to attend a 'better' school.
This past year we left some $50,000 or more unspent. This, even after I kept harping on my boss to get going on marketing research. We had plenty of money to do it this year, but we didn't.
My time here is done.
I just applied to a position at one of our feeder schools (same community, different grade levels). They have a full marketing staff there - 2 designers (hopefully I'll become one of them), a copywriter/PR/broadcasting expert, a marketing director who has expertise in video creation, and a part-time secretary. They do marketing research every year (or at least every other year) and focus on one specific thing: enrolling students.
They have a real marketing department.
To hell with the people I work for now. Let their student enrollment hemorrhage and their budget drop year after year. Will they finally learn when they realize they have to cut jobs and salaries? Will they finally learn when people drop like flies to go to other districts?
Nah. They won't learn. It's a school district. They'll just keep doing a shitty job year after year, and pat themselves on the back for doing it. And they'll keep getting money from the state.
I'm a graphic designer for a public high school district. I've had more than one person ask me, "Why does a school district need a graphic designer?" Some of them are designers themselves, so it is not as if these people are the kind that don't understand the impact of brand management and well-designed marketing materials.
But really, why does a school district need a full-time graphic designer? In the two years I've worked for the district I've designed a new (albeit boring) logo to replace the hideous and ugly one they've had for 30-some years; I've reorganized, updated, and redesigned the district website; and I've designed a few banners and posters and other miscellaneous items, mostly for employee recruitment.
But what impact have I had on our (supposed) number one goal: student recruitment? I don't have anything to prove it (our admin team isn't smart on data-management), but my guess would be that not one student has enrolled in our schools directly or indirectly because of the work I have done. Am I just too impatient?
Or, is brand management for an entire school district a battle I can't win? Why is it that after two years even I can't sum up our "brand" in one sentence?
I would like to just say our brand is "High expectations for every student" or something like that. But the brand is in the mind of the beholder, and just me and the marketing materials saying it won't make it so.
Another question I have is, does the district really have a brand? What is it made of? Is it a conglomerate of the individual school brands? It can't be, according to the rules of Positioning. Then what is it? And does it matter? I think it should matter if we're going to have any marketing materials at all. There is no point in having marketing materials when you don't have a unique, focused message.
Here is an analogy: the school district is Procter & Gamble, and the high schools are Tide, Bounty, Cheer, Downy, Ivory, and Era (all P&G brands, by the way). Then what is the brand message of Procter & Gamble itself? To me it is "home cleanliness & hygiene products."
However, I don't buy Gillette Venus disposable razors because they're a P&G brand (I didn't even know they were until I looked at P&G's brand list). I buy them because the product, as compared to its competitors, appeals to me the most (for whatever reason that might be: price, looks, recommendation from a trusted source, etc.). I wonder if this structure holds true for our school district as well: parents don't send their kids to our schools because they're part of this district, they send them because the individual schools appeal to them the most, as compared to the competition. Then why sell the schools under the banner of the district name?
One problem we face is that our administrators (including principals) are squeamish about our schools competing against one another. There isn't any gain if a student leaves one of our schools to attend another of our schools. We get the same amount of money for enrolling that child, no matter which campus they choose.
But I sense that there is also a resistance to marketing each school separately (positioning) because they think that it defines the "haves" from the "have-nots." It's no secret that three of our schools are in the millionaire-type neighborhood and the other three are in the lower-middle class neighborhood (if that high at all). This is a fact that has a part in defining each school's brand, whether we like it or not.
However, what else makes each school different from its other schools, including our major competition, the charter schools? Just from my desk at the main office I see that one school is about Tradition, and another is about Pride, and yet another is about Diversity. These are three unique concepts. But if you try to suggest this Positioning mentality, the principal of the Diversity school might say, "But, we're also about Pride. Can't we be about Diversity AND Pride? Oh, and we're also about Academic Achievement!" They don't understand that when you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.
So, back to my original dilemma: what is the district's brand message? Should we just make it something generic, like "Students are our first priority"? Should I give up on branding and just make everything look pretty, like a good little graphic designer?
Al and Laura Ries... help! Branding is much harder than you make it out to be!