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11.26

Gratitude for Those Working in Education

By Deborah Mersino

Make no mistake about it. Education is at a crossroads in the United States. Wherever you stand on Common Core, graduation rates, budget cuts, poverty’s impact on outcomes, teacher unions, coaches, public versus private, teacher evaluations, Gates and other corporate education influences and/or digital learning, you’ll find a slew of opponents to your opinion. What is clear, though, is that we have hundreds of thousands of individuals who have chosen to serve learners with their time, talents, and passion.

Today, I applaud you.

I applaud you for waking up extra early, so you can fine-tune that lesson plan on the trajectories of hurricanes or grade the last batch of persuasive essays on whether O. Henry should be pardoned. I applaud you for spending your evening at Michael’s and using your extra time and sadly even your own money to ensure your first-grade turkey art projects bring joy to your students.

I commend Algebra teachers who are compacting curriculum in nearly impossible ways because of furlough days and budget cuts. I applaud administrators working with new and old teachers alike to ensure they feel valued for their own creativity and impact.

I applaud language arts teachers and librarians who help bring words to life and connect stories to emotion and humanity. Here’s to the social studies teachers and curriculum masters who challenge students to think about Columbus, Kent State, and the Boston Massacre in a new light and the physics instructors inspiring future engineers and problem solvers.

To the educators and counselors who not only know students’ sometimes tragic back stories, but do what they can to let these students know they matter and provide support, I’d like to give you a standing ovation.

Today, I salute professors who hold high expectations and hopes for their students. More and more of you are being paid far less than you should, yet we demand and command that you ready the next generation to lead and prosper. Here’s to you.

To the tireless board members, district leaders, and education advocates who spend their days and/or evenings trying to make sense of it all, I tip my hat to you. Here’s to the staffs of education associations and foundations who work day in and out to fulfill vital missions. And to the PTO volunteers, janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, music teachers, and robotics and sports coaches, as well as after-school care and office workers who go of your way to make students feel seen and valued, I thank you.

Wherever you are located and whatever role you’re playing, I hope the gifts and passion that you have been sharing so freely are reflected back to you in spades today – and in the years ahead. You deserve it big time.

11.08

Rethinking Communication Tactics in Educational Organizations

By Deborah Mersino

Educational organizations, schools, businesses, and foundations have vast amounts of information to share. So how can they ensure this information doesn’t wind up being ignored? That’s the subject of today’s post. We’re circling back to our “5 Common Marcom Mistakes Made by Educational Organizations and Schools” and focusing on ways to overcome “One-way Communication” propensities.

It makes sense that so many educational institutions and organizations still fall prey to one-way communication strategies and tactics. After all, when you’ve got news to share, it’s natural to want to broadcast it.

However, in a day and age ripe with email burnout, fast-moving Twitter feeds, Netflix, junk mail, mobile screen dominance, Pandora, and enough channels and platforms to keep marketing departments swirling, it’s more critical than ever to understand market segmentation and strategies to support the building of brand evangelists.

Here are three ways to get out of the habit of one-way broadcasting:

  1. Communicate more humanely.
  2. Crowd-source.
  3. Go narrow.

Let’s unpack these.

Communicate more humanely

Schools, foundations, organizations, educational businesses, and nonprofits inherently understand communication. Too often, though, these organizations mimic the old “write it on the board” for the class to see and then stop (thinking it’s enough). We no longer educate our learners this way; yet, we’re still catching on to what communications looks like in world dominated by screens competing for attention.

Tone (showcasing some personality), content, and approach can mean the difference between delighting and dulling relations. You’ll succeed by communicating with campaigns, news, and content that showcases you not only care, but also understand each audience segment’s pain points, personality, and passions. People are simply too busy to pay attention otherwise, and ROI will suffer.

Crowd-source

This is not a new concept, but it’s one that educational organizations and schools would be wise to adopt. Educators already know the power of crowd-sourcing. Check out what transpired last month with Connected Educators Month if you need convincing. They embrace it via their blogs, Google+ Hangouts, educational chats on Twitter, and more. Savvy crowd-sourcing is synonymous with engagement.

Whether you want to conduct research, cull resources that will benefit your audiences, and/or want to leverage partnerships, crowd-sourcing can provide you with insights and ideas, as you engage.

Go narrow

This one is likely more obvious, but it’s worth reinforcing. Often times, we still think casting the widest net will garner the best outcomes; however, messaging gets watered down with this approach. Whether you’re a University going after a specific demographic, a nonprofit hoping to gain more pre-K or higher education members or parents, or a Foundation looking to recover lapsed donors, you can’t reach these targets without going narrow and customizing.

I’d even go so far as to challenge you to segment former segments. Dice them down even further. Today’s technology will allow it, and you’ll see new opportunities arising.

Just remember that conducting research on emerging markets or stagnant ones is required. Thankfully, it’s now easier than ever to do this in the education field. With better insights and ongoing dialogue, you’ll be more likely to develop and share the right products and services, value propositions, calls to action, and messaging to connect versus shout.

And in the end, isn’t that what we all hope to achieve?

10.02

Reveling in Each Other’s Strengths

By Deborah Mersino

This post will be a slight departure from our series on marcom mistakes. Today, I’d like to share a bit of hope and reminders about what makes leaders and managers positively influential. Notice the “positively” as it’s a clear demarcation from what scores of employees are experiencing from their supervisors, as they try to impact education at nonprofits, foundations, schools, businesses, and universities.

No matter how well an organization nails its brand positioning, invests in design, grows its digital footprint through engagement and creative campaigns, funds strategies, revamps its membership model, and/or establishes cross-functional teams, the real magic of an organization is realized when employees are able to utilize their top strengths and talents the majority of the time.

Hundreds of books have been written on leadership, culture, and employee engagement. Whether you’re well aware of what makes Level-5 leaders so effective (“Good to Great“) or think yanking down cubicle walls, installing an espresso machine or raising salaries will lift spirits, I encourage you to simplify your thinking as you look to the year ahead.

Poignant Questions

  • Do you know your employees’ strengths?
  • Have you hired them with their strengths in mind?
  • Do they have the opportunity to use these strengths on a regular basis?

I’m not talking about experience or skills. I’m talking hard-wiring.

After hearing Marcus Buckingham speak more than a decade ago, I purchased, “Now Discover Your Strengths.” It was life changing. Moreover, it was energizing and illuminating to discover that Strategic, Ideation, Activator, Positivity, and Woo (Winning Others Over) were my top themes. Admittedly, discovering my DiSC profile mimicked Donald Trump’s profile (didn’t I have ANY blue?) and that I’m an ENTJ proved helpful. StrengthsFinder, though, allowed me to see “what made me me.

If you’re a leader or a manager at a nonprofit, school, university, foundation or business serving the education market, having knowledge about your own strengths and your employees’ strengths will have a greater impact on your 2014 P&L than your new financial software, spiffy new couches, or revamped 360s.

Why? Because although we can – and do – operate with some effectiveness outside of our strength areas, leaders and managers who aren’t hard-wired to be managing certain areas (even people) will likely cause their share of havoc on an organization and impede overall effectiveness.

True growth and influence comes when individuals are working in concert, utilizing their strengths, and demonstrating respect and trust for one another. Imagine that!

Take the first step today and check out StrengthsFinder and learn more about what Gallup is doing in the area of education. Your organization will thank you.

09.29

Why Digital Prowess Matters.

By Deborah Mersino

If you identified with the tell-tale signs of poor design from my last post (e.g., clip art apples on your website), I’m hoping you breathed a sense of relief knowing you’re not alone.

The good news is proper design can – and will – create a positive ripple effect for good when aligned with brand positioning. Sage leaders who get support can watch their enrollment numbers, donations, conference registrations, and memberships rise along with their revenues.

Today, let’s move on and address the second of the “Five Common Marcom Mistakes” often made by educational associations and schools – a lack of digital prowess.

Keeping Up

It’s no wonder educational associations and schools struggle with digital prowess. Just 16 years ago, Google was still a dream. {Note: Hard to believe, isn’t it? Here’s hoping you at least rocked the piñata doodle.}

In the last decade, educators have started leveraging everything from whiteboards, apps, administrative software, and Skype to Google Docs, edmodo, blogging, and Twitter. They’re doing this amid dealing with Common Core, shorter schools years, funding disparities, and more.

Simultaneously, association and school leaders must now understand market segmentation, SEO, CMS, and online advertising analytics in a sophisticated manner worthy of new positions and respect. Content specialists, digital marketing managers, and front-end developers are now a requisite to success. Marketing execs should now be fully integrated with IT (perhaps even leading it, but that’s another post}.

Technology has transformed marketing communications; therefore, it’s not surprising many nonprofit and school leaders struggle to keep up with best practices and/or budget properly to achieve success in the new world order.

Just as an educator wouldn’t have a food vendor create his or her next rubric for a PBL project on whether Shakespeare lifted Romeo & Juliet, we shouldn’t expect volunteers and every nonprofit or school exec to know how to increase engagement via a website, an Instagram promotion, a digital show daily, and/or an online advertising campaign. It’s a science unto itself.

If you do nothing else this year besides clarify your brand, you’ll be wise to empower marketing communications staff and/or consultants with digital savvy to grow your organization’s digital footprint.

Remember, it’s okay if you can’t code, add a high-res logo to your Facebook page, monitor a Twitter back-channel, create a conference app, and/or know the difference between unique visitors and hits. It IS essential, though, that you have someone on your team who does.

Stay tuned for more. We’re just getting warmed up!

09.27

Five Common Marcom Mistakes of Educational Associations and Schools

By Deborah Mersino

I’ve had the good fortune to interface and work with scores of educational associations and both private and public schools through the years. These inspiring organizations have talented employees and serve their members and communities powerfully; however, many bump up against best practices in marketing communications. While not all are guilty, here are five common marcom mistakes I continue to see.

  1. Poor design sensibilities
  2. Lack of digital prowess
  3. One-way communication
  4. Lack of investment
  5. Poor coordination

Today, I’ll address the first misstep. Read along to discern if you’re guilty or not. {Note: If you’re not, congratulations! If you are, you’re not alone. I’m here to help.}

Poor Design Sensibilities

Admit it. You’ve all seen one…the logo that looks like your brother-in-law’s babysitter designed it while watching Pretty Little Liars and texting…The all-too-familiar logo with some stars and/or outstretched hands…The low-resolution version appearing on the school’s Facebook page…The intentional Comic Sans font on the website or newsletter, which was meant to be kid-like, but actually downplays the intelligence of parents and kids everywhere.

Whether you have mixed five different fonts in one newsletter or still put cartoon clip art in your presentations and advertising – or on your website, your audiences are not going to recognize your brand promise.

I understand nonprofits and schools must often rely on volunteers. I get it. I also know stellar design costs money. However, in today’s digital world, your digital presence is a visual extension of your brand. It impacts the perceptions of members, donors, parents, prospects, and influencers and deserves attention. Not investing can be quite costly in the long run. Whether you’re a $15 million nonprofit or a small school, perception is reality.

Give design its due. Your target audiences will thank you.