It’s a shock, when a ballot proposal fails on Election Night, whether the margin was one vote or in the thousands.
Your search for answers of what went wrong begins immediately. The results of that search are often incomplete because they must pass through the filter of disappointment.
Here is what we have learned from conducting follow-up studies for districts that had a rough night at the ballot box:
Quick “repeats” are rarely successful: Assuming it was a failure of message, effort or timing, school districts might simply rerun the proposal at the next election opportunity. History shows your chances of being successful are slim, and you create animosity with your patrons who think they already gave you an answer on your proposal.
Acknowledging the loss is critical: Districts that step forward promptly and say, “We will be taking time to understand how our patrons want us to proceed” are setting the right tone. This lets the naysayers hear their “message” was received, while keeping it positive for supporters and those who were apathetic.
Overwhelm your patrons and staff with fact-finding efforts: Talk openly about the options that are in front of you and the kinds of conversations that are taking place, as you plan your next steps.
Simplify and personalize your messages: Once you settle on your follow-up ballot proposal, create messages that are simple and benefit-driven. Leave the exhaustive details for your website, and keep the more broadly used messages focused on key points: What’s in the proposal? What will it cost me? Why should I vote for it?
Be honest, but avoid scare tactics: If your original proposal was driven by need, then the need is likely to be even more acute, when your follow-up proposal is placed on the ballot. However, resist the temptation to put out messages that threaten voters with dire consequences, if the proposal fails.
Respond to organized opposition with facts: If your opposition starts putting up their own yard signs and websites, don’t let them get under your skin. Rather, correct their misinformation with simple statements that begin with, “Actually, the fact is…”
If your district has experienced a recent loss at the ballot box, let us help!
Among marketing and advertising folks, there is a well-known case study of a product launch in the mid-1960s that failed spectacularly.
The product was a new brand of dog food, and the reason the launch became famous was the extreme lengths the company went to research the prelaunch of the product. Everything was tested – the shape and design of the packaging, the color of the lettering, the background graphics, and the habits of dog owners as they strolled through the store.
Care to guess why?
Nobody asked the dogs. Turns out initial sales were great, until pet owners discovered their dogs didn’t like the taste and refused to eat it. The product sank like a rock.
We’ve witnessed similar instances in K-12 with strategic planning that failed to cover all the bases. Time after time, we see school districts spend months working with a strategic planning committee to identify upgrades, changes and new policies to only have those fail once implemented in the community.
When Patron Insight works with school districts on strategic planning, we ramp up the data collection phase to insure two things:
- Everyone in the district has a say in the process.
- Everyone is informed about potential changes in the district well in advance of any changes.
Our methodology includes a statistically-accurate patron telephone survey, online surveys for parents, students, staff and the public, and interviews with key opinion leaders. We encourage our school district clients to seek the input of all patrons in the process and publish results of the surveys as they happen.
Using this approach, our clients find once it’s time to implement their strategic planning initiatives, everything falls in place without a hitch.
As Dr. Tim Hadfield, superintendent of the Camdenton School District (Mo.), said, “We’ve never had a strategic plan go this smoothly.”
Is your district about to get started on a strategic planning process? Let Patron Insight help. Contact Rick Nobles at [email protected] or (913) 484-0920.
Even the most seasoned communications professional knows that once a message leaves the sender, how it is interpreted is up those in the targeted audience. School district communicators have it doubly hard, because messages are coming from the district, and from individual schools and teachers.
Finding out where messages sent out (in print, electronically or via social media) align with what is being heard – and where they don’t – can help a school district better pinpoint how to adjust its communications to make more consistent, positive connections with stakeholders that are important to its success.
Patron Insight’s approach to such a project is a comprehensive, diagnostic process called a Communications Audit.
We begin with a review of a representative sample of outbound communications for the previous 18 months to two years, looking for themes in what the district and its schools are saying.
We interview the Board, the superintendent and all members of the Cabinet to find out what messages they believe are most important. Then, using a variety of methods, we ask stakeholders what they hear most often.
Our report details key findings and makes recommendations to close any “gaps” among what is being said, what the district would like to say, and what is being heard. Check out a report sample on our website.