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.”
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.
We’ve had great school district clients who have seen the ugly effects of outside influences and money on bond issue elections.
These districts – which did their diligence in facility planning, community conversations and structuring of their bond – had proposals that would solve problems, some with new construction and expansion, security enhancements, and renovations, for example. The price tags were reasonable but not pocket change. The general mood among the campaign committees was cautiously optimistic.
All of this can change with the arrival of a last-minute, well-funded attack campaign from the opposition, political action committees, best known as PACs.
Their goal is to scare, and they know just how to do it – by carpet-bombing the community with simple, frightening messages that breed mistrust and take the community’s eyes off who would benefit from passage of the proposal.
Don’t let a PAC get the best of your school bond election. Consider these tips to be prepared:
- Have your ear to the ground. Listen/monitor for opposition at public forums and on social media and read all news coverage about your campaign.
- Plan a “Just the Facts” campaign to counteract the PAC. This could include newspaper ads, radio ads, social media posts and direct mail. Create these items in advance, so everything is ready to go, if needed.
- Engage in direct dialogue with known agitators; this is a good counter strategy.
- Raise the budget in advance to support the “Just the Facts” campaign. This is typically an activity by the citizen’s “vote, yes” committe.
Patron Insight provides election campaign consultation. Let us help you plan for a potential PAC.
Kansas City Kansas Public Schools ran a successful bond
election in fall 2016. In preparation for potential opposition,
with the help of Patron Insight, the district created a simple
“Just the Facts” campaign. Fortunately, the campaign