Whether your existing parent ambassador program isn’t producing the results you hoped for, or whether starting an ambassador program is high up on your to-do list, there are three factors that need your attention.
The three keys to a successful parent or student ambassador program are: the right people, telling the right stories, the right way
The right people
When inviting people to be part of an ambassador group, the tendency is to gravitate toward those who are most visible and most involved – class parents, PTA members, board members or other volunteers. But affinity alone doesn’t necessarily lead to results. Rather, the following criteria will be more helpful in identifying those who will be effective ambassadors.
Representation. Ambassadors should be matched to the target segments that are part of your recruitment strategy. It’s essential to have representation from neighborhoods, feeder schools, social/religious organizations, employers, sports teams and any other high-percentage recruitment segments for your school.
Influence. Parents or students who have the ability to impact the decisions of others should be part of your ambassador corps. These influencers will also be able to reach very specific audiences so you will want to do a cross-match between those with influence and the right representation. In-person influencers are the outgoing ones at the centre of a large circle of contacts who are able to sway opinion. Social media influencers can be a little tougher to spot. Look for parents or students who not only have a large number of online followers but whose posts create engagement in the form of likes, shares and comments.
Passion. The best ambassador is not the person who knows the most about a school. Rather, you are looking for parents who love the school and want to engage others with their passion. The authors of The Passion Conversation provide a brilliant definition of advocacy that we can adapt to demonstrate the power of passionate ambassadorship. “Ambassadorship occurs when parents are inspired and empowered to share their love for a school so much so that they become a living messenger for that school.“
The right stories
“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Native American proverb.
Storytelling is the currency of ambassadorship. As stories are passed from person to person, they add value to a school’s reputation. Telling stories is the most important thing that ambassadors can do.
The question, however, is what stories should ambassadors tell. Clearly, we want them to pass on accounts of the positive and impactful experiences that their kids have had at the school – and how they, as parents, felt about that. To be most effective, storytelling needs to be strategic. You can supercharge your ambassadors’ efforts by aligning their stories with key value proposition messages.
In the ambassador training that I do, I provide parents with a list of the school’s key marketing messages. Then I ask them to recall experiences (theirs or their kids) that correspond to two or three of those messages. Next, they find a partner with whom they exchange stories based on those experiences.
Here’s an example:
Through our school’s Social Emotional Learning program, students become more aware of their feelings and how to cope with them
My 5-year-old son told me that he gets nervous when he needs to wear a mask but he tries to make it better by smiling with his eyes
The right way
People become intellectually receptive when they are emotionally engaged. That’s the power of a story told the right way. Ambassadors need to understand that to be effective, stories need to be told from the heart. The way they feel about their kids’ learning and accomplishments is what makes stories compelling.
That will be counter-intuitive to many parents. They are likely to think that is the facts and figures that will be of interest to prospective parents. They’re not wrong about that. But they need to understand that in order for someone to listen to reason, they need to have a reason.
Here’s how Andy Goodman, in his book, Storytelling as Best Practice makes the point. “The audience you seek will only give its attention to things it cares about, so it is incumbent upon us to make an emotional connection before we start feeding them facts. Stories are the most effective communication tool at our disposal.”
Ultimately, storytelling is all about aha moments – the ones when parents knew they made the right decision by sending their child to a school. Aha moments are the ones that bring tears to your eyes and make your heart thump. Those are the stories that are going to influence decision-making.
And here’s a bonus that I’m always sure to tell to ambassadors. A great thing about ambassadorship is that it has a mutually beneficial dynamic. It makes the storyteller feel as good as the recipient. It’s a win-win. The ambassador who helps to attract prospective families strengthens their own resolve and commitment to the school.
When it comes to ambassadorship three simple criteria can deliver powerful results