Who’s Sinking Your Marketing/PR Battleships?

Battleship Board GameConsider the following scenario: Your superintendent (or board) has asked you to develop a marketing strategy for two of your district’s schools.  Each school has undergone amazing physical, programmatic and achievement improvements over the past year, yet they are still challenged by perception issues—people still think “gangster kids” go to these schools, and that they are underperforming schools.  While you’ve successfully obtained a couple of positive stories in the media, these perception problems still persist.   Your board thinks that some slick flyers and creatively designed posters will help attract more students.  The parents of current students at the schools share that people keep their children away—and send them to the local charter or private school—because they don’t really know how well the students are performing.  The mayor still describes these schools as being in disarray during his most recent state of the City address.

You’re thinking about the relationships…at least, you will be after reading today’s blog.

One of the biggest mistakes taken with approaching marketing strategies is focusing priorities on the “visible” and obvious marketing: posters, flyers, new websites, social media presence, etc.  Yet, while each of these play a valuable role in an overall integrated marketing strategy, education and non-profits are in the “relationship business.”  The bottom line is…no matter how beautiful your marketing looks, or how savvy your social media is, if the relationships are not being cultivated and grown, your marketing will fall flat on its face.

In this blog entry, I am utilizing several school/school district focused examples—if you are with a COE or non—profit, consider applicable scenarios and stakeholders relevant to your organization’s success.

The Battleship Analogy

Remember that game, Battleship?  The goal of the game was to sink all of your opponents’ ships by filling each ship with “hits”.  Think of your stakeholders as separate battleships—each ship has a different ratio of stakeholder representation.


Consider the following “battleships” in your organization’s mix of stakeholders (please note, the “levels” do not specify a value to the battleship, and are being used for identification purposes):

District-Level 1: Staff, Bargaining Units, Board, Administration, Schools, Departments with direct relationship to marketing (IT, Parent Engagement-or similar-office), Key District Communicators

District-Level 2: Parents, Booster Clubs, PTA/PTO/PTSAs, Students, Departments with indirect relationship to marketing

Community-Level 1: Elected City Officials, Community Leaders, Voters who are not district parents, COE

Community-Level 2: Community Organizations, Chamber of Commerce, Community Preschools, Charter Schools, Private Schools, other governmental organizations (County Supervisors, etc.)

After reviewing your battleships, rank each stakeholder in each battleship order of most important to least important….what happened?

Most likely, you thought about the stature of the stakeholders.  And…this is important.  But…did you consider how this ranking might change based on the marketing or PR situation?

It’s important to prioritize stakeholders based on the overall goals of your PR and marketing—different stakeholders may be of higher priority depending on the situation.

There is no one right or wrong approach to prioritization—priorities may shift based on the culture, community and the unique types of influences, reactions and importance each of these stakeholders play in the reputation, perception and relationship management of your organization.


Look at the “battleships” again.  What are the potential “holes” that each of your battleship’s stakeholders could poke in your overall marketing strategy (in other words, result in hits on the battleship)?

How would you remedy these risks through message development, different types of engagement and/or marketing approaches?

It’s critical to think through relationship management when developing your PR/marketing strategy, as different approaches may affect message development and the overall deployment of your strategy.  For example, would engaging certain stakeholders in conversations with other stakeholders be more effective than having your principal or superintendent engage in that discussion?  If so, then ensure that this activity is well-strategized and included in your overall stragegy.


This probably sounds odd, in a day and age when “hits” actually equate to something positive in marketing and PR!  You may not be able to win over all of your stakeholders, but, with the battleship approach, you want to keep your battleships afloat with more stakeholders staying onboard than off.

About Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan increases public confidence in public education and improves opportunities for non-profit organizations to succeed through proactive communication and marketing. She provides strategic marketing and communication services that exceed her clients’ unique goals and delivers results that motivate audiences to act, change, and/or otherwise change behaviors for a greater good.

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