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In our last blog post, we talked about how and why education is a unique market. (Make sure you read it first.) You can’t approach PR for education with the same mindset or process that may have been successful in other industries. We work in a wonderful but quirky world.
Education PR is a unique endeavor. There’s a unique lingo, intense public scrutiny (and sometimes private skepticism), a very long buying cycle (years sometimes), and a whole gamut of gatekeepers whose trust you have to earn. Below are some nuggets of knowledge that will help your organization overcome these challenges.
The editors of major education publications can spot messaging from a firm that doesn’t specialize in education a mile away. So can educators. Showing your audience that you understand them and the world they live in is critical. Whether you handle your PR internally or with a partner, make sure they understand our market. To get started, we recommend checking out some of the top education podcasts or listening to The Education Insider Podcast. We also recommend subscribing to education blogs, journals, and newsletters that target the same audience that you do.
Keep in mind that you’ll also need to know what types of pitches education editors and journalists are actually looking for and interested in. Structure your pitches and communication so that the editors of top publications can trust you and your organization as a source for stories their readers, listeners, or viewers are looking for. (Pro tip: Structure your pitch like one of the publication’s headlines.)
Seek to understand the process and expectations that editors and journalists with EdTech beats have for press releases and media pitches. Know what to send, what to say, and when to follow up. If you alienate your gatekeepers (for example, by pitching a higher ed story to a K-12 media outlet) you’re going to lose opportunities to tell your story.
Parents care deeply about their children. Educators do, too. Many feel that they have been burned (and some actually have been) by unscrupulous EdTech companies. It's our job to help make their lives easier. Ensure your company or organization prioritizes what your audience prioritizes.
Be genuinely concerned about the safety, security, and privacy of the students using your product. Care about student outcomes. Partner with your customers in their journey towards improvement. Respect educators. And of course, don’t forget teachers and parents, too. They should have a simple, positive, and empowering experience. At every level, from the student to the superintendent, everyone should feel supported. Remember, in the education market, you’re building a relationship, not a sale.
One way to show you care deeply: have a brand that your audience associates with doing good. Be known for something, such as moving the needle on student achievement. Do you sell STEM software for girls? Then don’t just sell software. Support organizations like Women Who Code.
Yes, educators are passionate about what they do, but the many stakeholders and gatekeepers are also held accountable for how they spend funds. They need to be able to show the data they used to back up their choices.
Research-basis and efficacy data for your products are more important now than ever. If you don’t have data on student outcomes, uptake, and more, start gathering it now. Figure out how to make it presentable and understandable. You need to be able to show that you have delivered measurable outcomes.
After that, be ready to be asked for guarantees. Here’s what New Era Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said when we spoke with him on the Education Insider Podcast:
“If you're going to quote me a price, what's your guarantee on that price? Can you guarantee me X percentage of student learning growth and, if not, do I get my money back? Are you actually willing to stand behind your product enough to say you will give me money back if you don't meet this particular threshold?”
If your product doesn’t do what you say it can, what will you do to make it right? Will you provide a full refund?
“Here’s how we at Education Technology Company Incorporated LLC are going to disrupt education!!!! ”
Sorry, educators don’t want to be “disrupted.” Their jobs are hard enough, thank you very much. Any editor of an EdTech journal has gotten dozens, if not hundreds, of these pitches. But that’s not what educators need. They need help. They need support. They need positivity. They need useful tools. They’re getting burned out. Don’t try to disrupt the education market. Instead, get to know your audience, understand their challenges, and dedicate everything you do, from press releases to your product, to helping them succeed.
Educators are often skeptical of education vendors because they’ve had too many bad experiences with salespeople who just saw dollar signs. Today’s EdTech buyers expect more than just a free trial. They want to know that you respect teachers, that you care about student safety, privacy, and outcomes, and that you’re going to provide an unprecedented level of support.
Teachers are under a lot of pressure and they’re quitting the industry in droves. Make them laugh. Support their mental health and wellbeing. Make their jobs easier. Talk to them the way you’d talk to someone you like and care about—not like someone you’re selling a used car to. Remember that they are human and they have human lives and human stresses inside and outside of work.
Budget and buying cycles at schools work differently than in many other industries. It’s a long time frame dictated by the school year, funding sources, and other restrictions. Make sure you’re familiar with how it all works. Your outreach has to come at the right point in your buyer’s buying cycle.
There’s a beat to the school year."
Here’s something else to understand: it’s an emotional timeline as well as a budgetary and fiscal one. There’s a beat to the school year, a sense of enthusiasm and optimism during back-to-school, a feeling of freedom in May and June, and often radio silence around Independence Day when suddenly no one is checking their emails because they’re all on vacation.
Send the right communication to the right people at the right time, with the right tone. You can’t do that unless you know the buying cycles, timelines, budgetary, and funding restrictions for your target audience.
Speaking of time, let’s close with some good news: now is actually a great time to be in EdTech. Schools have more funding than they’ve had in years, and they want and need to buy. During the school year, there are times, such as near the end of the year when schools need to use up remaining funds, or post-back to school when administrators start looking for what they need next year when you should be timing your outreach around. So get out there and show them you know what you’re talking about, you care about their challenges, and that you are here to help.
Check out our blog post and episode on How to Get Into the Room for ESSER Funding, then check out our Quick-Start Guide to Relationship-Driven Storytelling for the Education Market.