18 March 2017

Reputation Management, looking after 28% of your school’s financial value

Guest article from Sarah Pinch, Managing Director, Pinch Point Communications

In January last year, the accountancy firm BDO and the Quoted Companies Alliance published a report looking at how much your reputation is worth to you. Their report concluded that some 28% of a UK organisation’s value can be accounted for by its reputation; something we know can take decades to build and yet moments to lose.

In fact, within the education sector, what differentiates one high performing school from another?  Not much except its reputation.  As parents and carers work down their list of requirements for school choices, the final decision will most likely be tipped by something they heard or read, the comment a colleague made, or ‘a feeling’ from an open day, or the way someone spoke to them; this is your reputation.  You cannot buy it, it most definitely cannot be manufactured – but you can and should protect and invest in it.

Right time right place

There is nothing worse than walking into the local supermarket to see Easter eggs in February, is there?  But many organisations still fail to understand the incredible importance of getting the timing of their messages right and ensuring the correct message is landing with the appropriate audience.    How often do we take the approach of broadcasting, rather than engaging in a conversation?  In times of reputational management, knowing when to stop speaking and start actively listening is as vital.   And then please do not forget to acknowledge what has been said; feedback is such an old-fashioned work, but so exceptionally important.  It is, to reputation management, what good manners are to the lunch table.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

Some of our best work has never seen the light of day.  Having a robust plan for events, then finding the issue plays out more peacefully is one of the greatest rewards of supporting an organisation.  It is never the amount of words written, nor the carefully crafted messages we look back on with any kind of satisfaction; it is the work the governors and senior management team put in.  My role and that of my team is often to ask exceptionally difficult and challenging questions, sometimes about sensitive topics.  It’s almost always uncomfortable; but is it never, ever, without benefit.

Outcomes and outputs

I have seen boards make many different changes; hardly ever does nothing change.  The change may be policy changes, the implementation more guidance for teachers, or conversely the removal of guidance and allow teachers greater autonomy, the instigation of a stronger school council or pupil representation, shortening the distance from pupil to governor through increased visibility.

But always, it is the coming together and cohesive working that benefits the governing body and/or senior management teams more than anything else because when issues of a highly sensitive nature come to the table, it is often at that very moment that egos, politics and petty disagreements find their place – outside the meeting – and a clarity of direction emerges; which always places the pupil right at the centre of all decisions and usually includes a refocus on the school’s guiding principles, a reiteration of the values and behaviours that give the school its USP, and sometimes a new clarity and sense of purpose that everyone knew they had, but just weren’t sure where the 28% had gone.

Sarah Pinch is the MD of Pinch Point Communications an agency working across all sectors, including advising a number of independent schools on issues of reputation management.

Sarah is a Chartered Public Relations Practitioner, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and a member of the Institute of Directors.  She is speaking at the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association Conference in Manchester on Thursday 18th May

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About the Author
Kristine Scott, Partner, Head of Education Sector
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