To market

The importance of evaluating press coverage of your school

Caroline Sherwood suggests that understanding how a school is being presented in the media is crucial for effective strategic planning.

Press coverage

 

 

In the competitive landscape of independent and international education, schools face the ongoing challenge of maintaining a positive public image. Marketing and communications activity is no longer limited to the school community through parent, student and staff newsletters or dialogue with feeder schools. The wider education community, prospective parents, prospective members of staff and award panels increasingly look at representation in the media – both print and online – to measure a school’s success.

Huge effort goes into generating positive editorial activity. However, within the busy school environment, it can be difficult to track and evaluate the impact of press coverage. This is where quality reporting and evaluation comes in.

What is press coverage evaluation?

It is a process of systematically logging and analysing coverage against selected metrics. It involves tracking where articles mention your organisation – including news sites, blogs and newspapers – and this information can then be assessed to determine impact. The overall impact is defined by criteria such as:

  • Sentiment – is your organisation mentioned in a positive or negative way?
  • Share of voice – what percentage of the piece is dedicated to your organisation, perhaps in comparison to competitors?
  • Reach / circulation or opportunities to see (OTS) – this is the number of people that will see the article, or the number of times people will be exposed to it e.g. impressions for online activity.
  • Publication quality – coverage featured in a publication that you deem to be well-regarded or is widely-read by your target audience is more favourable than those with limited reach.

In the past ‘Advertising Value Equivalent’ (AVE) or PR value has been used to measure PR results. This outdated metric assigns a monetary value to editorial content based on what the equivalent sized advertisement would cost. Now considered misleading, global communication trade associations including the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) have banned their members from using AVE to measure press coverage. Instead, they prescribe a more holistic approach to press coverage evaluation using a wider set of criteria.

Why is press coverage evaluation important for schools?

 

Firstly, it provides a clear understanding of a school’s public perception, helping leaders to identify potential reputation risks or opportunities. Proper reporting can also confirm or disprove anecdotal perceptions that stakeholders may have, such as: “our competitor receives more acclaim than us”.

Secondly, press coverage evaluation can indicate the effectiveness of communications strategies. From interviews and press releases to award wins and social media campaigns, these insights can shape and refine future public relations efforts.

Thirdly, strong insights can help schools demonstrate transparency and take accountability. Leaders can address negative press mentions and develop strategies to counter damaging perceptions or rebuild trust.

Finally, it can be good for morale! Too often news is fleeting, whereas a monthly, quarterly or annual review of press coverage, reminds stakeholders of the success and impact of certain projects. It also gives staff, students and donors the opportunity to be celebrated.

What does successful PR evaluation look like?

The key to success is to identify the insights and metrics that stakeholders regard as the most meaningful and then work out how frequently they need to receive a report.

Unless it is a high-profile piece e.g. in a national newspaper or an article that poses a reputational risk, it is overwhelming to share every piece of press coverage. Therefore, a weekly or monthly email with top line information may work best. Alternatively, some schools prefer to share results at senior leadership or governor board meetings. Statistics, charts and images of coverage (where you are legally permitted) are most effective for engagement and quick comprehension. However, it is important to abide by licensing laws in your region that may restrict replication and sharing of press coverage within your organisation. The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) and Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) provide detail on this for the UK but if in doubt, circulate web links to the press coverage and a short description of the content rather than a screenshot, clipping or copying and pasting online text.

Who should manage coverage evaluation?

 

While many organisations may pay for a media monitoring service to capture press clippings, the results can be overwhelming and inaccessible to non-marketing professionals. This creates a gap between the data received by the marketing team and senior leaders.

It should fall to the communications or PR team to disseminate a digestible overview of PR results, which highlights the main successes and challenges. However, there can be a lack of specialist PR reporting skills in marketing teams. Often these skills are honed in PR agencies, as coverage reporting and evaluation is a commercial necessity that helps agencies prove their worth. This kind of work may not always be part of the everyone’s experience in a school marketing or comms team, especially if they have always worked in house – but it can be invaluable if a school comms team starts to develop its expertise in the area.

How can a school start coverage evaluation?

A small school team can begin by creating a log, which tracks when and where they have received press coverage including links or perhaps a brief description of the content, so it is easy to refer back to or track trends. Adding metrics that are considered important by the leadership team such as reach, sentiment and media type. Some publications also share online news stories on their social media accounts so it is important to have these figures included in a reporting prepared for the SLT.

It may be useful to create a grading system to categorise how valuable a publication is for your school. To do this, identify the media outlets that are most likely to report on the school and those that are most frequently read by your target audience i.e. prospective students, parents and staff, feeder schools and people who hold influence. This may include local forums, regional news titles or educational industry magazines. Split publications into an A-list, B-list and C-list to quantify how often your school is appearing in the most influential publications.

Some media monitoring services offer the option to track competitor coverage to help you understand your share of voice in the media compared to them. There are also services that can create coverage books displaying your results. Alternatively, talk to a PR consultant for advice on how to best manage and present your PR activity within your organisation.

What should school leaders think about?

If as a leader you are not receiving press coverage evaluation reports, something important is missing. The first thing to check is whether it is being done at all. If it is, make sure a regular summary comes your way. This will be invaluable and add insight to your strategic planning. If it is not being prepared, then perhaps it is time to ask how the gap can be filled. Marketing teams are always extremely busy people. They probably need one of two things (or both!) – time and training. Working out realistic ways to provide these precious commodities might just turn out to be one of the most important things you can incorporate into next year’s school development plan.

 

Caroline Sherwood is director of CLS Relations, a practical PR and communications specialist, she has managed marketing and press office activity for several independent schools in the UK.

 

 

 

FEATURE IMAGE: https://www.istockphoto.com/en/portfolio/z_wei?mediatype=illustration

Support Images : by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash,  Vanilla Bear Films on Unsplash, https://www.istockphoto.com/en/portfolio/Amnaj?mediatype=photograph