By Blake Seufert
One afternoon a few years ago, while working as McKinnon Secondary College’s Systems Manager, I tried to read the school’s newsletter.
It looked like most school newsletters and it was difficult to read. It was very dry, not friendly on a mobile phone and a large file that took far too long to download. The layout and visual appeal of the newsletter had not been updated since fluoro spandex and big hair were popular. Like many schools, it was just the dated newsletter that used to be printed to send home with the students, simply saved as a PDF. It was not compelling and parents were not reading it.
Creating the Newsletter
The way most schools build newsletters is crazy. It is rushed out; belted out, even. When I investigated further, I realised why. The newsletter creator is being put in an impossible situation.
Firstly, the newsletter has to go out in a regular cycle (each fortnight in McKinnon’s case). The person creating the newsletter has to relentlessly chase articles from staff who are not really interested in writing an article for the dusty old newsletter. (Besides, writing is hard!). Because parents are not excited to read the newsletter, staff do not prioritise writing articles, much less take any photos.
Articles are sent from Word docs, emails and other random places that, when pasted into Microsoft Publisher, display as a random mess that need to be resized, restyled and matched into the rest of the newsletter. On top of this, often the articles are too long and the newsletter creator has to go back and forth with the teacher who submitted the article because it has too many words to fit the specific A4 sheet template that is used. The whole process becomes a game of Tetris instead of presenting beautiful, relevant content parents love to read.
Once the newsletter is finally finished, the work is not over yet… oh no! The PDF has to be wrestled into a size that will not be rejected from people’s email boxes. Unsubscribe requests have to be managed and an email list to send to parents from the school’s email box needs to be maintained. The website has to be updated via some clunky portal, along with the social media accounts and any school apps or parent portals. Once it is all shared out and being read, the mistakes start to roll in. It is then back to update the original file and repeat the whole sharing process. It is messy, manual and time consuming.
Does anyone Read it?
After spending all this time, the stats show that most parents just do not read it. Ever get those calls about not knowing about an event that was on, even though it was “in the newsletter!”? – I feel your pain. It should not be a surprise though. The newsletter is often tired and rushed out. Near enough is good enough. After the pain and angst of putting it all together, the person who built the newsletter does not want to think about it until next fortnight when this Groundhog Day nightmare happens over again.
The irony of this whole situation is that schools are very content rich. McKinnon (like every school) has fantastic news and events to share that are happening all the time. There is plenty of reason to want to celebrate and promote the great things the school is doing. What is needed is a better way to build and create newsletters that are beautiful, insightful and created with enough care that parents are excited for the next one.
Blake Seufert is the Systems Manager at McKinnon Secondary College and the co-founder of Naavi and iNewsletter.