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Small Business Freedoms Are Worth Celebrating

In this month of July, it is worth thinking about our freedoms and what they mean to us. One context for this was discussed in a recent blog post we found on CorpNet. The post talks about how freedoms are manifested in our small businesses – and how we can celebrate them. A key excerpt from the blog that was entitled: Four Small Business Freedoms That Make Every Day Like Independence Day is provided below:

 

 

 

Small Business Freedoms Worth Celebrating

  1. Autonomy to make your own decisions about the direction of your company – YOU steer the ship! As a small business owner, you decide which products and services you’ll provide. You also determine how small or large you want to grow your company and what type of business structure you want it to have. You might start out as a sole proprietor, or form an LLC, or register as an S-Corporation, or establish a C-Corporation. You have the freedom to pursue what makes the most sense for you.
  2. Flexibility with your schedule – For me, this is among the biggest advantages of being a business owner. With our four children, having the ability to adjust my work schedule when needed—especially during the summer months when school is out—is invaluable.
  3. Free will to create your own path to professional development – As a small business owner, you get to decide which skills and knowledge you want to hone and perfect. Whether you opt to register for webinars, travel to attend conferences, or pursue an industry certification, you don’t have to ask permission to up your game.
  4. Choice of whom you work with – Ah, this is a BEAUTIFUL thing. When you own your own business, you get to choose who will be on your team. That’s powerful because you can work with people who have the right skills, work ethic, and attitude to propel your business forward and make work seem, well, less like work.

It is hard, stressful work making a small business succeed. At The School Communications Agency we know that, and we work hard to make sure your partnership with us and with the schools and parents we represent provide value and help you grow your business.

 

Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

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Why School Newsletters Still Matter

Research shows that students do better when consistent, open communication exists between schools and parents. A myriad of methods and tools are available to schools to communicate with parents such as parent-teacher conferences, websites, email, phone calls, social media, flyers, and the monthly school newsletter. The school newsletter has been around for a long, long time and remains relevant in school-to-parent communications. In fact, it has evolved into a vehicle to connect parents with local (often family-owned) businesses that sponsor schools. This connection creates mutually beneficial relationships between businesses, parents, students, and schools.

Do Parents Read School Newsletters?

Information overload is a challenge in the digital age. Marketers are constantly tracking click-through and open rates in emails. Do parents take the time to read their child’s school e-newsletter?  In a recent survey of parents of schoolchildren in Colorado conducted by The School Newsletter Agency (TSCA),

many parents responded that they refer back to the monthly newsletter three or more times per month and approximately 50% of parents read the newsletter at least two times per month. Clearly, parents are reading school newsletters and often refer to them throughout the month for relevant information.

Additionally, schools are concerned with information accessibility issues. A well-designed e-newsletter

addresses this concern and are formatted for mobile devices, tablets and desktop viewing, while also designed to easily convert to PDF, so schools that still require paper copies to reach parents, can easily print them.

Do School Newsletters Improve Parent Engagement with Schools?

Parents are busy. Well-designed school newsletters have reoccurring, organized content areas so that parents can quickly find what is of interest to them each month. Well-ordered school information, such as sports schedules, special events and testing deadlines, promotes parent engagement. Content matters and schools know it. The right content is key. Reading the school newsletter becomes a habit if done right. Additionally, sticking to a consistent day to send the newsletter to parents each month promotes parent readership.

A group of principals who serve as part of a Education World’s principal focus team, agree that newsletters are a key element in any communications plan. Newsletters offer consistent messages with consolidated and summarized information about upcoming activities, student achievements, menus, fundraiser programs, and photos from school events. Consistent communication from schools in the form of a monthly newsletter is expected and looked forward to each month by parents.

According to Frank Hagen, who has been an educator for more than 30 years, parent engagement is a key component in educating children in the 21st Century.  Parent engagement increases as a result of consistent monthly newsletters, leading to improved student success.  

Do Parents Support Businesses Because of Advertising They See in School Newsletters?

One challenge that businesses face is how to reach busy parents in the community. Advertising in school newsletters allows businesses to reach this niche market of parents, school staff, teachers and students. Links embedded within school newsletters allow parents to access additional information from the school, district, businesses/sponsors and other community stakeholders.  According to TSCA’s recent survey, nearly 60% of parents who responded click on the advertisements in their school newsletters. This click rate is well above the industry average reported by Constant Contact.

In the same survey, parents were asked if they visited or did business with sponsors after seeing the business advertised in their school newsletter. Approximately 50% of respondents say they have visited or done business with 1 to more than 4 businesses after seeing advertising in their school newsletter. Local businesses grow and benefit from sponsoring schools in this way.

How do Businesses Support Schools?

It is no secret that schools are in need of funding sources for anything from extracurricular activities to school supplies. Schools and parent organizations spend countless hours setting up fundraising events and activities and setting up family dinners at local restaurants that give a small percentage of sales back to schools.  School newsletters can be another fundraising vehicle. A portion of the advertising investment from local sponsors goes to support schools. Schools have reported using the funds to pay costs for students who could not afford field trips, prom, and schools supplies. Other schools have used the funds from school newsletter sponsor support for playground equipment, teacher appreciation, and scholarships.

School newsletter sponsorship also supports the design process and reduces the workload on school staff saving staff hours of time better used to directly support students and teachers. Businesses that advertise in school newsletters are building relationships with community parents, while supporting their local schools, and promoting their businesses.  And, many of these businesses are owned by parents who want to support their child’s school, while growing awareness for their businesses.

Is the School Newsletter Still Relevant?

Parents, businesses, teachers, and school administrators say it is. In addition to its traditional role to inform parents about school activities, deadlines, and announcements, it has become a path to parents for businesses. The school newsletter reaches parents on a regular, monthly schedule at an extremely affordable price for local businesses. These businesses are supported by parents and in turn they support their children’s schools, thus connecting communities and growing their businesses, which results in parent engagement and increased student success. While there are multiple tools and methods to communicate with parents, the school newsletter remains relevant and has evolved into a beneficial tool to connect and support the community.

 

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Want a different outcome? Start with communication basics

Communication skills matter. Yet when it comes to our loved ones, sometimes we forget how to do it. Our choice of words, tone, and body language are the difference between productive conversations and the explosive ones where everybody shuts down.   We sometimes forget that our kids, even the teenage variety, are still children. They are not small adults. It falls on us to teach them effective communications skills by modeling the correct behavior. Some kids can be more challenging than others but when our conversations are full of emotion, no one is listening or learning. So where do we start to ensure the communication basics are always top of mind?

Step one is dealing with feelings. Listen to and acknowledge your child’s feelings, don’t dismiss them, even if you don’t understand them. As Elaine Mazlish explains in her book How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk, you have a better chance of being heard if you start by letting your kids know they have been heard. This is actually the case for adults too.  Acknowledging your kids’ feelings creates a safe place for them to talk by letting them know you are in their corner. This can be hard to do when they are irrational, acting out, or being disrespectful, but that’s when it’s most important keep ourselves from escalating and making things worse.  These behaviors are merely symptoms of an underlying problem or frustration they are dealing with but can’t figure out how to communicate.

Getting things done

Ok, so I have heard and acknowledged my child’s feelings, now what? As you know sometimes it’s just about getting things done like chores or participating in packing for a trip. It is vital that our kids learn the skills of taking care of themselves, their surroundings, and helping out their family.  Here are some more tips from How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk  that both my husband and I utilize with our teens which have made a positive impact in our family dynamic:

  1. Describe the problem and leave the accusing comments at the door. Last summer we entrusted the boys with the job of painting the fence in the backyard.  Instead of using the utility sink in the basement, they decided to clean their brushes in the bathroom.  Needless to say, there was paint splattered on the walls, floor, counters, and sink. I wanted to say “What is wrong with you?  Look at the mess you made!  That wasn’t very smart.”  Instead I pointed out the mess, calmly explained that the bathroom is not where we clean paint brushes and asked how they would rectify the situation. They both agreed to clean up their mess and use the utility sink in the future.  No fuss, no muss and they happily finished the job with no further incidents.
  2. Say it with a word or a gesture. Less is more. In our house, it can consist of just saying: “Sam, dishes” after which Sam usually says “Oh, yeah” and then puts his dishes away. I have explained why putting the dishes away is important before but the teenage brain likes to forget.  There’s no point rehashing the why and getting into a lengthy exchange that just results in eye rolls and unnecessary animosity.    A quick reminder is all that’s necessary and its mission accomplished.  With all the repetition, he has learned breakfast isn’t over till you put your dishes away.
  3. Describe what you feel without attacking or mocking your student. We have a non-negotiable rule in our house that there are no phones in the bedroom at night, yet somehow my youngest “accidentally” brought his to bed a few times one week recently. This really pushes my buttons because I consider this sneaky and deceitful. So I told him that I was upset and felt that finding his phone again in the bedroom made me not trust him. He proceeded to explain that he had to show his brother something and then forgot to bring his phone back downstairs. My response was simply, “Ok, but that doesn’t change the rule of no phones in the bedroom when it’s time to go to sleep. My job is follow through and if I make exceptions, what’s the point of the rule.” He understood how I felt and handed over the phone and that was it. In this case, by explaining how his actions impacted me before simply taking his phone, we avoided certain conflict and hard feelings. Moving forward the phone stayed in the kitchen when he went to bed.

Communication is an art form that when perfected elicits positive relationships with those around us.  When spoken to with respect, kindness, and patience, we are fulfilled and open to one another. Some days I am better than others in modeling this behavior. When I misstep, I take a breath, apologize if I bungled it, and try again. By sticking to the basics we build a connection with our kids instead of alienating them. The goal is that they know they can come to us for anything when life hits them hard. What can you do to improve to the dialogue with your kids so you too can have better results?

 

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

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Changing Traditions and The Death of the Chocolate Santa Clause

The chocolate Santa Clause first poked his head out of my stocking in 1965. All you could see was that shiny, silvery red head just above those glinty Santa eyes. He’s appeared in my stocking every year since then. That’s 48 years of Santa heads peering out at me. There won’t be one there this year. My family informed me that it is a waste of time, we already have too many sweets around the house during the holidays that are a lot better. (I am willing to concede the second half of this argument but, REALLY, I did not know there was such a thing as too many sweets).

I’ve reluctantly conceded. Santa will be missed.

Tradition is a hard thing to break. Have you ever noticed how “traditions” are romanticized when you talk about personal traditions but professional traditions can be seen as pejorative; as in “mired in old traditions”? I don’t think it is that simple. As a boss when do you give up on doing things the way they’ve always been done? The question is not easy to answer.

Tradition reinforces culture, creates a foundation. I don’t know if the story attributed to Pablo Picasso is true, but it is rumored that he said you must first learn to paint like the masters before you can extend the boundaries of your own art.

As a school communications entrepreneur I continuously challenge myself and my customers to extend the boundaries of their art. So maybe I shouldn’t really complain that the “art” of great Christmas Chocolate has moved beyond stale milk chocolate Santas.

I am going to begin a tradition of dark chocolate peppermint bark.

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Three Ways Our Newsletters Create Value For Your Company

Communication is great for companies, and newsletters are time-tested communication tools. For small businesses, email newsletters can be the primary way to reach customers, brand a product, and offer company news. Even the world’s biggest companies frequently rely on email newsletters to announce promotions, announce a service, and build a bigger subscription database.

Successful successful newsletter campaigns all do something right out of Marketing 101 textbooks: market to customers without making customers feel like they are being marketed to. One of my favorite marketing emails comes from Dollar Shave Club. Why? I love their product, so that helps. And, their newsletters make me laugh. I appreciate humor during a busy day of emails. I also know it takes a lot of time to produce content that is original, thoughtful, and isnt’ preachy.

Lots of companies need results now. So, they make the mistake of being too “salesy” in email after email. This is an almost guaranteed unsubscribe. A good salesmen should never have to do any hard selling; the product should speak for itself. And so it is for newsletters.

Which makes the model used by the School Communications Agency a really strong one. Our digital newsletters indeed help drive communication – and our designers take great pride in crafting content that is highly readable and clickable. And because we have found an audience that is impacted on a very real level by the information we provide, we can have open rates almost three times higher than the industry average.

What does this mean for a sponsor? It means three important things.

  1. It means sponsoring content in our newsletter doesn’t turn away the reader since they are there for school news. They are being marketed to without feeling like they are being marketed to.
  2. It also means that your product gets delivered to a highly localized audience, so impression rates are vastly improved over bulk marketing approaches. Our newsletters contain information that is meaningful.
  3. And it means that The School Communications Agency is doing the digital marketing for you. We are your helping hand in branding your product. The more schools you reach, the bigger your brand’s possibilities. A digital marketer can easily be paid in the six figures for content creation and market exposure. We can give you hundreds of thousands of impressions at fractions of that cost.

With that approach, we can all be partners in growing your company’s value.

 

 

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Hide The Homework, and Other Great Tips for Getting Homework Done

Conventional wisdom has us believe that homework needs to be done at a desk in a quiet room in one sitting until finished.  Does it really?  Homework can be a daily struggle for many families, especially those with students that have trouble getting started and sustaining focus. Let’s face it, for most kids homework is a chore.  It’s boring and the executive function and self-regulation skills necessary to power through it are lagging in many kids (and adults for that matter; think about doing your own taxes).  Today’s temptations like video games and YouTube videos only make it harder for homework to compete for our student’s attention.  The good news is you can change all that by mixing up the routine and, believe it or not, making homework fun.

So, hide the homework!

That’s right, take a homework assignment and hide it somewhere in the house and then let them complete it in that location once they find it.  I wish I could take credit for the idea but I heard of it while listening to Leslie Josel from Order Out of Chaos.(Check out her website, she has some great products and webinars).  For example, put the math worksheet in the cupboard and once your student finds it, have her squeeze in between the pasta noodles and canned green beans to complete it.  Depending on the grade level, set a rough time limit for how long it should take. If they don’t finish, move to the next assignment which is hiding in the tub. The point is, the fun and excitement of a game of hide and seek reframes the experience and turns completing their homework into a reward for winning the game.  Creating a game or a challenge around an otherwise mundane task increases dopamine in the brain and activity in the frontal cortex where the process of getting things done lives.

“But,” you say, “my kid is too old to play hide the homework?” So then what? Ask them what they think would work. Where do they naturally work when doing something they like?  Does he like to spread everything out on the floor while laying on his stomach and kicking his feet? Is he more productive studying with friends at a library, tutoring center, or coffee shop? Or maybe he needs several homework locations throughout the house to move to when he starts to lose focus?  Some students may actually like the idea of a body double; sit in the same room with them working on your own thing while they do their work.  Movement, a change of scenery, and interaction with others while working stimulates blood flow to the brain and takes the monotony out of the task.

When my youngest was in 4th and 5th grade, we would ride our bikes to the playground with books and snacks in hand and work on an assignment. When that was complete we would bike to the next location. Sometimes he would take me on some wild rides, but we got the work done. With another middle school student, we would play quick games of connect four between homework problems. Not only did she get her homework done, but my money is on her against anyone in a game of connect four. If your teen has an upcoming test, shoot some hoops while you quiz them. One caveat however – your student will have to give you guidelines as to what you are to do if they get the wrong answer. Take your parent hat off and just be a facilitator.  The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. The moment we start to criticize as parents, it’s game over!

Supporting a creative or more active environment and getting more senses involved increases engagement, focus, and the retention of information. Kids are always complaining that they can’t see how they’ll ever use what they’re learning in school, so take real life scenarios and tie it to what they are studying so it’s more interesting and relatable. For example, to help my youngest son understand the benefits of math, we decided to apply the concepts he was learning to a business idea he had to create – selling human sized gummy bears. He had to figure out how much it would cost, come up with a sales price and calculate his margin. He then decided he wanted to hire salespeople and had to figure out how he was going to pay them. After running the numbers and how many life size gummy bears he’d have to sell to make money, he decided this wasn’t a good idea, but he had a newfound appreciation for math.

All of this probably sounds like a big commitment and a lot of time out of an already busy day but it doesn’t have to be.  The big investment is upfront, brainstorming ideas and a little bit of trial and error figuring out which ones will work for your student. From there, it’s about incorporating homework into the quality time you’re already spending together as a family.  And think about the time and energy saved avoiding the battles over getting homework done, missing assignments and poor performance in school.

At the end of the day, no matter the age or the grade, it needs to be a collaboration between you and your student. Brainstorm ideas and give them permission to say “no” to yours.  Even if their ideas are crazy, run with it. If they say “I want to do my homework on the moon” simply respond, “Ok, how will you do that?”  Let creativity reign and have fun coloring outside the lines while exploring all the different routes you can take from point A to point B.

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In a Competitive Landscape, Newsletters Are The Best Kept Secret

The School Communications Agency works with many excellent sponsors who help us fund Colorado school initiatives. We value this relationship very much. Sponsorship is an important investment, and we are proud to continue to offer a unique way to reach over 150,000 parents, multiple times per month through our digital newsletter program.

As a channel which connects businesses to the educational community, impressions are very important to us. Sponsors have a golden opportunity to make hundreds of thousands of impressions per month at the fraction of a cost of a traditional marketing campaign.

Here’s how we do it:

  • We connect schools and businesses.
    With the ability to brand themselves to 140 Colorado schools, sponsors have direct access to a committed demographic. The number of schools who are working with us is growing all the time, and sponsors get direct access to over 220,000 students and parents in those schools.
  • We deliver newsletters digitally, with a forward thinking approach.
    Our email open rates are over 90 percent, meaning parents are getting immediate exposure to your sponsorship, multiple times per month. That’s upwards of 400 percent over the industry average, according to Constant Contact data.
  • We know education, and how to effectively market your brand to our education audience, which makes us incredibly cost effective.
    According a recent thorough analysis, the average cost per click using Facebook ads was just over 29 cents per click in 2016.  To our sponsors that reach 100,000 parents with us, you would be paying roughly $27,000 for 100,000 Facebook clicks. Many of sponsors reach far more than that. And our rates, of course, are far, far lower. And we are far more targeted.
  • We engage parents with school news that they need and can’t get elsewhere.
    For a run down of the sporting events, or a cutting edge classroom idea that can be used to help their children, parents keep turning to our newsletter. We also work directly with sponsors to specifically brand their message to the K-12 audience. And, best of all, by sponsoring with The School Communications Agency, you get to contribute funding to our students’ futures. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Colorado schools so far with your help.

Sponsors, we thank you for your ongoing commitment to improving education. And to future sponsors, please reach out to us.

Together, we can continue to succeed.

 

 

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Why It’s More Important Than Ever For Businesses and Schools To Work Together

National and local businesses are among the most untapped school resources. Which is really interesting, because schools are in the business of fostering talented thinkers, innovators, and workers. On the business end, fostering talent at home reduces operational costs. It also helps local companies brand themselves as positive community stakeholders. For schools, creating partnerships with local businesses, from the mom and pop to the large multinational, offers a ton of rewards.

Beyond finances, there are many other ways schools and business can succeed together. When you look at the modern economy, students simply need different skills beyond what a traditional curriculum can take on. They need to understand networking, be adept at communicating strengths, and show technological savvy, among others.

And, critically, they need to have mentors teach them the world they are about to be entering. Businesses can step in and partner with schools, and some are already doing so. There are good ideas, such as internships, already in place. Beyond that, there are two other immediate advantages school/business partnerships can provide.

  1. Business leaders can experience first hand the way rising workers think, react, and generate ideas, because it’s just different. There’s a few other incentives here, too. In addition to lower potential training costs, businesses would also gain key demographic insights. A young entrepreneur could literally change a company’s vision.
  2. Schools can promote their own brand, have channels to grow, and seek vital community involvement. School branding is no longer a passing thought. Schools needs students to pay the bills and get funding. And to succeed. In a fierce educational landscape that includes private, specialized, charter, and public schools, schools have to work extra hard to set themselves apart.

Ultimately, just like schools are in need of sound communication to grow, businesses would hugely profit from interacting more directly with their future workforce. And it’s more than a trend – it’s becoming essential to build the workforce we need.

We are proud to have connected businesses and students together through our sponsor program, and are continuing to develop partnerships within the national education landscape. Thank you for working with us. We look forward to helping even more.

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The School Communications Agency Has Good News For Colorado Schools

 

Here’s a tip culled from the classroom. Telling people nice things is the best fremium model there is. All teachers have examples of this. I’d like to share one of my favorites. It goes back several years to when I was assigning classroom jobs like stacking the books, sorting the library, and wiping down the iPads. A few students pointed out I had left someone off the job list. So, I turned to the student and told him his new job – to bring in good news. It was a new class job for them, but a simple and hopefully an effective one. And the boy was an optimist by nature, so I thought it would be the perfect thing for us all.

Well, the first day he forgot that he had to deliver us some good news. So, I said, the good news is you can try again tomorrow. Just bring a piece of good news, I reassured him. I expected it would be a newspaper clipping or something, but no matter, anything you want. He forgot the next day, too. So I said, the good news is you can tell us tomorrow – no worries. I even gave him a copy of the local paper. But he kept forgetting. He needed a more concrete example. OK, I said. He liked baseball. I asked him his favorite team. The Marlins, he said. I opened the paper. Ok, super, they won last night. That’s great, right? Sure is! he said. And then … well… he forgot to bring good news the next day.

I kept reminding him there will always be good news, but I was definitely getting a little worried this wasn’t working. Finally, after two more days without good news he came in with some good news. What is it, I asked. He got up in front of the class. Well, he said, laughing. I kind of forgot. He sat down. There was silence. Was that it? Thanks for sharing, I said, confused. Class ended. So, tell me, what was the good news, I asked him after lunch. He was a precocious kid. I’d tell you, he said, but I literally forgot. He wouldn’t budge. Seriously, I forget the bad news. He beamed – that’s great news, isn’t it?

I never gave up on him bringing in good news, but I won’t lie, I had the very teacherly fear of asking for too much. But he came through in the end. And, he had a really great school year after that, teaching me just as much: no bad news really is good news – who can argue that?

I want to share that example in light of an pretty important consideration – that good, positive, never-stop believing communication is the simplest, most cost effective way to get students to succeed.

The School Communications Agency is proud to help schools communicate more effectively, correlating into student success by:

  • Participating with 141 Colorado schools in creating professional communication opportunities.
  • Reaching over 6,000,000 impressions per year with our school newsletters, and growing.
  • Achieving email open rates of 91 percent, giving parents direct access to vital school and industry updates.
  • And, by raising over $750,000 for schools in our give back efforts, we give students direct opportunities for engagement.  We think that’s really good news. We hope you do, too.

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Newsletters are Great For Efficient Fundraising

Given the overflow of information in our lives, it can be tempting to romanticize about our life before it went digital. Astoundingly, one research firm concluded that on average, Americans interact with their phones over 2,600 times per day. It’s true, digital connections can be as ephemeral as your phone’s news feed, yet we live in a society that is built on digital interactions.

On many levels, it’s impacting how engaged communities perform. High school students on LinkedIn? Check. Teaching middle schoolers how to Tweet. Covered. Getting elementary students to use apps like iMovie? Old hat.

An analog life style, on the other hand, is somewhat of a lost art. So, are local schools a good place to advertise your business through newsletter messaging? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. There are all kinds of signs pointing to a shift back to an analog strategy in the education world, such as using film in photography class. Teaching students to write with pen and paper is suddenly back in vogue. And, incredibly, one of the major reasons for the recent fall in e-book sales is because students want the real thingSociety does, too.

And who can disagree? There’s still nothing like a face-to-face meeting, or nothing quite as good as feeling pages of a book bend in your hand. Or a newsletter to pass around. Our newsletter, vital to the communications of Colorado schools, is distributed with the expressed interest of being passed around, hung with a magnet, highlighted, posted on a bulletin board, and sent in the mail to grandma. Retweet it, you cannot.

For schools, it’s proving to a be a vital communication mechanism. And for sponsors, it’s as highly targeted as you can get. One hundred percent of parents who engage with the TSCA newsletter get access to family friendly, community centric products they need – guaranteed. It’s right in front of them and in their eyes. Compare that to an ad on the internet. That’s a 98 percent higher viewership than effective internet advertising. That’s just another huge reason to go analog. Here are a ton more.

Sponsors, we can work with you on branding your messaging and delivering meaningful results. Schools, we can create easy fundraising ideas and improve parent-teacher communication.  And, if you still do want to go digital, we have an app for that!

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