Allerton Hill Blog

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Category: Campaigns

Marketing battle: Schools pull out stops to win students

April 3, 2017

TrustED (blog) by Todd Kominiak

Last week, a lawsuit brought by public school parents in Nashville, Tenn., against an area charter school network received class-action status.

According to News Channel 5, the lawsuit accuses RePublic Schools Nashville of spamming local parents with text messages aimed at siphoning students from Nashville Metro Public Schools to the company’s for-profit charter school network.

In total, close to 4,000 parents received the texts. Attorneys representing aggrieved parents are now seeking $1,500 in damages for each message.

It remains to be seen whether the parents will win their legal battle. Either way, the story shines a light on a reality that many public leaders suddenly face: Competition from charter schools, private vouchers, and other alternatives is real. And many of these schools are investing in marketing to attract families.

Joel Gagne is president of Allerton Hill Consulting, a marketing firm that contracts with public schools. His take: Public schools need to step up their game if they want to compete with other providers. “K12 leaders have to adopt the mentality that they are competing for these students. And they must understand that this is no longer a fair fight.

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Posted in Allerton Hill News, Campaigns, Community Outreach, Education, Issues Facing Schools Today, Policy, Social Media, Strategies

From the Podcast: Grassroots Campaigning for Your Ballot Issues

August 29, 2016

This week’s guest is Susan Mahler from Mahler Strategic Consulting. Her work with Ohio Schools to build effective grassroots campaigns to pass levy issues has earned her a winning reputation as a strategic authority in education and campaigns.

To SUBSCRIBE to our podcast via iTunes, click here.

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach, Podcast
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From the Podcast: Grassroots How To

August 24, 2016

This week, we’re talking with Mike Klein about creating grassroots programs that can affect real change for students. Mike is a former member of the New Albany Schools School Board and the creator of the grassroots movement, Eagle Pride Victory Club.

To SUBSCRIBE to our podcast via iTunes, click here.


Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach, Podcast
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Are Letters to the Editor Still Important?

June 24, 2016

When advising schools on how to garner support for a campaign, we often include a bullet point that advises to encourage letters to the editor. Yes, even in this age of memes and Tweets and email newsletters, a letter to the editor is still an important tool to establish and grow support.

Why are Letters to the Editor relevant?

• Politicians and community leaders use letters to the editor as a gauge of community opinion.

• A letter to the editor will put a name to an issue and make it more personal.

• The length of a letter to the editor — typically around 150 words — allows you to expound on the finer points of a campaign or opinion, especially when compared to the 140-character limit of a tweet.

• A letter to the editor encourages your local paper to write more about a particular topic because you’ve demonstrated community interest.


Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach
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Use Crowdsourcing for More Creativity & More Support

May 25, 2016

We’ve all heard about crowdfunding — a way for individuals or organizations to raise money via small contributions from a large number of people, often done through internet-based platforms such as the popular Kickstarter, GoFundMe, IndieGogo and YouCaring. CrowdSOURCING uses the same concept but applies to collecting ideas, skills and other input.

(Side note: crowdfunding can be considered a subset of crowdsourcing for the purpose of this article, we are going to set aside fundraising.)

Wikipedia is an excellent example of crowdsourcing. Millions of users contribute to the growth of an ever-evolving online encyclopedia. Websites offer ways for artists, writers, designers and engineers to solve problems, create art and pool resources.

Why is crowdsourcing valuable?

Of course, crowdsourcing is the implementation of the age old adage of “two heads are better than one” many times over. More input means more creativity, more solutions, more support.

Crowdsourcing also creates personal investment. When people contribute their own ideas and talents — even if they aren’t used in the final product — they feel more attached to the project and will be more likely to promote it.

How can you harness the “power in numbers” strategy of crowdsourcing?

First, you probably already do! Any time you are collecting data, you are using crowdsourcing to gather multiple perspectives on one issue. Any time you hold a meeting to discuss a new campaign, you are crowdsourcing. Even the contact page on your website encourages crowdsourcing!

But there are more ways to crowdsource. Here are just a few ideas to get your staff, community and students involved.

Create a poster contest for upcoming campaigns. Have students contribute their own artwork for fundraising campaigns, blood drives and upcoming events.

Host a staff talent night. Students LOVE to see their teachers in a new light. A staff talent night guarantees a full house — and a full cash box if you charge entrance fees!

Use a mock presidential election to also gather input from your students. Add in a few opinion poll questions such as “What would make

Tap into the talents of your media & performance arts clubs to create videos for the school.

Challenge your computer science students to create or customize apps that can be useful to your

With a little creativity, you’ll be amazed at how much more creativity your crowdsourcing efforts can yield!


Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach

From the Podcast: A Roundtable Discussion on the November Elections & Education

The November Elections & Education / a roundtable discussion with Dr. John Marschhausen, Carole Dorn-Bell & Joel Gagne

May 9, 2016

This week’s show is a roundtable discussion with Joel, Carole, and John Marschhausen, superintendent of Hilliard School District, about education and the upcoming Presidential election in the United States.

“It’s a civil rights issue.” — John Marschhausen, on education & socioeconomics

To SUBSCRIBE to our podcast via iTunes, click here.


 Visit the We Love Schools Podcast Website »

Posted in Campaigns, Podcast
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How to Be Consistent when the Message Has Changed

Consistent Messaging when your Plans Change // School PR & Communications from Allerton Hill Consulting

April 23, 2016

The core of Allerton Hill’s message to schools is that consistency is key. We work with our clients to create long-term communications plans that will reinforce important issues, solidify support for initiatives and build a momentum towards progress. But what happens when a decision made by an outside party negatively affects your school — and possibly contradicts your messaging?

Whether it is a state budget cut, the departure of a key staff member or a voting decision that changes your planned course of action, it is imperative that leadership and communications create a seamless bridge between your prior communications and your new situation. There is no doubt that there will be complaints and questions, especially when funding cuts require that hard cuts be made in programming and growth campaigns.

When you have to change course, the most important things to remember is to honor the support you’ve earned through your communications and be honest, open to critique & feedback and hopeful.

1. Always have a plan for making major announcements — know who is going to announce what and when. Use a multi-pronged approach through social media, newspaper editorials, radio interviews, backpack express and using your key communicators as ambassadors for your message.

2. Publicize the impact this new situation has on your prior growth/programming/message. At the same time, publicize how you plan to counterbalance the negative impact.

• Will you be seeking alternative funding for budget cuts?

• Will you be hiring someone to replace an outgoing staff member? What will you do to fill the gap in the meantime?

• What does the new status quo mean for your school and its goals?

3. Always invite feedback — both through scheduled town hall meetings & Twitter chats and by keeping your communication channels (email, phone messaging, social media) open. Respond to all concerns, criticisms and ideas.

4. Focus on the positive aspects of your progress thus far and rally support to continue in a positive direction.

5. Don’t be afraid to express personal disappointment in this change of course. Show that you are personally invested in the success of the school and your community will remain invested as well.

A negative levy vote, budget cut or other “game changer”, especially one that leads to the loss of programs and/or staff will always lead to a knee jerk negative reaction from the community. By being consistent with past messaging, focusing on growth and alternative responses and relying on the good faith and strong relationships you have built, you can maintain the strong support you have worked so hard to grow in your community.

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach
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Public Relations on a Budget

Public Relations on a Budget from Allerton Hill Consulting

April 17, 2016

When funds are tight, public relations programs are often the first to be cut and sometimes even eliminated. What districts should remember is that communication is how you will garner support for future projects, votes & community partnerships. Without strong positive messaging, your school is at risk of even further budget cuts and a lack of alternative resources.

For schools facing a tight budget, there are several ways to share your key message at little or no expense. Using these cost-effective strategies will help stretch your communications budget while reaching your core audience.

Build Your Media Relations

Your local newspaper, radio stations and television stations are all looking for local content. Find a go-to contact at each media outlet and build that relationship. Call/email them with new stories at least weekly. These stories should cover innovative programs, student achievements, upcoming school activities and, of course, consistent focus on your key messages. Offer to write a regular guest column or to be interviewed. Local media focuses on local news — this is your opportunity to shape the conversation!

Public Service Announcements (PSAs)

The Federal Communications Commission requires that broadcast media operate “in the public interest”. PSAs are a way that TV stations fulfill that requirement. There is strong competition to get your PSA to air so make sure your PSA is short (about 30 seconds long), interesting & informative and that it meets the standard requirements for a news story: who, what, when, where and why. Submit your recorded PSA to the station’s public service or program director.

Social Media

PEW Research Center estimates that 74 percent of all internet users visit social media sites. There is no cost to join social media but you do need to be creative and strategic in your approach to your social media plan so that you are efficient, reaching your target audience and encouraging engagement. We always encourage our clients to start with Twitter — it is easy, mobile-friendly and works in “real time”. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and many other platforms will help compliment and distribute your content and encourage feedback and further distribution among your followers.


Adding a blog to your school’s website allows you to communicate directly with your community on your own terms and in your own words. Make sure to use social media to drive traffic to your new blog posts in a coordinated effort.

Digital Newsletters

By transitioning your monthly newsletter to be email-based, you can eliminate postal and printing costs. You can either use a desktop publishing program and convert the file to a PDF to attach to the email or use a newsletter web-based service such as MyEmma or Mailchimp to create a newsletter with photos and simple email-friendly designs to send directly to your community’s inboxes.

Community Resources

Take advantage of the communications departments of your local government and libraries. Make sure to share important information prior to publication of newsletters and other regular communications so that they can include updates on your district and your current needs. You can also coordinate with their social media and website teams to share activities, news and upcoming meetings.

Town Hall Meetings

No matter how many tweets you send, you can’t beat the impact of a face-to-face meeting with your community. Town hall meetings empower districts to put a face to the policy, to reinforce their brand and to build real support for school initiatives. Answering questions in real time can help dispel myths, grow enthusiasm and make important issues personal for the community-at-large.

There are many tools and resources available to school districts that will help you share your message effectively and at little cost. Don’t let budget issues keep you from growing support for your school and important initiatives. Be creative and be open to new opportunities and new relationships. You’ll be surprised how much your strategy will pay off — and how impressed your community will be with your financial stewardship and ingenuity!

 Social media usage statistics from PEW Research Center

Posted in Budget & Finance, Campaigns, Community Outreach, Social Media
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Fallon Research Report: School State Report Cards, Awareness & Perception

Data - Fallon Research Survey on School Report Cards

March 24, 2016

A recent survey conducted by Fallon Research has revealed interesting data both about the knowledge of Ohio residents (including parents) of school report cards and their impact on voting. There has been a considerable movement in recent years against standardized testing in Ohio as more and more parents opt their children out of the testing. As schools seek new ways to communicate their progress through Quality Profiles and integrated communication strategies, the results from this survey make it very clear that regardless of how you measure your school’s achievements, getting the message OUT must be a priority and a multi-pronged approach to ensure efficacy.

A few data points to consider as schools assess their communications plans. (For the full survey, click here to download the Fallon Research report.)

  • Less than half of the public was aware of the recent release of the state report cards and only 57% of parents were aware. Schools with high performance scores should be alarmed at this figure and make a stronger effort to communicate their results.
  • Only 32% of those surveyed believe that the report cards are an accurate reflection of a school’s performance. This provides a clear argument for schools to use a broader range of communications and assessments to convey their success and progress.
  • 40% of those surveyed noted that their confidence would be undermined by a low performance grade. Equally concerning is the 48% who said that their confidence would be unchanged by a negative report card. Schools should think critically about whether this means that the public already has a negative attitude or have developed a general sense of apathy towards their local schools that needs to be counteracted.

Allerton Hill works with schools to create a year-round communications plan that includes traditional and new (social) media, face-to-face conversations as well as the valuable Quality Profile annual report — often released in conjunction with a State of the Schools address. Our communication plans can help ensure that your community is well informed of your successes as well as your needs for support. A strong, consistent communications strategy will counteract any negative attacks or opposition by creating a base of knowledgeable support and good will towards your school. Contact us today if you would like more information and to begin an audit of your school’s communication strategies.

For the full survey, click here to download the Fallon Research report.


 Survey & analysis from Fallon Research

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach

From the Podcast: How Schools Need to be Strategic When Going on the Ballot

Strategies for Schools and Campaigns / Podcast interview

February 29, 2016

In this week’s podcast, Joel speaks with Steve Avakian, a newspaper man and veteran educational consultant. His work has reached students in nearly every region in the state of Ohio.

“You have to be ultra creative and responsive to the public. A key element to make this possible is survey research.”

To SUBSCRIBE to our podcast via iTunes, click here.

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach, Podcast
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