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
Patron Insight has helped hundreds of public entities raise new tax dollars – more than $7.2 billion in the last 10 years – and we’ve developed a surefire recipe that predicts election outcomes time and time again.
- People have to believe you are doing a good job with the money they’ve already committed to you. If folks aren’t happy with the work you’re doing, they will never agree to give you more money.
- Your patrons have to be paying attention. If you are never on the “radar screen” of your taxpayers, they won’t care enough to listen to you, let alone vote for your new tax plan.
- Voters need to like your new ideas well enough to pay for them. This is usually where the rubber meets the road. If you tell people you need a new jail, community center, or fire station, for example – and it will cost them an additional $100 per year for the next 20 years – you must make certain they agree this expenditure is critical for the community.
So, how do you know if these three critical components are in place? You don’t. Nobody does. You can’t possibly know what’s in the hearts and minds of everyone you provide services for.
In most cases, you hear from the 10 percent of people who love you and support everything you do. And you hear from the 10 percent of people who disagree with everything you do and any tax increase you suggest.
It’s the “silent” majority – 80 percent of the community – who are the great unknown. They have an opinion, which will influence whether they vote and how they vote. The problem is nobody has ever asked their opinion.
Patron Insight recommends a statistically accurate telephone survey about six to nine months before an election to discover where people stand on the three critical factors. Our survey process has a margin of error factor of only 5 percent, so you are working with viable data about your patrons.
Once you know where you stand, you know what you need to do to pass a referendum. It’s that simple and straightforward.
The worst thing that can happen to you isn’t losing an election – it’s losing an election without knowing why you lost.
With pre-election research, you’ll know – months before the election – whether or not you are positioned to win and what you need to do to ultimately find success at the ballot box.