Before you get into the thick of things, this is a simple must-do!
Do you remember when reading about the importance of branding we talked about how solid, consistent branding increases your audience's trust in you? Part of that consistency comes not only from the same messaging (branding) but also from using the same "look" for all of your communications, whether email, web, paper stationery or newsletter. A style guide is the perfect tool to ensure that uniformity happens and is simply a document where you lay out the stylistic preferences for all your communications. It ensures your messaging will look its best and have the most positive impact.
Why is a style guide important?
1. It makes you think. The exercise of having to set out in a document how your communications should look reminds you to actually consider how they look, sometimes an overlooked aspect of school marketing. It forces you to spend a little time on it and ponder if the message your look conveys is on point.
2. It makes you consistent. It keeps you, and everyone else involved in communications, consistent. No excuses for someone to go rogue. The requirements are available for anyone to find. And if at any time you have to stop helping with marketing, you've laid out quite nicely for the next person what's expected.
Tips for creating your style guide:
1. Get your brand in order first. Then do your style guide immediately after. You must make sure your communications reflect your brand. For example, if you are a welcoming, nurturing neighborhood school, perhaps you don't want a staid, sterile, black-and-white New Times Roman look anymore.
2. Consider who should be involved. If you've already got a good look that fits with your branding, you can whip your guide up in ten minutes, no input needed. Done. But if you're in need of a bit of an overhaul, consider whether you should consult with others. Of course keep in mind the interplay between district, your school and your parent group. Sometimes parent groups get over-zealous and want to re-do the school's official logo or letterhead which, unless you've obtained special permission to do, is a no-no. As always, run your style guide by your principal beforehand.
3. Keep it simple. Your style guide should be a simple one-page document with a chart that includes the standards you want to use in all your communications. Include colors, font, logo, tagline or anything else that defines your look. Extra credit: In addition to the chart you could include a couple examples of communications for extra clarity. Extra, extra credit: Any formats to follow, particularly in social media or your newsletter? For example, do you always use a header with words capitalized in newsletter articles or do your social media posts take a certain tone or have a certain look?
4. Spread the word. Put the style guide in your physical marketing binder and also store it (electronically or print) where anyone who communicates for the school will see it. Mention it at the beginning of the year to your board and make sure it's readily accessible.
5. Review annually. It's a good practice to review your guide each summer, and after doing so, re-order your supplies for the year such as any stationery, postcards or thank you notes, brochures, banners, magnets. (Unless of course you've decided to change your style. Then you have a bit of work to do first.) Might as well order postage then, too.
Once you've figured out your current school climate (by reviewing enrollment data and parent survey results) and done your branding work and your style guide, make sure to tackle--or at least have a plan to tackle--other basics (including your lobby, exterior and voicemail) before moving on to direct recruitment tasks.