Virtually every school prepares and sends out regular email newsletters to families – and virtually every school marketing team has either struggled to fill content for their newsletter or wondered if there’s a better way to plan and prep for them.
In this post, we share six tips to help your email newsletters be the best they can be, and to make them one of the smoothest and easiest things you work on each week or each month (with no journalism degree required!).
1. Create a Plan
Planning ahead helps you work more efficiently and also allows you to avoid that last-minute scramble that happens when you have too much content, not enough content, or content that’s not focused.
We like to create a spreadsheet that includes all of your upcoming publication dates and all of your main newsletter sections. With this basic framework built, you can start to fill in all the news and events that happen throughout the month.
Here’s an example of what your content planner might look like:
If you want to take it to the next level, try color coding different content themes or types to help you see at a glance where you might be posting too frequently about certain topics (or not frequently enough), and allows you to appropriately recycle ideas.
Alongside this schedule, keep an ideas list. A long list of good content ideas will save you during a busy month, because you'll always have good ideas to pull from. Even better, you can 'assign' features to people outside of your marketing team - or involve them in brainstorming ideas with you.
Planning with this type of templated approach will keep you organized, consistent, and virtually stress-free.
Bonus Tip: Create your content planner on a shareable system (we like Google Sheets, but we’ve also seen this done well in Trello, Miro, or other platforms) so you can share with your team to access and fill out. Leave a tab or a column for brainstorming future content ideas for inspiration as it strikes!
2. Stay Consistent
Your templated approach to content planning will help you – and your team – by streamlining your decision-making and organization. You don't need to reinvent your newsletter every time. In fact, most audiences appreciate consistency.
Using your content planner, you can keep the consistency with a line, column, or section for each of your 'regular' content features. In turn, this will keep your design template user-friendly, and simple to plug in feature articles monthly – rather than reinventing the wheel for each issue.
You’ll also want to stay consistent with your newsletter frequency. Pick a schedule and stick to it. There are so many reasons why this is key to your newsletter’s success:
It builds routine and credibility with families, where they begin to expect your newsletter in their inbox, building trust and certainty with your team and school.
It creates expectations for the people contributing content to your newsletter or providing feedback and approvals.
It gives you a solid baseline to measure against (more on this later).
3. Know Your Audience
Get clear on who you are speaking to – whether it’s a student, faculty, prospective family or current family – and plan your newsletter content for them.
Your newsletter may have more than one audience, and that’s okay – just make sure that each issue has content for each audience (you might want to use that color coding system we talked about earlier to help with this).
Read through your content as if you are the intended audience and ask yourself:
Is this interesting to me?
Is it relevant?
Is it clear and obvious what action I should take next – and how to do that?
Think about offering a wide range of content so there is something for everyone in each issue. For example, it is important to make sure your newsletter isn't always about athletics, because some families might place a higher priority on your school’s academics and have a student who's not into sports at all. You may also surprise a sports-oriented student or family by highlighting an art course that allows them to explore new sides of themselves.
If your email platform allows it, you might want to consider adding some dynamic content sections that will help you personalize and target your email to different audiences – for example, replacing a student profile section for early years vs. middle and senior years parents, or including only relevant upcoming dates for different groups of families.
Finally, consider asking your audiences what they’re looking for in an email newsletter! Invite your subscribers to email you or answer a quick poll to vote on what they’d like to see in future issues.
Bonus Tip: Make sure that your headlines and calls-to-action (CTAs) speak to your intended audience. For example, a CTA for a prospective family might read “Ready to Visit Us? Sign up for our January Open House” while a CTA for a current family might read “Share us with your friends! Tell them about our January Open House.”
4. Invest in Quality Content
In an email newsletter, content is everything. Content is what will keep your audience opening, reading, and engaged – so it’s important to make each piece count.
Here are a few ‘quick start’ ideas that you can try today:
Consider adjusting messages and splitting your audiences based on age or grade ranges. For example, if your school is K-12, your messaging about college preparedness may not resonate with a prospective 2nd grader. That content might be a better fit for just an older segment… or you might want to talk more broadly about academic programming that includes college preparedness but touches on other aspects that will resonate with families of all age groups.
Incorporating large-scale news (what’s going on in the world?) or small-scale news (what’s going on in our community?) relating to education, parenting, or something you’re doing as a school can give your audience even more than they might be expecting from you – which is great! Referencing current events or linking to credible and valuable outside resources shows your school is keeping a pulse on additional aspects outside of the school.
Involve other leaders and stakeholders as much as possible. Maybe your athletics director can take on one student athlete profile each month. Or perhaps you can cycle through different department heads and ask them to contribute an ‘op-ed’ style piece twice a year. Your director of equity and inclusion might be able to add a tip to each issue. Maybe your student council or parent council presidents would be willing to get involved. While you’ll still need to handle the management of this content – and possibly edit it when it arrives – involving others in content creation can ultimately take some work off your plate while improving the diversity of information in your email newsletter. This is a classic win/win.
People love human interest content—anything featuring current students is likely to drive engagement, and including photos of real-life-happenings on campus (as long as you’ve obtained parent permission) vs. stock imagery is always the way to go.
- When organizing your topics and ideas, think about your school's differentiators, communication pillars, and messaging strategy. Brainstorm content that will spotlight these things. For example, if you would like to highlight your school’s mentorship program, then be sure that every issue has a story or reference that can point to how you develop mentors & leaders in one way or another. Or if your school’s key differentiator in the market is your STEAM programs, plan a content section for each issue that highlights this.
If possible, create a field to add personalization to the email from time to time. For example, a headline that reads: “Haley—We’ve Been Busy at ______ School!” is likely to capture a parent’s attention more than a generic headline. Using the same tactic in every email will become expected – so sprinkle it in strategically.
Bonus Tip: Your social media imagery is a great place to find extra photography! These images are often human-centric and reflect real moments in time on campus.
5. Test and Review
You’ve put a lot of effort into your email newsletter. A proper ‘test and review’ process will help ensure that hard work pays off, and your audience experiences your newsletter as you intended.
Once you’ve put your newsletter together, send a test of each and every issue to yourself and to your team. View it on desktop as well as on multiple devices (IOS, Android, tablets, etc) – based on how your families are opening the newsletter, according to your data.
Here are a few things you can check for (beyond the obvious spellchecking):
Double check that your subject line and preview text are there and correct, as well as your ‘from’ address and name.
Make sure you’ve created a great user experience – using consistent formatting, compelling images, and clear and easy-to-click CTAs.
Ensure a quick load time (and have alt text available for users who run into difficulties).
Make sure that responsive design is enabled or that you’ve designed your email to present well on smartphones and other mobile devices (no one likes to pinch with two fingers, zooming in and out, etc).
Click on every single link and image to make sure they are not broken. Don’t forget about your templated links in your header and footer – it’s good practice to check them every time too.
If you’re using dynamic content or personalization, make sure they are working.
Check for accessibility – including contrasting colours, large enough text, and alt text on images.
Bonus Tip: Most of your families are probably opening your newsletter on their phone—and there's a good chance they're really busy while they're doing it. Offer compelling headlines, a sentence or two of informative and high energy teaser content, and a link to read the rest. Your CTAs should be big and easy to click with clumsy thumbs.
6. Make Data-Driven Decisions
One of the most powerful things about email newsletters vs. old school paper newsletters is our ability to measure almost anything – virtually in real time.
Identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to ensure you are focused on a defined – and shared – measure of success. Remember there may be different KPIs for each audience you have identified based on where they are at in their customer journey or the intent of your newsletter.
You will likely want to look at things like:
Unsubscribe or Spam Rates
Conversion Rate (for example, a prospective family newsletter might want to measure the number of subscribers who go on to register for an open house or apply)
Different KPIs may be important to consider for different members of your team (that’s why we wrote about it!). For prospective families, you may be looking for CTA clicks that identify familiarity or application intentions (learn more, apply now, schedule a visit). For current families, you may be more interested in understanding which newsletters are yielding higher open rates (translation: the content parents care about).
Data will also help you to optimize your content. Take a look at the email newsletters you've sent over the last year. Where are your families clicking? What language in your subject lines is yielding higher open rates? That's the content you'll want to lean into. It's a good idea to revisit this (at least) quarterly.
If your email platform allows for it, think about running some A/B tests to see what resonates and drives your most important KPIs. You can test different subject lines, placement of images in the email body, size/color/language of CTAs, time of day… just make sure you’re only changing one aspect of an email at a time, and repeating your test consistently, so you truly know what’s creating the best results.
Then take what you’re learning, make some changes, and test again. Your email newsletter should never stop evolving or producing better results.
Feeling motivated? We are too – so we created this list of content ideas for you to plug into your shiny new content planner today.
Alumni Success Spotlight
Student Highlight (award winner, top performer, recognition deserved for kind gesture)
Letter from a Leader (president, faculty member, coach, student council president) – highlighting what’s new in their world and pointing back to your school’s key differentiators or core values
Mark your Calendar (what’s happening on campus, reminders of events, important announcements, fundraisers, links out to calendars for athletics, admissions, etc.)
Student Wellbeing (tips to stay active and healthy)
Add a question or poll for subscribers to submit content ideas and things they’d like to hear about in future issues
Share blog links, social content, fun facts, anniversaries of faculty, birthdays, etc.
At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing needs and goals with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or sign up to receive more marketing tips in your inbox.