Resolve to Shape Up Your School Story in 2017

December 14, 2016 Emily Cretella

The #1 reported New Year’s resolution last year? Losing weight. Self-improvement always seems to be top-of-mind as we welcome the new year, because the change in calendar feels like a fresh start. A clean slate. A span of limitless possibilities.

Yet the idea of inner reflection and improvement does not need to be confined to ourselves. We can use the same motivation, the same clean slate, to be inspired to take a fresh look at the brand stories we are charged with sharing.

It’s time to shape up your school story by cutting out the excess content and trimming down to the core of who you are as an institution. (And as your content coaches, we’ve created a free Story Shape-up Worksheet to help you work out the areas below, so be sure to download it!)

Here are six areas to review and refine before the calendar year closes, so that you’re telling a lean and energized story in 2017:

#1: Your Positioning Statement.

Do you have one simple statement that describes your unique outcome for your specific audience? If not, try crafting one by answering these questions:

  • Who is your target audience? Who are you trying to attract with this story?
  • In what area do you have the most authority? What does your school do better than anyone else?
  • Why does this authority matter to your target audience? Why should your audience care?


#2: Your Positioning Story.

If your positioning statement is your “hello”, your positioning story is your “My name is…” Once you have a simple statement crafted, expand it into a compelling narrative that engages your audience with emotional and rational storytelling.

This is where you can infuse creativity with fact. Explain who you are, why you do what you do, and how you are successful. And do this while keeping your audience’s cares and concerns in mind -- remember, you tell a story for your audience, not for yourself. Try to answer their questions and calm their fears before they need to express them themselves.

#3: Reasons to Believe.

It’s one thing to have a strong story; it’s another to back that story up with proof. Are you making claims that can be substantiated with fact? Or is your story so general that another school could simply take your name out and insert their own, and it would still ring true?

Think about why your audience should believe your story. These are key messages that can be used throughout your communications, and may include facts and figures, or information on outcomes. Try to avoid using general terms like “leading”, “unique”, “innovative”, “premier” or “ultimate”, unless you can give your audience reasons to believe those are true.

#4: Brand Attributes.

Is your school welcoming? Conservative? Global? Your brand attributes are the words and phrases used to describe your school’s personality. Defining these personality traits will help you understand the voice and tone to use in your communications, and will make your story consistent and recognizable across all platforms.

(Download the Story Shape-up Worksheet for an exercise to help you define your brand attributes).

#5: Testimonials.

Now is the time to look back at any testimonials you have so that you can begin to collect stories in areas where you may need more “reasons to believe.”

Make sure you have testimonials from students, families, alumni, donors, faculty, etc., that support the emotional and rational elements of your positioning story. You want to prove your outcomes. You want to substantiate your claims, from an outside point of view. You want to help prospective students, families, alumni, donors, faculty see themselves in the words of others.

#6: Statistics.

People love and trust numbers, so make sure you have them. Developing a bank of statistics now will help you as you create various communications in 2017.

You can use statistics as attention-grabbing headlines, to create compelling infographics, or as social media shares. (Our Story Shape-up Worksheet will give you some ideas on what types of statistics can strengthen your story.)

By shaping up these six areas, your school story will be strong and powerful in 2017. And for more help crafting your best school story online, check out Write Your School Site, the definitive course on creating top-performing school website content, before it closes for enrollment.  

About the Author

Emily Cretella

Emily Cretella is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps her clients create and share stories that make audiences take action. As owner of Cursive Content Marketing, Emily provides consulting, copywriting services and workshops to independent schools and higher education. Read her stories at

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