Focus                                                  Pages 16-17


Politics or Marketing: Which

Side of the Coin Wins the Toss?


“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues …” — George Orwell




How do you educate noneducators about your school district’s goals? The target group includes everyone, everywhere, all the time. Is it politics or marketing? It’s both!

You can be successful even if you aren’t a politician or a marketing guru. Here are some tips I learned and skills honed as a superintendent at Oklahoma’s two largest career-tech districts and as the last elected Tulsa County superintendent of schools.

Speak Up
Don’t let yours be the only voice that’s “allowed” to speak for your district. Find and train others who know your “product” to communicate a consistent message, including staff members, lobbyists, board members and parents. But remember, people often want to talk to “the boss.” Stay available, quotable, informed and informative.

Your district’s best spokespersons are your parents. Develop and inform parent legislative-action committees. These folks are formidable voices in the community, and politicians know they vote.

Be visible when special interest groups that complement your causes visit the state capital. They just might do the same for you.

Develop teams of peer administrators who can share insights unique to their districts but are relevant to your common goals. Plan coordinated media responses or white papers or joint board resolutions among multiple school districts on important legislation or other education issues.

Connect to the Community
Get involved with the local chambers of commerce. Chambers are crucial partners because they do so much marketing for you, especially with legislators. Make no mistake; it is a quid pro quo relationship. They want you, not a designee, and they want your school district’s marketing dollars.

Take advantage of chamber-sponsorship opportunities that get your district’s name on their printed materials and rotate one of your board members and/or yourself at their head table events.

Serve on chamber boards. They are composed of the community leaders, and you should be among them. Don’t overlook participation with suburban and ethnic chambers. A metropolitan area may have 10 or more chambers. Enlist your “army” by assigning a staff member to each chamber on behalf of the district.

At least once a year, offer to have someone from your district present the chamber program.

Don’t settle for just student/staff-of-the-month recognition.

Annual representation in community leadership organizations is a must for you and your talented staff. There always will be someone on staff or on your school board who wants to be next year’s new member representing the district. The networking alone makes the initial membership cost worth it for the district to support. Or find a sponsor. After that, continued membership is up to the individual.

Go Statewide
Contact state officials who appoint members to state and regional boards and express your interest in participating. Encourage other superintendents to recommend each other for membership on influential state boards.

Be a credible, reliable source of education information for legislators. Learn what legislative interim studies will affect your district, and attend task force meetings. Ask to make occasional presentations on areas in which your district excels (early childhood, virtual learning, alternative education, etc.).

Sponsor at least one annual event that local and state politicians want to attend. Tulsa Tech hosts a traditional Pearl Harbor Day Breakfast on or about Dec. 7 each year for area legislators, community leaders and veterans. The program is patriotic, and tears flow freely. The goodwill such events engender for you and your school district cannot be measured.

Know the Media
Get acquainted with education reporters. Be available. Be a source. Don’t wait until you need to issue an official press release. Over time, this strategy pays big dividends.

Schedule at least a biannual meeting with the editorial staff of the local paper(s) in large towns or the single editor in smaller towns. Do it without an ax to grind or a bond issue to promote. Everything doesn’t have to be a story. It is better to visit when you want to, instead of when you have to.

The local newspaper usually welcomes citizen opinion articles. Encourage district staff members to contribute. These pieces should not be rants but information you want your community to know. Remember: educate, don’t alienate.

Use paid advertorials to promote the people, programs and new directions of your district. One of the best marketing investments you can make is a monthly article promoting your institution in free community publications. These publications are free because you “pay to play” as an advertiser. It’s worth it.

Think about running a pat-the-district-on-the-back advertisement in all of your sports programs with the booster clubs picking up any cost.

Remember: Politics and marketing are two sides of the same public relations coin.

Every toss can be a win for you.

Kara Gae Neal, a former superintendent, is director of the School of Urban Education at The University of Tulsa. E-mail: kara​gae-​neal@utulsa.edu


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