Promoting a school event can be a lot of work, with so many moving pieces, stakeholders and ways to get the word out. There's an ever-changing set of promotion methods, and it seems like new social media outlets are emerging every day. As a result, your options and opportunities are endless.
It’s easy to get in a rut with the ‘standard plays’ of school event promotion. Depending on the size, scope and type of event, however, you owe it to your entire school community to stretch yourself and tap all the resources you have at your disposal.
School communications professionals have never had so many tools and methods to promote school events. I’m here to help you to review not only the tried-and-true basics, but – I warn you – we might just get freaky along the way.
Just maybe, with the right planning and execution, your event could be not only wildly successful, but award-winning by national standards. School events are important touch points to the entire school community, so it's important you do all you can to capitalize on them before, during and after the event itself.
Here are some pointers for making sure your news of your next school event reaches as many people as possible.
Get the facts
It doesn’t matter if your school event is the 142nd homecoming parade, a welcome-back-to-school ice cream social, or a groundbreaking ceremony; first thing’s first – you have to gather the facts, and you have to have your facts straight.
Sure, this might sound obvious, easy even, but it's easier said than done, right? Confirming the basics such as date, time, participants and other details requires diligence and double-checking. When it comes to covering your bases, it’s always good to follow some best practices for event promotion. Our fellow school communicators and colleagues in the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) are great resources to keep us all on track.
Whether it's pre-event promotion to drum up awareness and attendance, or post-event promotion to chronicle the event, it's important to have your facts straight ahead of time and afterwards. So how to we do that?
Designate a contact person
One blessing bestowed to many school events and activities is the army of dedicated and capable volunteers that can help make the event so dynamic and successful. All this help can also make things difficult because many times there are different point people for different aspects of the event.
Need the details for the pre- and post-party? Contact Mary. Need more background information about a guest of honor? Contact Sheryl. Before you know it, you have a list of 12 people you need to reach out to in order to gather everything you need to successfully promote the event. Make sure each event has a designated point person. By establishing an event point person, (assuming you are not the event planner as well as event promoter) you will communicate with just that person. They will filter all information to you and you to her or him in return. It’s a beautiful thing.
Know your audience
So now you have all of the information – facts, possible supporting pictures, web links and any other goodies about the event that you think will whet the appetite of your stakeholders. Hold on. When I say “stakeholder” you know I mean parents, community members, students, staff, media, alums and just about anyone that might care about your school district, right? Just making sure we’re on the same page.
Some stakeholders, like your parents, can be reached more effectively with one channel than another. But if time and other resources permit, go broad and go loud, for everyone should know about your school event.
Cover all your school promotion bases
Here’s a quick and dirty list of the places where you definitely need to post information about your event, to promote it beforehand…and afterward, for that matter. If you’ve posted a teaser story or picture in one place before an event, make sure to also send a recap or picture after the event.
Your district website
This is key. Every link and post you put out there should drive people back to the news story you have posted on your district website about the event. Your school website is your content hub. Keep it up to date. While you're at it, make sure your school website features solid, user-friendly, accessible design.
It’s the 21st century, so every school district should at least have Facebook and Twitter accounts, right? If you don’t, create your accounts today. Don’t hide from social media – it’s here to stay, folks, and it’s time for you to introduce yourself if you haven’t done so already. No wallflowers here.
Before long, social media will trump every other channel when it comes to promoting school events. Don’t forget the very visual media that everyone loves these days: Youtube and Instagram. While not nearly as popular as Facebook, Instagram for schools is a quick and easy way to feed photo content directly to your school's Facebook page.
For those of you looking for good resources on utilizing social media in your school, refer to this article on Creating an Effective School Facebook Page.
Don't overlook the obvious. Your school building staff most likely makes announcements over the public address system to the students, so this is a good time to promote your event to the student body. In our district, Mariemont City Schools, the building secretaries also post the daily announcements on our district website, and parents can subscribe to this feature. So parents – our primary audience – receive emails every day containing the daily announcements.
Speaking of email, send out a short but sweet email to your parent, staff and (when applicable) student distribution lists. Sometimes even just a teaser blurb will do, with a link (you guessed it) back to more information on the district website. Spend some time on a catchy subject line to get more opens. If you want to, you can also attach a flyer: some people like attachments on their emails; some people would rather go right to the source.
If you’re like me, your school district covers more than one community. Getting mentions in these community publications is a great way to hit your community members broadly and directly. Get to know and be mindful of publication deadlines – some community publications need the information a month or longer in advance.
You can try to pitch the TV stations in your area but make sure your event is visually appealing and make sure you’re contacting the correct person or department at the TV station. No one uses fax anymore to send releases, so just email the person or department. Follow up with a phone call, and ask for the assignment editor. You can usually find all station contact information on the station’s website. For TV, send your release a week ahead of time on the same day of the week and time that your event will be taking place. Then send it again the day before and the day of. Helpful tip: Tag the TV station(s) in your Twitter posts.
Don’t forget the time-tested and proven news release. A well-crafted news release can be repurposed across many channels, including those listed in this article. Nancy Gier at PTO Today offers up a solid article on how to write an effective press release.
Now I promised you we would get freaky, so here we go:
If your superintendent has a blog (and he or she should, even if you’re ghostwriting most of it), then mention the event in the blog. Maybe your blog is about tradition – weave the homecoming event into the blog. Remember, people need to see something seven times before it registers (or if you’re a new parent like me, you need to see something at least 117 times before your groggy brain registers any blips on the radar).
School mobile app
Woah. Now we’re talking crazy. If your school district has a school mobile app, and it’s not a bad idea to have one, then send out a push notification about the event. Something short and sweet. Ideally it links back to the full article on your district website.
Getting students to promote school activities is incredibly powerful. Maybe your high school has a radio program, webcast or something of that nature. Some schools now even have their own Youtube channel. Pay the students in Chipotle gift cards to mention the event details. Priceless.
Prepare to enjoy a great school event.
At the end of the day – which at this point I’m sure you’re looking forward to – anything and everything you do to promote the event helps. Managing and promoting them effectively is more challenging than ever.
Because events are such an important part of a your school's overall communications plan, it's important to do all you can to make your events as successful as possible. As I said, run your standard plays, but feel free to get a little freaky and have fun with your methods. When it's all said and done, conduct a debrief to determine what worked well and what didn't.
And if you get your facts straight from the get go, enlist the necessary help, and use some of the tactics listed above, you might even get the chance to enjoy the event yourself.
About the author
Josephine McKenrick is the director of communications for Mariemont City Schools, a four-school district in Southwest Ohio. She's a firm believer in and practitioner of digital communications for her district, and is a board member for the Ohio School Public Relations Association and a member of the National School Public Relations Association. You can reach her at JMcKenrick@mariemontschools.org.