Making the Message Heard

Studios have many ways to communicate with clients—but is anyone listening?

by Jill Randall

Teachers and studio owners alike do figurative leaps, turns, and jumps to make sure that families have all the information they need about performances, rehearsals, costume fittings, open classes/parent observations, field trips, weather-related cancellations, and registration for the next season. But even in our digital age of instant interconnectedness, communication efforts seem less and less effective.

Let’s check in with six studios around the country and consider communication that works—and doesn’t work—from both the studio’s and the customer’s perspective.

“Regardless of how many emails and flyers and social media posts we make, parents miss information. When we make announcements as a live body speaking directly to them, however, parents listen and hear.” —Annie Arnoult

Expectations and info are dispensed through student-decorated signs at Brooklyn Arts Exchange.
Photo courtesy Brooklyn Arts Exchange

Tools for the task

Studios have many options for communicating with clients:

  • Verbal announcements: in classes, at drop-off, and at pick-up
  • Signage around the studio
  • A Facebook page or a Facebook group for families
  • A website
  • Twitter/Instagram
  • Voicemail messages
  • Email
  • E-newsletters and/or paper newsletters: weekly, monthly, or quarterly
  • A shared Google document (view-only format)
  • Individual event flyers: mailed home or handed out to students and families
  • In-person parent meetings

 

First, do a quick communication assessment for your studio. Which of these tools do you use? Which three are the most effective?

You might have an additional communication channel with your high school students, such as text messages or a Facebook group just for your class or teen company. Do you hold teens responsible for communication?

 

Teacher Rebekka Nodhturf relays info directly to her Northern Westchester students.
Photo by Lynda Griffin

Keep it simple

Communication can take many forms, but simple systems often stand out. Studio owner Lynda Griffin gives a 5-inch by 5-inch square magnet calendar to each family when they register at her Northern Westchester School of Dance in Katonah, New York. The calendar details events, closings, and fee deadlines. “They put it on their fridge so the information doesn’t get lost,” she says.

Info is shared at the Brooklyn [NY] Arts Exchange through laminated student-decorated notices and flyers that are posted around the building. The concept is simple but eye-catching.

Email seems easy—but messages often go overlooked or unopened. Keep emails short, especially if the same details were already shared in the monthly newsletter. “The subject line is key,” Katie Kruger of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley, California, says. “You want a parent to be able to search back through emails and easily find the one that says, ‘Summer Camp Registration.’ ”

With so many means of communication, it’s easy to overload your (already-overloaded) clients. “We realized the problem was actually too many ways to communicate,” says Hillary Parnell, owner/director of the Academy for the Performing Arts in Apex, North Carolina, where communication efforts included Facebook, Instagram, chalkboards, signs, and more. “We weren’t being consistent, and information was lost in millions of different places. We pulled back and stopped spoon-feeding everyone.”

Today, important info goes out in the weekly email newsletter; Facebook and Instagram are reserved for fun content. “If it’s super important, we’ll send a specific email or add a studio sign, but parents quickly learn that they need to read the newsletter or they will be lost,” Parnell says.

 

Office staffers at Utah Dance Artists keep clients informed.
Photo courtesy Teryn Mozaffari

The parent perspective

Dance teacher Teryn Mozaffari is also an executive assistant at Utah Dance Artists in South Jordan and Draper, Utah, where her three children have danced for the past 16 years. Mozaffari, who sees both sides of the communication dilemma, says that Utah Dance Artists has had success using duplicate methods to communicate with its 950 dancers and their families:

  • A Program Guide, distributed once a year and available on the website, that details the studio’s vision, mission, and philosophies; plus information on levels.
  • A Parent Guide distributed at registration that features info on policies, procedures, and important dates; families new to the studio can get questions answered in person during a new parent meeting.
  • Monthly newsletters that include details on upcoming events, important notices, or new programs.
  • A short bulleted email sent out each Wednesday.
  • An email (Recital Roadmap) that details recital information such as schedules, costume care, tickets, videos, etc.; recital information is reiterated several weeks later in a live meeting (Recital Amp Up).

Studio owners should do their best to create systems that their staff can stay on top of and use to put out information in a clear and concise manner. Still, Mozaffari says, “Although we send the information to all families in multiple ways, not everyone reads all the information all of the time.

“For people who miss information, the studio should have strong customer care specialists available to answer questions when they come up and who understand when a mom of three kids under 5 missed the memo about what color lipstick her 3-year-old has to wear. It all works out.”

Mozaffari says that the studio uses Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to “promote and celebrate”—not for basic studio communication.

 

Shawl-Anderson Dance Center staffers strive to make all of the studio’s written information clear and concise for parents such as Brian Smith.
Photo by Abigail Hosein

Real-time communication

Even today, the “absolute most effective communication tool” is person-to-person conversation, says Annie Arnoult, director of Hunter Dance Center in Houston. “Regardless of how many emails and flyers and social media posts we make, parents miss information,” she says. “When we make announcements as a live body speaking directly to them, however, parents listen and hear.”

Hunter Dance Center holds a parents’ meeting the week before fall classes begin. In the springtime, at recital rehearsals, and the show itself, educators make announcements about classes, camps, and other studio changes to the captive crowds. Staffers plan the what, when, and how of these announcements in advance.

Casey Hayes-Deats, Brooklyn Arts Exchange education manager, says that she and education director Lucia Scheckner try to visit every class during the year, such as during parent showings, to make face-to-face connections with families. In conjunction with these “welcome to our studio” visits, information tables are set up with key paperwork for families to take home that day.

Considerate communication

Still not sure how to fix your studio’s communication jam? Consider establishing a monthly communication check-in. Set aside 15 minutes on a day that’s convenient and easy to remember—such as the last Friday of each month—and complete these two tasks:

  • For yourself and/or your staff: How would I rate communication at the studio this month on a scale of 0 to 10? What was most effective? Least effective? Are we being consistent with our communication methods? How can we continue to streamline?
  • For families: Send out a short Google Form to customers: How would you rate our communication with you this month on a scale of 0 to 10? Which tool worked best for you (email, newsletter, flyers handed out in class, etc.)? What are some suggestions for next month or next semester?

 

Remember to think mindfully about your families and student population. Not every family has regular access to a computer or smartphone; not every student and family speaks English as the primary language. Flyers are easily lost if students juggle several households during any given week.

Any communication system needs to consider all of a studio’s families. The most effective communication methods are the ones that create a sense of belonging and inclusion. Be sure to put that front and center as you plan communication strategies for the new school year.

 


Jill Randall is a San Francisco Bay Area dancer and artistic director of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. She directs the blog Life as a Modern Dancer.