By Guest Contributor Lisa Wolfe
In the words of the poet Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Headlines from the first few weeks of 2022 show that nothing could be truer of the return to school following the holidays. Thousands of K-12 schools have experienced a disruption to in-person learning and the upheaval continues as school leaders juggle the absences of teachers and other school staff on the fly and grapple with a shrinking pool of substitute teachers amplified by the pandemic.
For companies that are trying to navigate the school buying cycle, the constant changes over the past two years have been difficult to track and it is hard to determine the best way to connect with and provide tools and resources to schools that are dealing with unanticipated challenges. While now would typically be the time when school leaders are gathering information for the purchasing decisions that they will be making near the end of the school year and over the summer, they are filling in as bus drivers and substitute teachers. Here are three things to consider as you implement – and modify – your 2022 marketing plans:
- Evaluate your messages to ensure that they are sensitive to the moment. Yes, many schools still have lots of ESSER funds to spend and there are deadlines for investing that money. However, this month might not be the best time to remind them of that. Of course, schools around the country are working to mitigate the learning loss that has resulted from school closures and the pandemic but reminding them of that now – as they are trying to keep the doors open – could look a little tone deaf. Modify your messages to match the moment. Let school leaders know that you are sensitive to what they are dealing with and available to help if needed.
- Reconsider the timing of your marketing campaigns. To paraphrase the Poet Burns, plans often unravel. While you may have planned a big email marketing campaign for January or February, it might be more effective this year to push it a bit later in the spring. If your reps typically meet with school leaders right after the new year, for 2022 it may be a good idea to consider the current challenges that schools are dealing with and move those meetings to February and conduct them virtually.
- Listen to your education customers carefully and respond to their evolving needs. While this might be obvious, it is also critically important. If your customers tell you that “right now” is not a good time to connect, listen. If they tell you, our most urgent need is X, Y or Z, listen. Then respond! Perhaps they need tools for communicating to parents how your product supports virtual learning. Develop them and get it in their hands as quickly as possible. Maybe their teachers are asking for training on your intervention tool that they purchased with their ESSER funds but haven’t had time to implement. Collaborate with them to provide the training in a format that works best for them. Maybe they just need a break. Is there a way your company can help with that? Can you sponsor a “coffee break” or other fun event or activity for their staff that would allow them to relax a bit and decompress?
Hopefully, things will settle down for schools soon. In the meantime, we are all navigating these uncertain times together. As you develop – and change – your 2022 marketing plans, remember MDR is here to provide insights and support. Reach out to MDR at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Wolfe is the president of L. Wolfe Communications
Founded in April 2000, L. Wolfe Communications offers its clients a network of senior, experienced public relations executives with a variety of complementary experience and expertise in public relations and communications for the education and library markets.