If you’ve ever found yourself trying to zip to a school for an event or meeting while juggling a cell phone in your ear, a stick shift in one hand and your pager beeping incessantly in the other, then you understand what marketing gurus call “communications clutter.”

In our over-communicated world, getting our messages across is becoming increasingly difficult. And while the web, cable television, and other forms of the “new” media are powerful, they also face stiff competition for our time and attention.

That’s why speaking with one clear voice is so essential. If you want your messages to get through, let alone stick, they have to be simple, direct, consistent, and clear.

Called “integrated marketing communications,” the goal is to make sure that all of your communications channels say the same things in the same way and with the same look.

Simple to understand, yet difficult to do in education’s turf-oriented and logo-laden world, integrated communications make sense from both a strategic and operational standpoint.

Why? Repetition counts when it comes to communication. Direct mail marketers, for example, know that to create awareness for a new product or special offer, they’re going to have to get it in front of their target audience at least 8 to 12 times.

Contrast that with our propensity in education to send a memo out once—or post something on the web with no additional advertising or support.

Then we add to the confusion by bombarding people with a variety of images, logos, and messages from individual schools, departments, the central office, and the Board of Education—none of which bear any kind of resemblance to each other.

And we wonder why people aren’t flocking to our school open houses or special events? Or why public education is fighting for its life right now in the court of public opinion?

If we want to change our image, integrated communications is a good place to start. Simply stated, the goal is to have every piece of paper, eMail, fax, web page, and television ad share a consistent look, tone, message, and feel.

To get started in this new approach, spend the next week collecting home page printouts, videos, cable TV programs, fax cover sheets, eMail messages, seminar handouts, business cards, envelopes, fliers, newsletters, and brochures from your district and/or schools.

Do they look like family, or like the United Nations? Is everyone using the same logo, artwork, photos, slogan, and key messages? If you put it all together in one folder, does it present a streamlined, professional image?

If your school or district is like most across the country, you probably have a virtual cacophony of communications clutter.

While it may seem like an impossible task, communicating with one clear voice is possible. Rochester City Schools, for example, does an excellent job.

How? By using its long-standing print publication, Students First, as the anchor for all of its other communications channels, including an appealing web site and an innovative, weekly “magazine-style” show produced for cable television.

Acting as Rochester’s communications super glue, Students First highlights outstanding students and teachers, while showcasing school programs, district initiatives, and classroom successes.

Whether you click on the web, scan the newsletter, or watch it on TV, the stories, images, and messages are the same.

“We don’t want to hit people with a thousand different messages, so we keep it consistent so people can digest what we’re trying to say better,” explains Tom Petrinio, communications director. “We use repetition in the different mediums to increase awareness of those messages and to bring them home to our target audiences more effectively.”

By using different channels of communication to tell the same story, the district is able to maximize its message and reach more people without doubling or tripling staff work or time.

“We’ve received a lot of positive comments on the feature stories and informational stories we have in Students First, so we wanted to broaden the audience and make it more accessible to more people by going online,” Petrinio says.

In addition to Students First, an idea worth copying, Rochester’s web site has a bunch of nifty features, including an extremely useful Directory of Information, Parenting Tips, an up-to-date news section, employment information, and district calendar.

“It’s important to integrate all of your communications for clarity of message,” says Petrinio, noting that the district hopes to debut a webcast of the Student First television show within the next two months.

“I think having a central person who is directly responsible for the content of each vehicle is crucial, so you don’t get that scattered approach with messages coming at people from different directions.”

Rochester City Schools

The Image Group