Some time ago, I heard a story that deals more with Stewardship that it does Marketing, but it’s good to keep in mind when you’re planning your marketing efforts.

Centuries ago in Northern China, potato farmers planted their field with the previous year’s cut-up potatoes rather than seeds.  Each year, they would cut some of the potato crop into small pieces and return them back to the ground.

Year after year the tradition continued, until someone had an idea – let’s save the choice, large potatoes for food and for market, and take the very smallest potatoes to cut up for planting.

Back then, farmers were not as scientifically educated as they are today, so they didn’t know that heredity plays a big part in the product.

They eventually discovered that the only thing that grows from small potatoes is … small potatoes.  By keeping the large ones for themselves, they found out that their economically self-serving interests didn’t allow them to continue that way for very long.

Development directors can make the correlation as they present stewardship opportunities to alumni parents and guardians, community members, alumni and businesses. We can also learn from this to affect our own stewardship for the parishes, churches and other faith communities to which we belong.

But marketing?

Sure!  Does your school put out a school newsletter that’s merely words printed on a piece of paper…but the paper is a different color so when we send it home with the children, the parents will know that it’s important?

Yes, I know, this is the age of the Internet, email, texting and parent emergency alert software, but paper still happens in more schools than you can imagine.  Why?

That’s right – it’s for those people who don’t have computers!  I hear it all the time – “Well, we put our newsletter on paper so everyone gets a copy.”

That may be true, but there are still parents who will throw paper away, delete your email, ignore your text, and then complain, “Why didn’t I know about this?”

If you’d like to know why, in 2022, there’s a problem with maintaining that mindset, send an email to with the words “They don’t have computers” in the subject line.

There are three things that may be wrong with your school’s “paper practices:”

1) Important messages (or any messages) on colored paper. It might be nice if that color is an off-white, or maybe even a gold, but I’ve seen newsletters on red paper (in February for Valentine’s Day, for example).  Black print on red paper is not readable.  If you want something to be read, make it readable, or, at least, “If you want something to be read, don’t put it on red.”

Further, red doesn’t mean “important;” in schools, it either means “wrong” or “danger.” If it’s important and you want to use red, then use a red border.  If you’re thinking, “But the local office supply chain had a sale on vibrantly-colored paper,” you fell into their marketing, rather than staying true to your marketing strategy.

2) It’s all text.  Today, all text equates to not being read. Pictures are easy to insert into documents today, and they still say a thousand words…which will allow you to cut down on the number of words you use, utilize a larger font, and use blank space strategically.

3) It’s sent home with the children…which means it’s crumpled up in their pocket, or in their backpack under their American History book which is two inches thick and weighs 6 pounds (By the way, who designs texts like this in this technologically advanced age in which we live?  Let’s have publishers carry 6 of these things back and forth from home to work for 180 days and see how their backs feel).   You may include it in the “Thursday envelope” of important papers, but then it may get lost among 7 or 8 other important papers that may deserve a higher priority – like a flyer for school pictures day.

Why all this talk about paper, anyway?

Paper has become a perceived “new” way of cutting through the electronic clutter.  Even though newspapers are going the way of the 8-track tape, paper may be making a comeback.

You know that parents today expect to receive reminders about important items because everyone is SO busy today!  However, emails go to spam, texts get lost in the list, and in this ever-changing world in which we live in, the suggestion to “take a break from devices” means you have even more of an overload of messages to sort through, deal with and delete (sometimes mistakenly) when you reconnect with your mobile device.

Want your message to really stand out today?

Send something to a child’s home via first class mail.  If you’re willing to test this theory, try a hand-written note on  heavy grade/personalized stationery, or a nice notecard with an appropriate color picture on the front makes a reminder much more inviting.

Now, if you’re saying that nice stationery and premium-grade notecards cost way more than a black and white copy on 20-weight sheets, you get the idea behind “Small Potatoes.”  Copy stock, small font, black and white print papers get tossed today; well-designed, heavy stock with pictures are more apt to at least be noticed.

With that in mind, here are reasons 4 and 5 your really shouldn’t be using paper for a newsletter:

4) Your Web site.  It’s the place to put information about your school.  And, dare I say it, NOT your tuition schedule (but that’s a topic for another day).  All those articles you’re putting on paper should reside on your school’s Web site.  The paper newsletter can then have a summary about it, and a link to where people can read more about it.  If you’re publishing something on paper today, makes sure it has QR codes, so the paper can be a “teaser,” then the QR code can be accessed.  Since we’re all familiar with how QR codes contributed to the ability to remain “touchless” during COVID-19 situations, we need to learn to use that new knowledge for our benefit, rather than longing to go back to the way it was before the pandemic.

5) A well-designed electronic newsletter can save on all those printing and paper costs – and they should be published WEEKLY.   By using this kind of service, you can track who opens the document and which articles receive more views.  If you’re not interesting in what parents are tracking, you should be interested tracking what parents of prospective students are visiting, so your parent electronic newsletter (that’s right – a different one for a different audience) could even be a page on your Web site.  Create it, and then send that page’s URL to parents through your parent contact technology.

Perhaps the most important reason is they provide an “unsubscribe” or “manage my subscription” option.

Why is this important?  Paper can be simply thrown away (or recycled).  But when someone unsubscribes, that’s a red (See?  Danger!) flag.

If a parent of a prospective student unsubscribes, that gives you a reason to call them.  Perhaps they’re no longer interested in enrolling their child in your school.  Better to know this as soon as possible rather than on the first day of school.

Even worse, if a current parent unsubscribes, that could be a warning sign they may be considering other educational options for their child.

And alerts like that aren’t small potatoes.


© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2017 (Original Publication Date: 20070924)