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The Right Message At The Right Time

New Term – New Strategies

September is undoubtedly a busy time for schools. However, the efforts made early in the Autumn term can set a strong precedent for the rest of the year. In this article, our communications expert, Martin Temple, will be walking through some methods to improve your school communication strategy.

Making Sure Your Message is Noticed

After 20 years of working directly with schools, I have observed many different plans schools adopt when communicating with parents. There is no one size fits all when deciding on your communications strategy to ensure you get the most from your investment but let’s take a look at some of the different plans I’ve seen:

  1. SMS only – all communications are sent by SMS
  2. Email-only – messages are always email, never SMS is sent as they can be too expensive!
  3. On-demand – messages (email & SMS) sent as and when they are requested by heads of year, Tutors, Trip organisers and others. This results in multiple messages being sent daily.
  4. Weekly newsletter –Communication gets saved up and takes the form of a weekly roundup via email

Considering the varied subject nature of school communications and the challenge of getting noticed, a combination of all the above gives the best chance for your message to achieve its desired impact. Take into consideration the content of the message, the time available before the event/notice takes place and most importantly, the importance/urgency of the message. This will help you decide how and when to send the message.

Each plan has its own relative merits but also potential downsides. So, let us look at just one of these, the SMS only method.

As not all SMS messages will be urgent or important, from a parent’s viewpoint receiving repeated SMS messages runs the risk of being similar to the sound of a faulty fire alarm going off frequently. The first time, it gets attention, ‘It’s a fire alarm! Is everyone safe?’. At the second occurrence, doubt begins to creep in, ‘It’s still a fire alarm, but it’s the second time this morning!’. The third time, the alarm will start to transition to ‘It’s that alarm again!’, the fourth time and the alarm becomes potentially irritating ‘I wish that alarm would stop!’. Ultimately each false alarm decreases the effectiveness and urgency. As a school it’s important to not waste your ‘fire alarm’ messages.

Like the fire alarm, sending a message by SMS will initially grab attention, the phone bleeps/vibrates and displays a message from school. It’s immediately viewed as important; the school has taken the time and the expense to send a message and needs attention now. Assuming the contents are urgent and important, the recipient will be grateful and likely to do what has been requested. Conversely, If the contents are not urgent or do not relate to something that’s happening very soon, there is a danger that the parent subconsciously downgrades SMS as an urgent/important means of communication meaning your route to an urgent reply may be lost.

Email is free, so you can use it as often as you like without any worry of financial ramifications. Similarly to SMS, over-use of Email slowly decreases its effectiveness. Therefore, I’d recommend sending no more than one email on a daily basis, detailing any updates or news. If you wait to send out one weekly roundup, this can lead to overly long emails which quickly makes it hard to read. It’s important to look at the contents, importance, timescales etc. and take a moment to think about how its best to get the message out that will achieve the maximum impact and chance it is read and actioned.

Communication Urgency Types

Download Your Printable Version

Schools have been posting this information on their school office boards for staff to easily refer to. Download and print your free PDF by clicking here.

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