Editorial mission statements: a Head’s best friend

Almost all communications in your school occur in cycles. Daily, weekly, across terms, semesters and years. It is little wonder then that one of the most common frustrations for Heads is that their communication and marketing efforts seem to be stuck in a rut. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We see this scenario play out in schools across the country with alarming regularity. Perhaps it is once a week for your school newsletter, once a term for your school magazine, once each semester for the dreaded website content review and update, or at the same time each year for your school’s yearbook. The familiar problems are faced every cycle.

Yet even as each project is put to bed, Heads and their marketing officers feel a tinge of disappointment that another opportunity to ratchet up the effectiveness of the project has once again passed unrealised. It feels like groundhog day.

As with all communication issues, it is best to diagnose the problem before prescribing a solution. There are a few common and connected causes:

  • There are limited resources available to complete the project.
  • There is a desire to excel and create a communication piece the school can be proud of.
  • Often the project is left to a single person who does not have all the skills required.
  • There is a lack of clarity about what changes or improvements to make.

As the leader of marketing at your school, diagnosing the problem is your job. Your school marketing officer usually doesn’t have the experience or capacity to be the copywriter, graphic designer, production manager, proofreader, creative director, videographer, audio engineer, photographer, digital strategist, event manager and public relations practitioner. The list could easily be longer, but these resourcing issues fall into a distant second place behind the need for your leadership. Experience at imageseven has shown that school marketing officers and teams lack the insight required for your expectations, messages and desired outcomes.

The diagnosis is clear. The prescription is to insist on an editorial mission statement for every piece of regular communication your school creates. If you don’t know what someone will gain from your communication or marketing, your audience will not see a compelling reason to engage with it.

The rationale is that there is not usually the opportunity to significantly change the resourcing equation. Since you want to foster the desire to excel, the only route left for significant improvement is to create clarity around your messages and expectations. Fortunately, this is very easy to do.

What is an editorial mission statement?

An editorial mission statement is a practice that has been adapted from the world of newspaper and magazine publishing. It helps centre your content creation and govern your school marketing team’s creative and strategic decision-making. We call it an editorial mission statement, but it applies to any regular communication and marketing channel or project. Video, social media, enewsletters, school magazines, annuals and more can all benefit from the application of an editorial mission statement.

A strong editorial mission statement reflects your school’s values and helps you distinguish your story from other schools who are competing for your audience’s attention. You are holding an example of an editorial mission statement in action right now. The School Marketing Journal explicitly lays out our editorial mission statement at the top of the masthead on page two of each edition. It is important for us that you understand our mission too. Take a look now. Does the journal you are now reading meet our editorial mission statement? The point is that imageseven (the publisher) and you (the reader) have an objective standard by which to measure the publication. Without it, we could, over time, inadvertently stray from the mission. Even worse, we could be complacent and comfortable in repeating the same formula without guidance about how to explore the boundaries of how to serve you, the school Head.

An editorial mission statement creates clarity around why you are creating the communication or marketing piece in the first instance, who the target audience is and what it will do for them. If you don’t know the answers to any of these questions, you need to figure them out before you unnecessarily cycle through groundhog day once again.

The formula

There are just three elements to an effective editorial mission statement:

x = Your audience

y = What will be delivered

z = The outcome or benefit.

There is a simple format to remember: “Our school publication [or video, event or website] is where [audience x] finds [content y] for [benefit z].

It is important to remember that ‘our school’ refers to everything your school creates, publishes and shares with its current and prospective parents. It is also likely that you might have a number of editorial mission statements that form a hierarchy — one that addresses all of your content creation and then one for each publication or project.

  • x = Your audience
    Your school has multiple audiences: current parents, prospective parents, students, alumni and your local community, to name but some. Your editorial mission statement should focus on the primary audience for your communication. Don’t stray into the quicksand of trying to address multiple audiences: it is an unproductive compromise.

    To select your audience, focus on the segment where this particular communication can do the most good, where you need to change minds or call for action. To help narrow your focus, you can flip the problem and ask which audience can best help you achieve your goal. As an example, what is the goal of your school’s yearbook? Does everyone in your team understand that goal and why you are publishing your yearbook, or are they doing it because it is expected as you’ve always done it?

    Look again at the editorial mission statement for the School Marketing Journal. The first sentence clearly identifies Independent School Heads as the audience. It does not mean that the Journal does not understand (or appreciate) the many readers we have who are school marketers, directors of development, school Heads from other secondary sectors and the tertiary education sector. This focus flows through all imageseven’s content under the School Marketing Journal banner. If you create catch-all content designed to target everybody, it is very likely that it will not be valuable to anybody.

  • y = What will be delivered
    Here you must succinctly describe the kind of information you will provide. Do not use the media to define this element; define the actual content. Is it persuasive, short, comprehensive, light or entertaining?

    As a school, what is it that you value most? What topics are you most passionate about, have the most authority on, the deepest experience with or the most insight into? This is how you discover the stories that are the most aligned and valuable to your school brand — and most compelling to your audience.

    Look once more to the School Marketing Journal example. “The School Marketing Journal helps Independent School Heads lead their school brand and augment their own professional development. The Journal provides practical and concise content … .” This part of the editorial mission statement also needs to account for how your content provides a personally resonant and uniquely valuable experience to your audience. There can be a strong emotional component involved. It doesn’t have to be based solely on logic and data.

  • z = The outcome or benefit
    In the ‘mission’ component of your statement, you describe how the consumer of your content (your audience, x) will be better off for having invested the time required to engage with your communication. What are the distinct benefits? What do you promise?

    Audience personas can help align all members of your school team and bring a clear and consistent picture of your target market, and what matters most to them.

    Looking at our School Marketing Journal example one last time: “… that makes Heads feel in control and equipped to make better decisions, so they can save time and money, bring their vision to life and enjoy their school’s success.”

Why it matters

Not only can creating an editorial mission statement help you shape the content that will be aligned with your school’s strategic intent, it can also highlight the themes and priorities your school is most passionate about. Your editorial mission statement is more than a powerful tool to help Heads lead communication and marketing; it can be the meaningful differentiator that will set the scene for increased engagement, greater trust and deeper loyalty.

Insight applied

  • It is the Head’s job to set the focus for every piece of communication.
  • Editorial mission statements are a powerful tool to manage communication and marketing in your school.
  • School brands are built by consistent messaging. Using editorial mission statements will keep your team on message without the need for you to micromanage.

Andrew Sculthorpe, aka Scully, is the Managing Partner of imageseven. With a wealth of experience gained in both the UK and Australia, he is perfectly positioned to deliver insights that create a world-class impact for schools and their Heads. imageseven.com.au 

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