Quick Public Affairs Tip: If you want to open doors, tailor your approach to your target audience and their needs
I’ve always promoted the importance of a rounded secondary school experience. Something that enables people to create the lives they want whether it’s to do with banking or organic food farming. So I was chuffed to receive a commission to develop a strategy on how the local voluntary sector could engage more effectively with secondary schools.
It was a bit of an eye-opener. I’ve opened a lot of doors in my time – universities, trade unions, think tanks, government departments and ministerial offices – but this was a little different. Tougher. After the first couple of hiccups I’d managed to collect some crucial dos and don’ts to making that initial contact.
- Make sure you have a contact name within the school when you phone reception. Using a person’s name is always a good way to build trust. If you don’t have a contact name, then you could try business and enterprise; deputy heads, subject heads, pastoral heads or PSHE heads, inclusion unit managers, SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), welfare and pastoral leads.
- If you can find someone with a bit of influence in the school to introduce you to the “right” person – perhaps a governor or a member of staff in the school – that would be great. Or perhaps you know someone who used to go to that school who can help introduce you to someone.
- Time it right. September’s a good time to approach schools. Avoid post-April.
- Frame the messages in the offer around their needs, what the school wants and how the project will benefit their students. Be clear about where you’re pitching (year, subject, theme); how it’s value for money; and how you intend to measure success.
- Be super-nice.
- Cold call schools.
- E-mail/mail bomb schools.
- Phone up during school hours expecting to talk to a teacher.
- Contact the head teachers as they’re always very busy. Their PAs can be very helpful people. They know the school and can help you find the right person.
- Antagonise the school receptionists.
Hope you found this helpful. I’ll be continuing this school series with what to do in steps 2 and 3 (building trust and creating strong sustainable relationships).
I’d love to hear about your stories. What worked – or didn’t work – for you when you first approached a secondary school with your idea?
Why not get in touch: