adapted from NHTSA Safe Routes to School Promotional Toolkit and from the National Safe Routes to School Guide
With contests and events, children will participate in SRTS programs in much greater numbers. However, they will return to their old habits without continued reinforcement. Repetition is the key to the continued success of your SRTS program. A SRTS program should be promoted by maximizing its visibility through repeated outreach to its potential “customers.” The rule of thumb in marketing is that people need to hear and read about an event at least three times before they pay attention. Personal contact increases the likelihood of participation. The more times that children and parents hear about the program, the better the chances of participation. Specifically having teachers and respected adults and students promoting the events can greatly increase visibility.
Post flyers around the school announcing team meetings, events, and contests. Expand beyond the school and post them at local businesses. Make your flyers attractive by using eye-catching graphics. Find a volunteer who has experience in graphic design to help you design your flyers. Be sure to include all the important information—who, what, where, when, and why, but don’t load up your flyer with too much text because pictures often tell the story better. Make sure your flyers are easy to read and that the most important information is big and bold. You also can make large banners that can be placed in strategic places at the school and in the community
Most schools have a day every week when they send home notices with the students (“backpack mail”). This is an excellent and low-cost opportunity to communicate with parents on a regular basis. Send home your flyers as well as more detailed information on the program. This is one way you can do your parent surveys. Provide parents with fact sheets on the significance of health and safety for the children, for the community and for the natural environment. Every piece of information sent out keeps your program visible.
Most schools have newsletters that are sent home periodically. Find out if you can include a regular column in the newsletter and get the deadlines for the submission of articles. Use the school newsletter as an opportunity to talk about the Safe Routes to School program and initiate discussion. Be sure to announce all events and contests in at least two separate issues of the school newsletter. Let parents know when classroom activities are scheduled, especially if the children need to bring their bicycles or other equipment.
The media love stories about children. Send out regular press releases to announce your events and contests. Publicize the results of your surveys. Stage a photo opportunity with students walking and biking but be sure to get model releases for the children used in the photo because they cannot be photographed at schools without parental permission. Follow up every press release with a phone call. Media outlets receive numerous press releases so a phone call will get their attention. Form a relationship with the editor or a writer and be sure to call them every time you have a newsworthy story. Don’t forget to thank the reporter or editor if your event was mentioned in print. The editorial page is also an excellent opportunity to get more publicity for your program. Have team members write letters to the editor or longer opinion pieces.
E-mail is an excellent tool for communicating with busy people. At all meetings and events, collect e-mail addresses and develop a comprehensive e-mail list to keep your supporters informed. Include elected officials and school and city staff people on your list. Keep your e-mail messages short and to the point. Announce events, classroom activities, meeting reminders, and other updates. Many schools have created their own e-mail lists. You can often make use of these to announce your events, classroom activities and contests. These lists are also useful for recruiting volunteers.
You can also start your own e-mail list-serve within your school or with other teams in your community. List-serves are made available by private servers to allow multiple parties to have access to each other without having to enter individual addresses. These are usually free and allow for two-way communication within the group. This allows you to keep people informed about your activities and build support for the program. It is a good way to communicate with volunteers who don’t attend meetings. You may want to suppress the address list to protect parents’ privacy.
Many schools now host their own web sites. Ask if you may have a page on the school’s web site. Cities also have web sites and you can ask for a page on that site. You can also set up your own web site to keep people abreast of your activities and then link it to the city and school sites.
Many schools set up phone trees for each class. You can activate these phone trees for your Walk and Bike to School Days and for classroom activities. Some schools even have sophisticated phone systems that can call all school parents with automated announcements. You can also set up your own phone trees within your group. Phone calls are the best way to get people to attend meetings and events. It is especially important to call everyone on your team before a meeting. Do not assume that they have it on their calendar or that they saw an e-mail update. Going the extra mile with a phone call will give you much higher attendance at meetings and events.
Send out a mailing to every parent at the school or a community-wide mailing to announce events or workshops. While direct mail can be expensive, your city or school may have the budget to include you in a mailing. Direct mail assures that everyone sees your announcement or survey. Mill Valley, California, sent out its parent surveys by mail and got a 50 percent response rate.
Request that the principal make announcements over the loudspeaker for events and contests. For Walk and Bike to School Days, the students should be reminded repeatedly to participate. Put an announcement up on the reader board. Have the teachers announce it in the classrooms during homeroom.
Classroom activities help to raise awareness and get students excited about the program. Combine classroom activities with your events so that they happen in the same week or in the week leading up to your event. This helps to build enthusiasm for the event.