July 2022 edition: How Strategic Communications can Supercharge your Civic Leadership Initiatives

How Strategic Communications can Supercharge your Civic Leadership Initiatives

As reflected in the theme of the recent CST Annual Conference #Truly Civic, the civic leadership role of School Trusts has never been more evident than during the pandemic years and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Trusts have been supporting pupils, families and wider communities with everything from digital devices to clothing, food banks and more and this supports not just the education of pupils but also the betterment of society.

Many Trusts have great initiatives in place already, with plans and ambitions to do even more, often through the help of partnerships built with other organisations.

Leveraging a programme of strategic communications can help your civic leadership initiatives go further, faster. The more your work and impact as civic leaders is understood, together with your impact in the classroom, the more people and organisations will want to be a part of what you do.

Why does this matter?

  • So parents and carers want to send their children to your schools, aren’t quick to criticise when something goes wrong and become your advocates and word-of-mouth champions;

  • So current and prospective staff want to be part of what you do;

  • So schools want to join your Trust or partner with/support work you do, or access your support;

  • So stakeholders and decision makers are aware of your work, are supportive, and understand the effectiveness of your Trust and its impact on children and communities; and,

  • So other organisations want to partner with/support your work.

Plus, the more word gets out about the breadth of civic work undertaken by School Trusts, the more the value of School Trusts is understood by the wider public. This serves to benefit the whole Trust sector by demonstrating why schools being part of a strong Trust is a good thing - without getting caught up in any politics around it.

This is why it’s good to communicate what you’re doing as civic leaders. The aim is not about getting PR for PR’s sake, but rather about generating understanding and interest in what you are up to, garnering support from a variety of stakeholders and organisations, ultimately making it easier for you to fulfil your aims.

It's about building and managing your Trust’s reputation. Reputation is interesting– it’s a relational construct making you known for something with someone. Reputation matters because it is the critical link between your ability to deliver in the present and thrive in the future.

People sometimes confuse reputation with brand: brand is the image you present, it’s what you want others to think about you. It’s aspirational of what you want to be and you control it – you choose the language and the activity around it.

The more you use good communications to supercharge your civic leadership strategy, the more you increase your chances of success.

Tiffany Beck

Reputation is very different: it is what others actually think of you and it is not under your control, it’s controlled by others – BUT, you can influence it. Positive PR is a major factor in that.

There are two critical elements of reputation:

  • Perceptions of your capability (which are quite sticky and hard to lose, based on you delivering high quality education, your competence and your track record); and,

  • Perceptions of character (which are much more volatile and based on how you go about your work - it is all too easy to go from hero to zero.)

These things tend to matter differently to different stakeholders (though both matter to all). Arguably, capability matters more to the Department for Education, whilst character matters more to other parties such as organisations who partner with you or schools joining you, and parents may fall somewhere in between. In fields of high competition, character becomes the critical distinguishing factor.

Reputation and quality are related but not the same. Perceptions of quality will enhance your reputation, but quality is an impression of delivery in the past. Reputation is created through a judgment of your ability to deliver future value.

This is why reputation is critical – it helps you build relationships, enabling you to build, grow and deliver in line with your objectives.

Reputation can also energise the different things you do. It enables you to partner for new relationships, which opens up new opportunities, helps you learn from each other and build your expertise – empowering you to better develop an exceptional offer for your pupils and communities, reinforcing your reputation.

So how to go about it? Make it easy for people to know, understand and talk about you and your work:

  • Start with press releases to your local media, highlighting both the civic leadership initiatives you are focusing on, but also the wider range of great things happening in your schools.

  • Write to your Regional Director, MPs and local community organisations to highlight the civic leadership initiatives your trust is focusing on.

  • Ensure you know what to do to manage your reputation through effective communications when crisis strikes.

That last bit is key. No matter how big or small a crisis situation seems, it has the potential to spiral out of control if not handled well, causing lasting damage to your reputation. Any reputational damage can have a hugely negative impact on your ability to deliver on wider civic leadership initiatives if people feel they have a reason to lose confidence in you.

This is where positive PR plays another big role – the more positive press is out there about your schools and Trusts, the more a rounded picture is readily evident when people search for you online. Then, if a negative story does hit the press, a programme of positive PR on the back of it will help push negative stories down search results.

The more you use good communications to supercharge your civic leadership strategy, the more you increase your chances of success.

As CST always highlights so well, the increasing importance of the role of School Trusts as civic leaders cannot be underestimated. I missed the recent annual conference due to Covid-19, but just one look at the number of attendees demonstrates how deeply rooted the Trust sector is across society – all those Trusts coming together to reflect on what has happened, but more importantly, on where we are all going together as civic leaders.

PLMR is a CST Platinum Partner.