Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Newsletters Can Increase Morale, Customer Service and WTP

A comment came to me from the postings on bathrooms.

“I heard you talk at a recent conference and your message about getting the good news out to build a stockpile of morale and service with students and parents is one that certainly rang a bell. We have been trying to increase our “school pride” communications to students and parents as you recommended.
We use the college website, the student portal and emails to get out the information but I am not sure anyone is noticing. Any recommendations on how to better serve our community on a limited budget?”

I am not sure there was a direct relationship between the question, bathrooms and my keynoting at a conference, but the concern is an important one so here is a response for everyone.

Students and their families do use technology more and more. But, we have found they do not use college websites once in school, seldom use the portals except when they must (registration, payments…) and skip over most school email as spam unless they know the sender by name or are interested in the sender. They assume emails from colleges usually have to do with bills, or something they have to do but don’t wish to, or will just be boring. So they delete them. They are intrusions into their on-line world.

By the way, they are right. School communications are almost always boring, overwritten in academicese and targeted to faculty, staff and administrators who may read them; not to students. And they just have too many words. Students see the world in metaphors and graphics. They don’t read it in words. And certainly not in the words we academics toss around. For those of us in academia, words are the coin of the realm and lord don’t we spend them freely. Students may go to our schools but they do not live there as we do.

So the solution. Printed Newsletters and Snail Mail

Well-designed, brightly colored, picture-filled, newsletters with brief headlines that tell it all and short, simply worded pieces mailed home and slipped under dorm doors. Showing up under the door first thing in the morning like a menu from a Chinese take-out or a US Today at a Hilton will get attention. They will be read, or at least scanned too as students often seek reading material as they head into the bathroom. We take the US News. They’ll take your newsletter into the bathroom with them. (AHHH, maybe that is the connection between the posting and the question!))

By mailing the home, parents will read them too.

Newsletters can put forward the feel good about your school messages that are so very important. They provide a very necessary customer service by informing readers about the school, its activities faculty and accomplishments. Newsletters are very important vehicles to build up and stockpile morale and pride in the school that will be needed when tuition goes up for example.

If done correctly, newsletters have built upon a wall of good news that can help block the full impact of bad news. If people feel good things are going on at the school they will feel they are getting a good ROI on their investment. The newsletter is also a prime customer service vehicle because it reaches out to the students and families. They do not have to seek.

Moreover, our studies have found that reading all the good things that are going on also increases WTP (willingness to pay). There is a direct correlation between WTP and perceived value of service and ROI.

When I was the president of a college, I worked with a PR firm to develop newsletters we could mail to the community to gain support for the school. We created a series of images based on billboards that told the whole story in one quick image. We also used the newsletter images and articles for ads as well as advertorials. The result? A top of mind increase of 21% and positive recall went up 24%. Equally important, the coomunity learned about what we were doing and supported the request for a new facility.

If you are like many schools and do not have the staff to write, photograph and produce newsletters, not a problem. Don’t hire someone to do the newsletters. Save the money to hire a faculty member instead. And don’t dump it on the short-handed PR staff person or some staffer who may not do a good job on it anyhow. It takes skill and experience to know how to create a good newsletter.

Outsource the newsletter and save time, money and the hassle. There are a couple good groups out there who could handle it all for you from creation though fulfillment at a cost that is not bad at all. If you need or want a recommendation, just ask. I’ll be glad to help out.

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