Category Archives: Marketing

The wilful murder of marketing

Punchy title isn’t it.  And, alas, it’s even true.  I, for one, am heartily sick of headlines telling me, and the rest of the world, that direct mail is dead … email is dead … telemarketing is dead … broadcast PR is dead … and so on with any other channel that someone wants wilfully to kill off in order to make a point (or, more worrying, has been written by someone who actually believes what they say).

The real point is that, despite protestations to the contrary, none of those individual elements are dead.  They are simply evolving.  They are part of the past, the present and the future, and need to be embraced in combination with the plethora of channels now available.

The best one I saw recently was “direct marketing is dead…” Well, direct marketing has never been more alive.  It’s evolving all the time.  And increasingly all marketers are evolving into direct marketers by the nature of the channels available.

What’s key to all this is that little has  fundamentally changed about human interaction.  We’ve always been social animals. It’s just that now we have technology that helps us keep in touch more easily, more widely, and – arguably – more superficially.  The internet, Skype, tablets, smart phones and smart TVs have been added to post, email and telephone.  And it’s fascinating to see just how quickly the ‘channel’ and ‘delivery’ and data opportunities are growing.

Also fascinating to see who’s keeping up and how they’re using the variety of tools – even those that are allegedly dead.  Last week, we received a text message from our local, The Writhing Hare, which showed the menu for that night’s Italian night. Guess what – we picked up the telephone, rang six of our friends, and booked a table for eight.  Very simple marketing.  Very inexpensive.  Highly effective.  Oh, and the pub was packed.

Horses for courses – it’s about using the right channels in effective combinations – and measuring results efficiently so that marketing attention and resource is focussed effectively. Which can be challenging in itself as the channel that reaches the consumer is increasingly less likely to be the channel through which the consumer ultimately buys …

But it’s worth remembering – humans have always interacted on a social level  – but now businesses are starting to understand that the consumer should be the centre of communications.  It is the consumer that makes their own choices about how they want to deal with retailers, brands, leisure centres etc.  They will choose whether they post a coupon, pick up a telephone, go online, send an email, or use social media to buy, ask a question or make a point.

The businesses who listen to their customers and respond accordingly will be the ones who succeed.

We’ll welcome your thoughts or comments on this post – and if you need any help with your marketing or communications strategy and/or activity – across channels or through specific channels – please don’t hesitate to give me a call.  If I can help, I’ll be happy to.  If not, I’ll at least point you to someone who will provide sensible strategic advice.

Victoria Tuffill
Partner, Tuffill Verner Associates

Tel:         +44 (0)7967 148398  /  +44 (0)1787 277742

Victoria Tuffill is a direct marketing consultant with over 30 years experience. She founded Tuffill Verner Associates consultancy with Alastair Tuffill in 1996. She is also founder and Director of Fraudscreen – a data tool that assists in the prevention of 1st party fraud. Her experience ranges across businesses including publishing, home shopping, insurance, utilities, telcos and collections.

© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, September 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Shining the Light

by guest writer, Martyn Richards of Martyn Richards Research Ltd

I’ve become really interested in metaphor.  In a book I’m reading at the moment, Arnold Modell, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, actually cites metaphor as the concept which makes us human: the ability to transfer meaning is what gives us feelings, which he says are unique to humans (as opposed to emotions, which are felt by many animals).

So I used a metaphor in my title; much of what we researchers do is described in terms of illumination – even the word “discover” is a metaphor – for exposing something to the light.  I love the following story, told to me a few years ago:

A man is on his hands and knees on the ground, under a lamppost, clearly searching for something.  A policeman walks by and sees him; he asks: “Have you lost something?”“Yes”, says the man, “I can’t find my keys”“Where did you drop them?” asks the policeman.  The man points to a spot about fifteen yards away: “Over there”“Then why are you searching here?” asks the policeman.  “Because this is where the light is” replies the man.

The message in this story typifies what essentially happens with a large proportion of marketing research: looking in certain places, because they are the ones we know and can see.  And because we’ve looked before, we can look again and see if anything’s changed.

Don’t get me wrong.  In the qualitative research discipline – my area of the research world – focus groups will remain a staple methodology.  We shouldn’t kick them out (or any other mainstream methodology) just because they don’t answer all the questions.  But the truth is that in many situations, focus groups do not tap into people’s feelings about brands, products and services.  There is a danger that only rational answers will come back, and we know from the work of many fine researchers, notably Robert Heath in the advertising arena, that decisions such as brand choice are often taken with little reference to the rational side of ourselves.  We need to shine the light elsewhere.

Of course, qualitative research found its roots in clinical psychotherapy.  Their world has developed many alternative ways of accessing feelings, including dramatherapy.  This is of particular interest to me, as before retraining to become a researcher, I was an actor and director in professional theatre.  In recent years I have directed amateur actors too.  Along the way, I’ve run a number of workshops.  I’ve also run workshops for research clients: what were once called brainstorm sessions.  But until recently it had never occurred to me to explore the possible convergence between the two.

I have now happily joined the two strands of my working life, to develop creative workshops as a tool in the qualitative research arena.  So far these have only been conducted for a children’s brand, but I look forward to venturing into the adult arena soon.  And one of the central themes of these workshops is metaphor.  A range of workshop exercises have been adapted to provide a basis for this.  I’ll include a few here.  For a Sculpting exercise, participants are put into smaller groups (of say, four) with a nominated person acting as the sculptor, using the remaining participants as their raw material.  Things which I might only have been able to infer from what was spoken to me, I am now able to see in pictures.  We often think in pictures, so why not work with them?  In a Guided Visualization exercise, participants go on a journey in their mind’s eye, and get ‘introduced’ to key manifestations of a brand along the way; what they see is individual to them.  Later they get to draw what they saw.  In addition, pilot workshops have included having participants invent their own advert for a brand, and, again in groups, getting them to perform a story with the brand at the centre.

Storytelling is a particularly powerful tool; when we relate something to someone, we will often use a story style.  Brands themselves will have a story to tell: what better way to uncover these stories than have them acted out to us?

I’m excited by this.  I genuinely believe that it is new, different, and will work.  I know my next task is to convince clients of this.  After all, if I am the one who has shone that old light, the choice was usually the client’s.

Martyn Richards is a key practitioner in the arena of qualitative research with children and young people.  Research tools include focus groups, individual interviews, mini-groups, workshops, immersion visits.  Martyn also works freelance for selected agencies, for example Family, Kids & Youth, Opinion Leader and DVL Smith Group. Recent areas have included confectionery, snacks and advertising.

Email:     Web:

© Martyn Richards, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martyn Richards with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Keeping Continuity Alive and Kicking

A firm staple in many a Direct Marketers diet, continuity programs present great opportunities to leverage sustainable ROI, and it seems fairly obvious – doesn’t it?  Having a portfolio of products  (or services) that are continuity based carries great benefits for business and consumer alike – but that initial, often significant investment is completely reliant on the lifetime value of those customers and their loyalty to the product they ‘signed-up’ for to be successful.  In essence that could be anything from the classic monthly subscription to magazines & books through vintage wines, chocolate and training courses.

In recent times, trends have not been great with the departure of several established continuity based companies hitting the wall, having lost their edge in this passive revenue sphere.  The factors that such perpetuity programs were forecast upon are far more volatile, helping to erode the ROI along the continuity journey. Vital LTV falls sharply as customers (across B2B & B2C) tighten belts and withdraw from subscriptions or continuity programs too early to realise the revenues needed to tick the ‘success’ box.

Of course – that’s exactly the offer we marketers often promote at the outset – there is no commitment – free to cancel at any time.  The difference is now more customers take us up on the offer – flexing their rights and greater confidence to change their minds, buy something else, respond to a new offer etc.

Analysis is key to proactive rather than passive marketing

Analysing conversion and cancellation rates over time – any business can see what’s happening after the event, but preventing it is another project entirely.  Its relative of course, not every business and product needs an equal % of initial customers to get past month x before being a valuable asset.  The great news is that business can intervene at any stage with a little creative thinking about improving customer loyalty, and without breaking the bank.

Having a high degree of segmentation and promotional material across multiple channels & offers is expensive and can be an operations nightmare, particularly if you are working with a legacy system. Crucially, work with what tools you can access and optimise them quickly – get the timing and message right and it will procure the best results possible for you.

Multi-channel opportunities can really come into play here, allowing flexible, integrated marketing strategies to work in harmony with tactical opportunities offering highly relevant communication at the right time via the right channel.  Longstanding or fixed strategies can become stale, justifiably focused on the critical initial conversion rates whether from acquisition or retention campaigns. The golden rule of quality data (not just the transactional) apply but crucially, need to extend well beyond the early order stages.

All customers are not equal …

The behaviour of customers needs to be known before it can be understood and responded to appropriately. This is not easy – we all know transactional data is not the same as behaviour – it’s just not multi-dimensional enough in an age where customers can behave erratically and spontaneously across all the channels available to them. I might order online – and complain by phone, followed by a letter….that I post on Facebook … with my angry face on Pinterest! Furthermore, as a continuity customer, I may not interact with the organisation at all along the way, until I decide to stop buying.

Of course – if you’re starting out with a continuity portfolio – getting the right infrastructure at the start will reap rewards later on.  Use a specialist multi-channel team that work together to think of EVERYTHING – you don’t need to implement everything straight away but at least have it on the watch list, creating an environment that can proactively adapt quickly to changes and demands as they arise.

Enhance every customer touchpoint as a key step to engage more, add value and gather the data needed to make the decisions that work – obviously not a process reserved for continuity programs alone, but generally better practiced for new orders or repeat business. Creating additional or tactical touchpoints is now easier than ever with online channels providing cost-effective platforms to increase contact and test ideas without significant costs when there is not necessarily a direct sale at the end of it. Equally, using more traditional methods like telemarketing and telephony in general, via non-sales routes can have a significant role to play in enhancing the relationship.

Sustainable continuity marketing has to embrace CRM principles and a large dose of common sense, ensuring we extend the life of customers and their loyalty levels as far as possible – whilst also realising it could be a shorter journey for the vast majority.  In the good old days, marketers relied heavily on customer apathy to generate this pot of passive income – getting them to and beyond break-even into profit was more about hoping they won’t back out, that they valued the offering enough to stay with an organisation.

Customers are wiser and better-informed with more choice than ever before, so marketers must also raise their game and think creatively to ensure continuity programs stay alive and kicking.

By Googie Oktem, August 2012

With 25 years expertise in the Direct Marketing industry including agency and clientside roles, Googie has a reputation for getting the job done! She has been consulting since 2001, working with clients to implement and deliver successful ROI-driven projects, both online and offline. Her specialist knowledge of using telemarketing resources and call centres produces great results for clients and suppliers, exceeding client KPIs and reducing costs on numerous end-to-end telemarketing projects.

© Googie Oktem and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Googie Oktem and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Third party fulfilment – a successful choice?

Third party fulfilment – a successful choice?

The decision to outsource all or part of your operations is an extremely difficult one in itself, but once that decision is made how should you approach the selection process?

Make no mistake, this is a critical selection, as you are putting a key part of your operation in someone else’s hands, and your ability to influence the factors that affect your individual relationship with your customers will undoubtedly be reduced to some extent.

What approach?

The first step is to be clear in your mind what is important to you. The easy answer is ‘I want the best service at the lowest cost’ and this whole area is constantly governed by the battle to balance service and cost. In reality, cost is often going to have the greater influence as it is more tangible, and this is even more influential when you are choosing a new supplier, because you do not know with any confidence what level of service you are going to get. I believe it is important to regard a relationship in this area more as a partnership and not a standard client/supplier relationship. One thing is almost certain – both parties will cause the other problems to the other from time to time and how you overcome those problems are paramount to the success of the relationship.

Formal or informal?

Although many of us rebel against formality and bureaucracy, this is an area where a formal document is critical. It may just be a 2 page brief or extend to a 20 page official ‘Invitation to tender’ (ITT) or ‘Request for proposal’ (RFP) but it is vital that all prospective suppliers are given the same brief. In fact, if one supplier asks for more information in certain areas, it is a good habit to pass on the same data to other suppliers as a matter of course (but perhaps give a brownie point to the supplier who asked, if the point is a good one).

Long List Selection

There are several information sources to help you select the recipients of your brief. Trade publications usually contain advertisements for some of the key players, trade organisations such as Catalogue Exchange, and there is a site that specifically covers suppliers in the area of product fulfilment –

Many of the suppliers on this site also offer the full range of services including contact centre and full order processing systems.

The long list should be in the range of 6-8 suppliers.

The Brief – what should it contain?

Any brief should contain the following key elements (the exact details would be determined by the range of services you are looking for):

  • Background to your company, its history, size, planned growth over next 3-5 years and an outline of the products you offer
  • Description of the services you are looking for, broken down into key elements
  • The service levels you are looking for e.g. maximum % of abandoned calls in the call centre
  • Activity levels for the relevant area e.g. overall order volumes per annum, peak weekly volumes, average items per order, % returns, average and weekly call volumes (plus average call duration)
  • Other key information e.g. order channel split (% by web, phone and post), number of stock keeping units (SKUs) in your range,
  • Any specific aspects of your product range or supply chain e.g. if any products require special packaging or two man delivery, or any of your products supplied on a direct despatch basis
  • The pricing structure you are looking for (see further information under ‘PRICING’ below)
  • Specification of information you want to know about the prospective supplier e.g. turnover, years in business, recent accounts, key current clients, references and if you are looking for the full order management service, the details of the system used for order processing.
  • The timetable for the RFP process – when responses are expected to be received, timescale for any questions and clarifications, target date for short list decision, any planned dates for presentations and visits, and final decision point deadline

It can be a good idea to include some ‘open’ questions and ask for feedback on how the supplier would approach that issue. If nothing else it will act as a check on how well the supplier has read the document. I have seen on several occasions responses that have clearly been an ‘off the shelf’ RFP response that don’t of course answer these types of open questions, indicating the supplier has not read the document properly – not a good sign.

I have often been asked to outline (and then include in any contract) penalty charges to be applied if service levels are not met in any significant way. This can be an effective tool and go part way to answering the comment ‘what’s the point of an SLA (service level agreement) if there is no recourse if service levels are missed?’ Beware of the flip side though – a supplier may look for reciprocal arrangements such as a maximum out of stock level, minimum notice period to supply details of any marketing information, and look to apply ‘penalties’ on you if they are missed!

The RFP Process

Be prepared for questions to come back and set aside some time to process these – you are expecting suppliers to work to a timetable and you must play your part in helping that process, and this can take considerable time and effort, unless you have managed to anticipate every question in the brief!

Visits to potential suppliers are obviously extremely important, but time may not allow you to visit all the long list suppliers, and so selection of the short list may be based on actual responses, and research you have done on the company. This may include discussions with supplier reference contacts, but don’t be surprised if suppliers are unwilling to give you reference contacts unless they are shortlisted. This is not unreasonable, as suppliers do not want to irritate their best clients (who are the ones they put forward as references, naturally) by subjecting them to frequent calls.


It is really important in the brief to specify how you want pricing to be structured, as if you don’t you will get different structures from almost every supplier you contact, making it very difficult to compare overall costs. Be specific and bear in mind the following points:

  • The preferred pricing solution from the suppliers point of view is to price each activity separately, and give you a long ‘menu’ of prices,
  • The preferred solution for you is likely to be a single ‘all in’ price (probably per order) as that makes comparison easier and leaves you with only one or two lines in your budget and costing models

The problem with these two approaches is that in the first, you have little idea of what you will end up paying, and with the second, the supplier is taking most of the risk.

In practice, most companies demand a solution nearer to the second, which means that the supplier has to build in contingency to cover the risk, or he places lots of caveats on the ‘all in’ price, which if triggered means you end up paying more than your budget has assumed.


Clearly you should not just accept the first offering from suppliers and there is always scope to play one off against the other, but do bear in mind this relationship has to be viable for everyone concerned – it will be no use to anyone if the supplier hits financial problems or comes back and says he wants to terminate as he is losing money.

Making the Decision

In such a critical selection, a number of factors will come into play, for example:

  • Cost (having done everything you can to ensure you are comparing like with like)
  • The capability of the supplier system to support your business
  • Supplier experience and capabilities
  • Capacity
  • Location
  • Contractual aspects

Perhaps one of the most important aspects is your belief in how well you can work with the key people – this is likely to be a long term relationship (at least 3 years) and how you and your team ‘gel’ with the suppliers team is critical.

If the decision is not a clear one and more than one person in your company has been involved in the search, it can help if you design a decision matrix, where you list the key factors, put a weighting on them to represent their comparative importance to you, and then ask everyone involved in your team to mark each supplier out of 10 against each factor, independently. Apply the weightings to then get an overall score for each supplier. This should NOT be seen as the decision tool in itself, but can then be a good basis for debate if you find members of your team (including yourself) have scored aspects very differently.


Once you have selected your preferred partner, do allow time for sorting the contract. It will depend on how much importance you put on the legal aspects, but it is important and should not be glossed over, especially in topics such as service levels and pricing structure – these must be defined clearly.


The move from either your in house operation or another supplier is a major project and its timing and resource needs have to be carefully considered. You may be going from the worst possible supplier to the best in the world – but it will still cause you pain and disruption and cost you money!

by Andy Cable 4th September, 2012

Andy Cable is a highly accomplished Customer Service and Operations professional with over 25 years experience in senior positions in this field. With hands-on experience working in successful blue chip companies (BSkyB, Open Interactive TV (part of BSkyB), Innovations, Arcadia, GUS), he established his own consultancy in 2002, and has since worked with a range of companies from home shopping start-ups to established multi-nationals and High Street names such as Book Club Associates, De Agostini and John Lewis.

© Andy Cable and Tuffill Verner Associates, July 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andy Cable and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

So what’s new about multi-channel marketing?

multi-channel imageWell, I know I’ve been in marketing for a long time. But I can’t help raising a wry smile when I hear today’s up-and-coming extol the virtues of this or that media channel, and propose it be used as a marketing tool. Occasionally (too rarely) they even suggest testing and measuring results. And the listener is left with the impression that direct marketing is all their very own invention.

There is no doubt the media opportunities have evolved beyond recognition since the direct marketing of the ‘90s. As well as traditional channels like direct mail, loose inserts, press ads, telemarketing, package inserts – all of which are, when appropriately used, an effective part of the marketing mix – we can include email, websites, e-commerce, mobile commerce, apps, social networks, blogs, e-newsletters, microsites, links, PPC etc etc.

And it’s not only the number of channels that has expanded. So has the number of vessels which deliver our communications every day. Technology’s exploded into smartphones and iphones, tablets and ipads, readers, smart TVs, pcs, laptops, Macs. Print media is also evolving – with more advertising in return for free information, QR codes to integrate with new technology, and a greater degree of personalisation within customer communications.

To cope with the diversity and range of channels, marketing platforms are evolving to help businesses integrate their marketing and make it customer-friendly.

Of course the prolific nature and ongoing evolution of marketing channels drives a correspondingly diverse number of “experts” who offer a range of “optimisations” – search engine optimisation, conversion optimisation, click-through optimisation, social media optimisation and so on.

But what I find so interesting is that, despite the new and continuously evolving channel opportunities, the basic principles of direct marketing are unchanged. It’s still a science that involves data, analysis and insight, media choices, creative and design, pricing, branding, product, offer, research, communication, delivery and customer service.

And it’s still about identifying and understanding the customer. Testing data, channels or media, offers, products, new ideas, new creative / copy, response and delivery mechanisms is still an essential part of the process.

And, vitally, it’s still about identifying and measuring the business’s key metrics ongoing to provide insight and refinement of ongoing, healthy and integrated activity.

Certainly there are significant shifts in consumer behaviour – they are more sophisticated, with a shorter attention span. They are hit by multiple messages about multiple products and services from multiple businesses via multiple devices. The lines between above- and below- the-line advertising have blurred to the point of oblivion – which does make the measurement of individual media channels a little more challenging.

But ultimately, the aim of any successful business has to be to deliver appropriate and seamless services, products and communications to its customers, while allowing the customer to deliver communications back through the channels of their choice. And the company that can achieve that is the company that will succeed, both now and in the future.

by Victoria Tuffill 30th August 2012

Victoria Tuffill is a direct marketing consultant with over 30 years experience. She founded Tuffill Verner Associates consultancy with Alastair Tuffill in 1996. She is also founder and Director of Fraudscreen – a data tool that assists in the prevention of 1st party fraud. Her experience ranges across businesses including publishing, home shopping, insurance, utilities, telcos and collections.

© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Multi-channel marketing … in schools

I was fortunate enough to enjoy reading and literature from a very young age, and, as a child, my father introduced me to Isaac Asimov. I promptly inhaled all his fiction, and, in particular, I remember reading a short story which has always stuck in my mind, called “The Fun They Had”. In that story, two children are reading with wistful enjoyment (and utter disbelief that any human could possibly know enough to be able to teach) about something called “school”, where children learnt and played together.

In Asimov’s future, every child has a mechanical “teacher” in their own home – programmed to the child’s own ability, which teaches and assesses its pupil on all subjects. The story was written in the 1950s and some 60 years later, Asimov’s vision of the future of teaching seems to be moving ever closer – and it’s certainly not taking hundreds of years.

Today we have extensive online education tools through all stages of education – from primary school vles (virtual learning environments) such as Espresso and Education City to all the way up to the scale to university and beyond. We have Fronter from Pearson – now widely adopted in London … there’s Noodle … Moodle … online revision tools … CEM (introduced into universities as early as the 1990s and since adjusted for use earlier in the educational process) … Open University has invested heavily in digital tools … support apprentice programmes like Blackboard; and many adult e-learning courses both for businesses and individuals.

However, there are still schools and universities, many of which are embracing technology in ways that other business sectors may find enviable.

Multiple marketing channels in education

Modern technology not only allows the provision of e-education, it also enables schools, colleges and universities to promote themselves, their brand, their goals, their community and their achievements to meet their own business goals and fulfil their ambitions.

Schools have unique challenges, which they address through the combined use of digital and traditional channels. State and private schools have subtly different goals, but today schools from both sectors are embracing technology to support their core priorities:

  • improved levels of achievement for their pupils (and better rankings in league tables)
  • a strong desire (particularly in the private sector) to raise awareness and persuade potential parents to choose that particular school for their children – just the same as any other business, but servicing a very specific market sector

The differences in technological philosophy between private schools (who have to find their pupils) and state schools (where pupils are admitted based on geographic location) are interesting. In general terms, state schools have been driving e-learning based on the curriculum; while private schools have been embracing technology to drive marketing.

But those differences are gradually becoming blurred, particularly with the advent of Academies and Free Schools. Schools use a variety of marketing channels to promote themselves and their community – from websites, SEO, print, direct mail, email, social media, e-learning, mobile technology, and TV and radio.

A strong emphasis on websites

Websites are essentially an interactive prospectus for schools, and provide a channel for self-promotion, dissemination of rules and policies and, importantly, to:

  • Engage parents – through inclusion of information, fixtures, exam statistics, OFSTED reports, news, pupils’ work and homework, blogs, school reports
  • Engage pupils – provide the facility for pupils to engage with each other and their teachers through private areas of the website, offer e-learning including “games”; internal debates; encourage contribution to school news reports and blogs
  • Engage the local community – publicise and involve the local community in school events, support local events, and form links with local industries
  • Raise money – publicise fundraising events; school charities; alumni engagement
  • Sell merchandise online – uniforms, equipment, sportswear – even souvenirs –directly from the website

There are some fantastic websites both from private and, more recently, state schools, who are now starting to see and reap the benefits of a good website as they begin to identify themselves as a business.

Social Media, digital and traditional PR

Use of digital PR is increasing in schools, combined with traditional PR through press and media, in a cohesive and integrated strategy to keep branding awareness, engagement and enjoyment of the school firmly in the public eye. A great OFSTED report should be shouted from the rooftops – as well as within a schools reception area; a visit from a famous author or celebrity makes an involving story; excellent exam results; a particular pupil or group of pupil’s remarkable achievement; school charity fundraising; particular sporting success; availability of school facilities to the community – all these provide opportunities to communicate and publicise the school both locally and farther afield.

But social media in schools has obvious challenges, and often has its own section in a communications / ICT policy. A problem with bullying or inappropriate posting is very serious. So it can be a tricky balance for a school to use Facebook or Twitter to promote themselves while adopting a proscriptive approach about whether or how their pupils may use them.

However, blogs, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest can be an effective part of a school’s overall multi-channel strategy, and can set an example to involve pupils in how to use social media wisely and understand their benefits.

A good example is set by Kelly College, who uses Facebook to promote the school, disseminate information, generate interest, good press and involvement for parents, staff, pupils, and the local and wider community – working almost as a microsite of the school website.

Of course the traditional PR channels are also used – press, community magazines, a printed prospectus with stunning photography, broadcast media, posters and print. Broadcast has an added advantage of the ability to load videos onto the website and Facebook and You Tube … to enhance involvement and drive improved Google rankings.

Keeping up with Technology

It’s noteworthy that much of the technological innovation in education comes from the children first – they know and use the new technology; they have an instinctive understanding of social media, the internet, tablets, smartphones and the internet – all of which are a fundamental, living and breathing part of their lives. There are “rate your teacher” or “rate your food” sites; children already use social media to keep in touch with their friends … and to achieve objectives – whether it’s a Twitter campaign to prevent the appointment of a new head teacher, or a fund-raising exercise from a blog about school meals. So how much of a school’s social marketing activity could – and should – be developed and produced with pupil involvement ‘in-school’?

The increasing availability of notebooks and ipads is also impacting schools – it’s not that long ago that having an ICT suite was considered very forward thinking. Now schools are developing and implementing strategies for a time when all pupils have notebooks or ipads – in which case ICT will become a thing of the past!

My thanks to Jessica Avery and Peter Provins for sparing the time to talk to me.

by Victoria Tuffill, August 2012

© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.