​​Create Engaging Messaging

Good messaging is crucial not only for recruiting students but also for engaging decision-makers both inside and outside the district who are important in making summer learning a priority.

Here's how the districts turned what they learned from parents into sharp, effective messages:

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Hearing from parents how motivated they are by aspirational messaging led to this phrase, a version of which appeared in many outreach and recruitment materials: “Your child will sharpen the math, reading and writing skills needed to succeed in 4th grade and beyond.”
Because many parents in our focus groups believed they could address any summer learning loss themselves, it was important to remind them that summer learning programs offered something they could not find at home. Rochester came up with this: “A select group of teachers has been chosen and trained to provide the most effective instructional strategies for your child’s success.”
Keeping in mind that parents want their child's summer experience to be both educational and enjoyable, the districts stressed that their summer learning program offers students a mix of academics and fun.

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One surprising insight came up in all our focus groups: Parents feel they have relatively little influence over what happens in their children’s lives, whether it's keeping them safe from street violence or shaping how the school system educates them. It was this insight that led us to a bold message, directly addressing parents’ desire to be able to influence their children’s lives in a positive way: “Looking for an opportunity to take charge of your child’s future? The [name of summer learning program] is a smart choice.” (This message tested well, and many of the districts and their partners used a version of it. Some developed their own main message to reflect their particular program offerings and their knowledge of what local parents are looking for.)

We put that message in the middle of a visual tool called a message map.

 

As you can see, the main message is supported by four supporting messages. Underneath each supporting message are proof points—brief factual statements needed to make the case.

Your message map is not meant to be shared publicly. It’s a tool that you and your team can refer to when writing a recruitment flyer, for example, or preparing to speak to a group of parents, to ensure your messaging remains consistent.

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To create your messaging, start with these three questions:

What specific need does your program fill for parents and students?
What is the most important benefit your program offers to parents and students?
What makes your summer learning program different from all of the other summer offerings in your community?
Use your answers to these questions to come up with the message that goes in the center box of your message map. Work on it, edit it, and make it as brief as possible while still communicating the value of your program. If a parent can easily grasp the most important value of your program, then you've succeeded. If not, or your language is long-winded and complex, you’ve still got work to do.

 Tips for effective summer messaging:

 

 

Emphasize that district teachers lead academics, trained professionals lead enrichment activitiesEmphasize that district teachers lead academics, trained professionals lead enrichment activities
Stress mix of academics and funStress mix of academics and fun
Make it clear your program helps students get ready for the next gradeMake it clear your program helps students get ready for the next grade
Emphasize the safe environment, and details like transportation and mealsEmphasize the safe environment, and details like transportation and meals
Say “no-cost,” rather than freeSay “no-cost,” rather than free

Next, answer this question: What are the three or four most important things parents need to know about your summer learning program? Turn each item on that list into a concise and clear statement—these are your supporting messages. Fill in the boxes in the template with these messages. (If you need to, add another box, but we would not go beyond five supporting messages.)

Now, list the facts that bolster each supporting message in each box. These are your proof points.

In order to build and maintain trust, your messages must be based on fact. If there's a big gap between how the program is described and the actual experience, parents and students will be disappointed and likely tell their friends.

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