What marketing messages will teachers want to hear in September 2020?

Over the summer holidays, many in the education sector use the relative quiet to plan their marketing and PR campaigns for the year ahead so they can hit the ground running come September.

But this year, things are a little more complicated than before.

Whereas previously, planning often involved updating your messaging to make it more relevant to current policies or trends, this year, a wholescale rethink may be required.

So much has altered in education, that what previously might have headed up the to do list for a teacher or school leader may no longer make it into the top 10 things they need to think about right now.

Covid-19 has changed everything. So what does that mean for your PR planning?

The more things change the more they stay the same

To develop a good PR or marketing campaign in any sector, you need to tap into your audience’s hopes and dreams. Or calm their worst nightmares. This has not changed. It’s just that you need to take a fresh look at what a teacher or school leader’s priorities are as they return to school in September 2020.

With this in mind, we thought it would be helpful to pull together some of the latest research to unpick what teachers will need help with this Autumn. If your organisation can genuinely demonstrate that you are responding to teachers’ current problems, your communications and campaigns will stand out above the rest.

What’s on teachers’ minds

So what are teachers thinking about at the moment?

  • Closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers

The Education Endowment Foundation recently examined the existing research available on the impact of lockdown on the attainment gap. The conclusion was that the impact of lockdown would reverse any progress made in this area in the last decade, with estimates indicating the gap would widen by 38%.

No one will be more acutely aware of this than the head that knows how many children are in receipt of pupil premium in their school or the teacher who has struggled unsuccessfully to get a response from the parents of the child who has only submitted a couple of items of work for marking since lockdown began.

These children will be front and foremost in the minds of educators as September nears. Brands that are sympathetic to this challenge or that prove they can help reengage learners will fare better than those that can’t.

  • Developing and delivering a catch-up curriculum

Teachers will be facing the prospect of working out how much learning pupils have missed during lockdown, and the need for a catch-up curriculum could be causing some sleepless nights.

According to Teacher Tapp, the teacher survey app, some year groups and subjects have fared worse than others during the pandemic. 63% of Key Stage 2 teachers say they have only delivered half or less than half of the intended curriculum, and for Key Stage 1 and Early Years, the figure is 57%.

Helping children catch up on essential primary learning will be a priority.

For secondary schools, art, design and technology and PE teachers were most likely to say that pupils missed out on at least half of the curriculum they should have received. And only 11% of English teachers say they had delivered the entire curriculum during lockdown.

Schools will be looking for support during this catch-up phase, and if your business can help teachers focus on key learning priorities to make up for lost time, make sure that’s reflected in your messaging.

  • Pupil mental health

The emotional impact of living through Covid-19 cannot be underestimated, and schools will be concerned about their pupils’ state of mind at the start of term. Children may have felt the impact of strained household finances, family illness or bereavement.

Bright Minds carried out a survey of young people with a history of mental health difficulties which found that 80% of children agreed the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse, and 41% said it was much worse.

Younger children are also affected. Parents and carers of children aged between four and 10 years of age reported that over a one-month period in lockdown, they saw increases in their child’s emotional difficulties, according to a University of Oxford study.

With pupil wellbeing at the top of the agenda, schools may be adapting their timetable, staffing and classroom space to provide additional emotional support for individuals and small groups. Headteachers and SENCos may be keen to access resources which strengthen a school’s approach to pastoral care in the coming months, and they are likely to welcome brands which understand the importance of good mental health.

  • Teacher mental health

Teacher Tapp regularly measures the anxiety levels of educators. Following the announcement that schools should start planning to re-open for select primary school year groups from the start of June, 16% of state school teachers and 40% of headteachers reported feeling highly anxious.

September 2020 could see a similar pattern of anxiety levels among the teaching profession.

Teaching staff may be concerned about the extent of the work ahead of them in tackling learning losses, they could also be anxious about the safety of their work environment and the changes imposed on them by social distancing measures. Of course, many staff members are carrying the burden of family worries too.

Schools are likely to be focusing on teacher wellbeing by renewing policies and procedures and providing additional training for staff. Organisations which understand the challenges and can offer flexible CPD options could be well placed to help schools support their teams.

  • Maintaining safe distances while learning

Each new school year brings something of the unknown – there are new cohorts, colleagues and timetables to get used to. This year, there’s the added task of keeping everyone as safe as possible from Covid-19 infection – which is no small challenge.

Depending on the age of the children, teachers may find themselves reinforcing the social distancing message endlessly throughout the day, ensuring equipment is sanitised and teaching children in their bubbles.

Schools are expecting to welcome all children back in September, although this could change, of course, and the government advice is that “while coronavirus (COVID-19) remains in the community, this means making judgments at a school level about how to balance minimising any risks from coronavirus by maximising control measures with providing a full educational experience for children and young people.”

This may involve rearranging classrooms, removing assembly from the school day and staggering start and finishing times. School suppliers should consider how their solutions can help schools as they go through this period of change.

It’s likely that school leaders and teachers will spend this summer planning for the unpredictable as nobody knows exactly what September has in store. But by tuning in to teachers’ thinking, education companies can ensure their messaging hits the mark.

The best PR and marketing campaigns will do what they’ve always done – understand teachers’ challenges and find ways to help.

 

To find out more about planning your education PR campaign, you might like to read our PR Planning blog. 

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What is integrated PR – and why can’t you afford to ignore it?

Good PR has the power to shift opinion towards a brand. There’s no doubt that opinion pieces, press articles and blogger recommendations encourage a teacher to consider your product in a way that a heavy-handed sales push won’t.

In fact almost half (47%) of buyers rely on media articles before making a purchase, according to Iliyana Stareva in her book, Inbound PR.

So, traditional PR will do wonders for your coverage, but does it deliver on your overall business goals?

Missed opportunities

Even if the overarching objective of your PR activity is to increase sales of your products – a key business goal – it’s quite possible that objective doesn’t appear on your PR plan.

Your team may be focusing on crafting your message, engaging your audience and getting your name in the right places, which are all great ways to raise the profile of your brand.

But that doesn’t necessarily get more teachers to buy your product.

For that, you need to convert prospective customers into sales. This has traditionally been the job of marketing, and marketing does it well, with its ability to focus on a specific product launch, generate sales leads and measure the impact on the bottom line.

However, marketing tends to concentrate on the product you want to sell.

Education PR reinvented

What’s often missing from the marketing approach is an understanding of how to engage teachers in the long term with your brand and spread the word that your company cares about helping teachers do their jobs.

That’s what PR does well.

If you take the focused and measurable strengths of marketing and blend them with PR’s ability to build an audience’s trust in your brand, you have an awesome combination.

The best of both marketing and PR’s talents, focused on your business goals.

That’s why we’re so excited about integrated PR, because it not only raises awareness of your brand, but can also change the behaviour of your prospective customers, making them more likely to buy your product.

Best of all worlds

Integrated PR makes your content work harder by using multiple channels and marketing techniques to make the biggest impact.

This is the philosophy behind the PESO model, developed by Spin Suck’s founder and CEO, Gini Dietrich. The model underpins integrated PR campaigns that combine Paid, Earned, Shared or social and Owned channels to draw your audience in and achieve tangible results.

Here’s how it works:

  1. An EdTech company writes a research report from a survey it conducted into teaching coding in schools.
  2. The report goes behind a gated area of the website where teachers’ contact details are requested before they can access the report. This generates leads for further marketing.
  3. The PR team writes a series of blogs and articles for the education media using the report content. These articles contain a link back to the report download page on the company’s website, increasing the number of signups and generating more leads.
  4. The team engages the help of influential education bloggers to link to the report via their social media profiles. Teachers see the report being recommended by people they trust.
  5. A social advertising campaign is launched on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter to promote the report.
  6. The internal marketing team posts blogs using the report content on the company’s website to achieve further exposure to teachers.
  7. Months of coverage on social feeds, influencer sites and the education press engages teachers with the brand. There are also hundreds of new email leads from the report download.
  8. The integrated PR campaign improves brand awareness, secures new business leads and provides a return on investment.

PR is changing, and the days of focusing on coverage alone are gone. By blending the best of PR and marketing, integrated PR campaigns can build your reputation, shift opinion towards your brand, and achieve your business goals.

 

To find out how integrated PR can help your business, read our white paper, Influence Schools.

Why teachers won’t open your emails…

You want to let teachers and school leaders know about your great new product, service or event so you’ve written a peach of an email and sent it on its way. But not only do you get scant response, most teachers don’t even open the email at all.

Why is that?

Teachers are just too busy.

They’re not just busy, they are insanely busy.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers were working 9 million extra hours without pay every week according to the TUC.

On a typical day, a teacher will move from classroom to meeting to classroom, answering questions in the corridor as they go. There’s barely time for a cup of coffee. Even if they do get round to seeing your email, there will be a more urgent one from a worried parent or head of year that has to be answered first. By then it’s too late for your carefully crafted message to hit the mark.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Once a teacher gets home and the laptop’s back on, there’s barely a moment to skim through the inbox because it’s time to tackle that pile of essays or look through the agenda for tomorrow’s departmental meeting.

It’s hardly surprising teachers don’t get round to reading marketing emails.

Teachers look for advice from a trusted source

When a teacher eventually does find some quiet time to research resources for teaching maths to intervention groups, your email may not be what comes to mind.

Rather than clicking on your link and booking an online demo, a teacher might prefer to talk to other teachers at similar schools to see what they are using. A quick tweet or a visit to a Facebook group will give them the answer they’re looking for in seconds.

And it will be an answer they will trust.

A busy teacher wants quick and reliable recommendations before they make a buying decision, so they will turn to places where they can find expert advice. Articles in teaching magazines, posts on an education association forum or a product review in a blog or podcast.

…and what you can do about it

The good news is that there are ways to tell teachers about your product or service – and to encourage them to buy it – without wasting time and effort on emails that never get read.

You can reach those busy teachers and become one of the sources that they trust.

  1. Have a clear objective

First, you need to define your business objectives. Be as specific as possible about what you want to achieve. If you are looking to change the opinions of teachers who have never considered your product, you need to define how many people you should aim to reach with your message to shift those opinions.

  1. Understand your audience and know their challenges

Think carefully about how your prospective customer looks for information and what kind of content they consume. If the teacher you’re targeting reads the TES, listens to the EdTech podcast and is active on LinkedIn, take a look at these channels yourself to see what your audience’s trusted sources are.

Speak to your target customers, do some research and find out what challenges they need to solve. Do they want to save time recording pupils’ marks, or inspire reluctant writers to tell stories? Then think about how your product or service will help a teacher solve these problems.

  1. Create your message

Use your knowledge of your audiences to decide what sort of content will hit home. Carry out some keyword research and see what terms teachers are searching for that could be relevant to the solutions you’re offering. This will help you develop your messaging and show teachers your brand understands their challenges and can help solve them.

  1. Choose your channels

Reach out to teachers using a combination of channels. Increase your coverage on social feeds and influencer sites to demonstrate you’re a source that teachers can trust. Write using the language teachers use in your blogs, and show teachers your creative lesson ideas in action by filming a series of short videos.

  1. Measure your results

Keep track of your most successful channels. If you started with a campaign that focuses on social ads on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but only Facebook is getting results, then you can shift your spend across to that channel to ensure you’re getting the best value from your outlay.

The days of reaching teachers by email alone are long gone.

But you can engage even the busiest teacher when they trust your brand to help them. And that’s when you’ll find teachers actively seeking you out for solutions.

To find out more about getting teachers to notice your brand, read our white paper, Influence Schools.

 

‘Cut out and keep’ guide to crisis management

Nobody likes to dwell on the possibility of it happening, but should a crisis hit, the ability to act fast can make all the difference.

No doubt you’ve read all the books that tell you ‘the key to crisis management is advanced planning’, and yet it’s surprisingly common to find that this particular job never quite made it to the top of your to do list.

It’s a fact of life that every organisation is vulnerable to crises, so should you find yourself in this position, this blog post is for you. Cut out and keep it (or rather cut and paste) so that if the unthinkable occurs and you get a call from a journalist who has uncovered a major fault in your product, or from a customer who says your products have corrupted their data, you have a starting point on how to act.

  1. Get the facts from the horse’s mouth

As a PR person, you need to ensure that whatever you say to the media is true.  Never state that the situation is under control if it isn’t. This means you need to go directly to the team or manager dealing with the problem and get the information straight from them. Do not accept a well-meaning messenger as a go between – the Chinese whisper effect can completely change a story.

  1. Limit the damage

If you can take steps to prevent more damage occurring while the situation unfolds, do so. Stop production, send emails or call customers to alert them to the issue and let them know how they might be affected. It’s also a good idea to review all your marketing, advertising and events that are in the pipeline and put them on hold if need be to avoid provoking any awkwardness or negative reactions.

  1. Decide who needs to be contacted

Work out who the stakeholders are – employees, customers, investors, the press – and who needs to be liaised with in order to communicate with them effectively. For example, are there other partners who need to be involved in a joint statement? Can contact be made so that releases can be co-ordinated and notice given to each other of statements? This approach ensures you are not blindsided by any surprise statements from others involved.

  1. Adopt a holding position

Consider releasing an interim statement until you get the facts straight. ‘We are aware of the situation and are investigating the cause. We’ll be in touch as soon as we have more information,’ is far better to a journalist or customer than complete silence. It shows you are open and willing to talk, so the press are less likely to jump to conclusions.

  1. Draft a response

When drafting a statement, there are two sides to consider:

  • Put yourself in the mind of the victims – what do they want to hear?
  • Put yourself in the mind of your client – what are they able to say?

An effective response will give equal weighting to both these points. But be careful with the wording – any line from a statement could be taken out of context.

  1. Choose the right channels

Decide how to communicate the response and via which channels. If the story has been picked up widely you will need to be communicating to the media directly, plus to customers via your web site, social media channels and even on a one-to-one basis via email and phone when customers contact you directly.

  1. The personal touch

A personal response from a named spokesperson is always best, even for a written statement. If you need a ‘live’ spokesperson, make sure that they are your best and most skilled speaker, and that they have been recently media trained. Also ensure they are fully briefed on the situation so that they can answer questions as fully and honestly as possible.

  1. Don’t play the blame game

Avoid placing the blame fully and explicitly on someone else’s doorstep. Even if others were involved, it looks bad. If appropriate, and legally possible, apologise. That is often all people want to hear; that the company accepts they have made a mistake.

  1. Encourage positive stories

By being open and honest, and giving clear information about the steps you are taking to quickly address the issue, you will find that not every story is relentlessly negative. You can carefully encourage this subtle change of focus by bringing in allies to help, perhaps a happy customer or an association contact. Above all, making sure you do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it, will reap dividends in the long run.

  1. Review your strategy post-crisis

After the crisis has passed, review your strategy. What worked, what didn’t work, what needs to change should the unthinkable happen again in the future.

If you want this post as a PDF to keep on file, feel free to email us at hello@theinfluencecrowd.co.uk.

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Checklist for selecting a PR Agency

You have finally decided that you need a PR agency to help you get noticed by your target audiences. So, what points do you need to consider when choosing which will be the right agency for you?

Here are some guidelines to help.

  • Sector knowledge: Is the agency able to successfully demonstrate that they have achieved the outcomes and coverage in the publications/blogs you want for other clients? Do they understand the market – the issues that affect it and the journalists, bloggers, Twitterati and industry influencers in this sector?
  • Channel knowledge: Do they understand the difference between how a campaign should be pitched to a journalist and how that same message would work on social media? Do they know which channels your target market uses? Do they know if Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter would be best for your campaign?
  • Reputation: Ask to speak to some of their clients. Are they happy with how the agency works to achieve their objectives?
  • The pitch: Does their sales pitch to you meet the objectives of the briefing? Can they answer the question, “What is the first step in this campaign?” as this demonstrates they have thought beyond the creative stage and have also considered how the activity fits with your objectives?
  • The team: Ask who is going to work on the account (it is not always those that will pitch for it) and their experience of this sector. You could even ask to see examples of campaigns the individuals have worked on if you have doubts. Do they understand what makes a good story for a journalist or how to influence bloggers? Do you feel you can work with the team in the long term?
  • Crisis management: Depending on your product and sector, the ability to demonstrate knowledge and successful management of PR crises could be key too.
  • Costs and methods of charging: Ask about their fees, but also how expenses are calculated. Some agencies charge for a lot of additional expenses, which means costs can add up significantly over and above a monthly retainer.
  • Governance and policies: The agency should not currently handle the PR for any direct competitor to you and should have a policy of informing you of any future potential conflicts of interest.
  • Measurement: This is quite possibly the single most important element. What measurements will the agency use to evaluate the PR campaign? Will they work to specific targets, and do these relate to your business goals? Or do they just offer rather vague commitments about where they can get coverage? You should also look at how frequently they will report progress against objectives, as this will be crucial in establishing whether the campaign has been a success or not.

These are the key elements to selecting the right PR agency for your campaign, in our view. If you have other factors you feel should be added to this list, I’d love to hear from you at catherine@theinfluencecrowd.co.uk.

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PR that delivers: A guide to good PR planning

Some companies launch their PR efforts with vague goals. Sometimes it is in response to a competitor suddenly gaining a lot of traction in the market or it may be a general notion that ‘we need to get our company’s name out there’.

What happens next will determine whether your PR campaign will actually deliver what it needs to or fail at the first hurdle.

For PR to be a success, you need a good PR plan. And a good PR plan comes out of asking yourself some tough questions.

Here is a list of some of the main questions we ask before we start to develop a PR plan for a client. The aim of this is to give you the information you need to start to create a strong plan that will support your overall business objectives.

PR Planning Guide

Ask yourself where you are now.

  • PR success/failures thus far – what was liked/disliked? How is your organisation perceived publicly?
  • Competition – what you like and dislike about them and their PR, how are they perceived publicly? What are they doing that could impact on your business?
  • Threats – changes in the political, technical and economic landscape

Ask yourself where you want to be.

  • Sales objectives this year
  • The vision in 3-5 years
  • Which objectives can PR support – the short or long term objectives, or both?

Ask yourself which audiences you want to influence.

  • Who has bought the message so far and who still needs to be convinced?
  • Are there any influencer organisations, bloggers and forums that can help you reach your audiences?
  • What market breakdown do you need to have to target these audiences successfully eg by organisation type, industry, job title? Or prospects vs existing business.

Then:

  • Define your messages to reach these audiences – what issues do they respond to/what makes them tick (focus on solutions to problems, tapping into emotions etc, rather than product messages). Some keyword research will help here as it can often refine your thoughts about what content this audience is already looking for. It is also worth discussing calendar events relevant to your industry as these may be useful to hook certain messages to.
  • Define priorities – it is likely you will not be able to do everything at once so define your top one, two or three PR priorities and stick to those as a starting point.
  • Define timelines and budgets – when you will target each audience, what resources do you have at your disposal?
  • Finally, define your measures – what will be deemed a success, how will you measure and report on this to determine the value of the campaign? These measures can be defined in many different ways, such as changed perceptions of the brand (which you can measure via surveys), the amount of the right type of coverage in the press, an increase in sales leads, an increase in engagement on social channels, increased web site traffic etc – whatever would be a good measure for the original objectives you set.

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