Small Potatoes

Some time ago, I heard a story that deals more with Stewardship that it does Marketing, but it’s good to keep in mind when you’re planning your marketing efforts. Centuries ago in Northern China, potato farmers planted their field with the previous year’s cut-up potatoes rather than seeds.  Each year, they would cut some of the potato crop into small pieces and return them back to the ground. Year after year the tradition continued, until someone had an idea – let’s save the choice, large potatoes for food and for market, and take the very smallest potatoes to cut up for planting.  Back then, farmers were not as scientifically educated as they are today, so they didn’t know that heredity plays a big part in the product. They eventually discovered that the only thing that grows from small potatoes is … small potatoes.  By keeping the large ones for themselves, they found out that their economically self-serving interests didn’t allow them to continue that way for very long.

Development directors can make the correlation as they present stewardship opportunities to alumni parents and guardians, community members, alumni and businesses. We can also learn from this to affect our own stewardship for the parishes, churches and other faith communities to which we belong.  But marketing?

Sure!  Does your school put out a school newsletter that’s merely words printed on a piece of paper…but the paper is a different color so when we send it home with the children, the parents will know that it’s important?  Yes, I know, this is the age of the Internet and email, but this still happens in more schools than you can imagine.  Why?  Wait for it…it’s for those people who don’t have computers!

If you’d like to know why, in 2017, there’s a problem with maintaining that mindset, send an email to mailto:admin@schooladvancement.comwith the words “They don’t have computers” in the subject line.

There are three things that are wrong with that practice – but the big error is that it’s “small potatoes.”

First, the three wrong things about that paper practice:

1) It’s on colored paper. It might be nice if that color is an off-white, or maybe even a gold, but I’ve seen newsletters on red paper (for February for Valentine’s Day).  Black print on red paper is not readable.  If you want something to be read, make it readable, or, at least, “If you want something to be read, don’t put it on red.”  Red means “Danger.”  If it’s important and you want to use red, then use a red border.  If you’re thinking “But Office Depot had a sale on vibrantly-colored paper,” you fell into their marketing, and now you get the idea behind “small potatoes.”

2) It’s all print. Pictures are easy to insert into documents today, and they still say a thousand words…which will allow you to cut down on the number of words you use and utilize a larger font.

3) It’s sent home with the children…which means it’s crumpled up in their pocket, or in their backpack under their American History book which is two inches thick and weighs 6 pounds (By the way, who designs texts like this in this technologically advanced age in which we live?  Let’s have publishers carry 6 of these things back and forth from home to work for 180 days and see how their backs feel).   You may include it in the “Thursday envelope” of important papers, but then it may get lost among 7 or 8 other important papers that may deserve a higher priority – like a flyer for school pictures day.

Sending something home via first class mail elicits attention. A quality publication on heavy grade paper with  color pictures make the publication much more inviting.  Now, if you’re saying that costs way more than black and white copies, you get the idea behind “Small Potatoes.”  Copy stock, small font, black and white print papers get tossed today; well-designed, heavy stock short articles with pictures are more apt to be retained.

With that in mind, here are reasons 4 and 5 regarding the practice of still doing a newsletter on paper:

4) Your Web site.  It’s the place to put information about your school.  And, dare I say it, NOT your tuition schedule (but that’s a topic for another day).  All those articles you’re putting on paper should reside on your school’s Web site.  The paper newsletter can then have a summary about it, and a link to where people can read more about it.

5) A well-designed eNewsletter can save on all those printing and paper costs.  Create the eNewsletter the same way you’d do the paper one with a picture, a synopsis and a link for more information.  By using an eNewsletter service, you can even track which articles receive more views.  If you’re not interesting in what parents are tracking, you should be interested tracking what parents of prospective students are visiting, so your parent eNewsletter could even be a page on your Web site.  Create it, and then send that page’s URL to parents through your parent contact technology.  We used to call them “Emergency Communication” tools to inform parents of school closings and such, but parents could get a text with that link, and check it out while they’re waiting to pick up their kids in the car line.  Remember, if you’re sending an eNewsletter, it’s a good idea to use a service that specializes in creating these documents, since they provide an “unsubscribe” or “manage my subscription” option.

Why is this a good idea?  If a parent of a prospective student unsubscribes, that gives you a reason to call them.  Perhaps they’re no longer interested in enrolling their child in your school.  Better to know this as soon as possible rather than on the first day of school.  If a current parent unsubscribes, that could be a warning sign that they may be considering other educational options for their child.

And alerts like that aren’t small potatoes.


© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2017 (Original Publication Date: 20070924)