Why branding and marketing is part of every staff member’s job description, and how you can help them do it better
“We have ambitious goals to expand our network and double the number of students that we help get to and through college. To get there, it’s going to take all 620 of our team members joining in our advocacy, and sharing our story.” — Heather Lamm, DSST Public Schools Director of Communications
You know the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? For many school districts, networks and non-profits, a data point is worth… a thousand more data points.
Which is understandable, especially in schools. Since NCLB ushered in the era of judging school quality by measuring student achievement via standardized tests, schools, networks and districts have been, let’s say, strongly encouraged to capture all of their successes in numerical form.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t go over so well with a pretty important stakeholder group: parents. Setting aside the bot-fueled backlash against Common Core and testing, parents are more likely to use test scores and other data-driven school-performance measures as just one indicator of a “great school.”
More often, what parents say about a school that seems like the right fit is “I got a good feeling about it” or, “I hear good things.”
The “good feeling” parents develop about a school springs from a good story.
This year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to partner with DSST Public Schools to help them shift their brand positioning — or, reshape how they tell their story. Previously, their external communications were all about data. Which is also understandable because their data is OFF-THE-CHARTS AMAZING. To date, 100% of their graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. Nine of the top 13 schools in Denver are DSST Public Schools. Their students’ ACT scores rank among the top 10% of all students state-wide. Etc. etc. etc.
But, as is often the case, this awe-inspiring data only tells half the story. At DSST Public Schools, strength of character is an equally important measure of students’ success.
I’ll relay just one anecdote to illustrate my point. I was invited to their annual fundraising gala, which is unique in that it’s a showcase of student work instead of a rubber-chicken dinner. I saw impressive examples of work in robotics, biology and the like — evidence they’ve earned their reputation for rigorous academics.
The experience I’ll never forget, however, actually happened during a choir performance that was also featured at the gala. Two groups were set to perform — a high school choir and a middle school choir — and the older kids went first. Their song was lovely.
But what was really moving was what the older kids did after they sang. They stuck around to watch the middle schoolers perform, and after their song, the support they gave to their younger peers was tangible. The smiles, cheers, claps and snaps were genuine and wildly enthusiastic. They were their peers’ biggest cheerleaders, and the love and support I witnessed brought tears to my eyes. It also reflected an enormously important part of what makes DSST special — a culture that’s defined by caring, support and belonging.
As it turns out, DSST’s story speaks to the heart as much as it speaks to the head. They just needed to start sharing it.
Not long after the gala, we set about developing a new messaging platform for DSST that tells the whole story of their successes. Data points haven’t gone away, they’ve just been rounded out by stories that illustrate what most every parent wants for their child — the chance to be themselves and to be part of a community, to be happy AND successful.
A critical step in helping those stories spread has been equipping school leaders and faculty with new ways of representing their vision for their schools. “Our work with Springboard Communications is critical to our ability to help our staff share clear, consistent, engaging messages about what we do and why that’s important to students and families,” Heather adds.