Building Support for School Music – Getting to Work

HomeOrganizing for ActionAnalyzing the SituationPlanning and StrategyGetting to WorkEvaluating ProgressAppendix 1 and 2


In this section, you will…


Call on all of your team’s talents and resources to contact and convince the many groups whose goodwill is essential to your success. Your success in reaching decision makers will depend largely on your ability to use the media effectively and to influence the following groups:

  • Parents
  • School Personnel
  • Community Organizations

Enlisting Allies

The particular strategies you choose to address the challenges faced by your team will vary depending on the makeup of your community and the structure of your school administration and local policy-making system. For almost any campaign, however, you will have to contact parents, school personnel, community organizations, community business leaders, administrators, school board members, and the general public.


Parents need to understand the benefits of music study. Remember that they are your strongest potential allies. It is, after all, their children who benefit from efforts to support music education.

  • If your area has active parents’ organizations, guide them in supporting the overall music program, not only a particular performing group.
  • To reach parents who have not yet become active in supporting the education of their children, you will probably have to work through the media.

School Personnel

A music program may be supported by the community, publicized by the media, and approved by the legislature, but its implementation is still controlled by music teachers and, indirectly, by other school personnel. Consider how you can work with the following people to develop support for your school’s music program.

  • School music teachers. Enlist the support of every music teacher in every school in your district: the importance of your campaign will be obvious to them.
  • Teachers of other subjects. Always treat them with professional courtesy. Also, seek the support of your teachers’ union.
  • School guidance counselors. Be sure that they have an adequate understanding of the goals and advantages of music education.
  • School principals. Inform them about the needs of the students in your area. Ask them to express their support to their superiors in the supervisor’s office and on the school board.

Community Organizations

Community organizations, including social organizations, arts councils, arts-related organizations, and business groups, can help you present your case for building a strong school music program to the public at large. They can sometimes help you reach decision makers, who know the influence of these groups and are often members themselves. You should also welcome charitable groups, nonprofit foundations, and the like to share in your activities.

Community Business Leaders

Seek out influential people and enlist their support. Executives of local businesses, for example, are often interested in activities that improve the basic quality of life for their employees and for the community at large. Read some of the quotes from chief executive officers that are printed in “America’s Culture Begins with Education”; solicit similar expressions of support for education in music and the other arts from your local business leaders for use in your campaign. (You can use these quotes in press releases, letters to decision makers, and any other publications you generate.) Ask executives to:

  • Write letters to the school board.
  • Speak at school board meetings.
  • Sign a “Businesses for Music” petition or group letter to be published in the local newspaper.
  • Get involved in music activities! For example, they could contribute funding for a summer music camp scholarship.
  • Use their contacts to convince others about the value of music education.

You will want to present your case to a number of people and organizations. Contact music-related groups such as the local unit of the American Federation of Musicians, local private music teachers’ organizations, and youth orchestras or music camps, but do not limit your efforts to these groups.

You will want to reach parents’ organizations (such as the local PTA), civic and service groups (such as the Junior League or the Rotary), business associations (such as the chamber of commerce), arts advocacy groups (such as the local arts council), youth groups (such as the YMCA/YWCA), and veteran’s groups. Also include in your efforts individuals such as performing artists, business leaders, and others who are local supporters of the arts.

Present your goals to the organizations and individuals that have been targeted as potential supporters. You can reach most organizations by speaking at one of their meetings. Prepare for your presentation in a letter that introduces your team and its goals and that suggests topics you would like to put forth. (Your chamber of commerce may be able to supply you with a list of the names and addresses of the program chairs for many of these organizations.)

Keep a record of each contact with each organization, of the speeches you have arranged, and of the response to any contacts. You may recruit speakers from within your team or beyond. Consider the public-speaking abilities of each potential speaker, but be certain to remember that the person best qualified to address a given audience is the person who knows and is most able to identify with that audience. Prepare handouts from the reproducible materials on the NAfME MusicFriends Network or from visually compelling, locally produced materials—or bring a school group to sing or play. Also, be certain to inform the local media and to keep track of which reporters or editors take an interest.

Identifying Local Decision Makers

The function of both school boards and various administrators differs from system to system. You must take the workings of the system into account in designing your campaign.

Tips for Communication with Decision Makers

  • Tailor every new letter or presentation of testimony to its target audience.
  • If you mount a letter-writing campaign, avoid presenting potential writers with a form letter. Instead, pass out copies of your fact sheet along with the addresses of the officials you need to impress. Then, ask people to write personal letters.
  • Avoid speaking about teachers’ jobs or salaries. Instead, concentrate on the value of music in every child’s education.
  • Avoid complaining about the present state of affairs, especially about any problems that you may have with individuals. Focus on reasonable, attainable goals.
  • Emphasize statistics that bolster your case, such as researc
    h results proving the value of music education, your analysis of budgetary line items, or information about the percentage of the public that supports your case.
  • Use anecdotal evidence in support of your point. This type of ecidence can catch the interest of leaders who are jaded by overwhelming and often contradictory collections of “facts.” Make certain that the anecdotes are positive in nature.
  • Do not waste the official’s time. Be professional and to the point. Simply state your case and identify your base of support, naming sympathetic organizations, experts, and other legislators or administrators whose names may carry weight with the person you are trying to convince. Most of all, be certain that you and the other members of your team present a united front.
  • Once you make direct contact with a decision maker, continue that contact. Follow up with telephone calls, invite him or her to school music events, and send a thank-you note for any favorable attention you receive.

  District Administrators

  • If there is a supervisor, a director, or a coordinator for the overall music education program, then you should certainly work with him or her.
  • If there is no person officially designated as head of the music program, ask the superintendent to identify a person from among the district’s music teachers to fill that role.
  • The superintendent needs to be able to say with confidence that the music program is providing something of value to students. Give the superintendent data that will convince board members of the importance of supporting school music.

School Board Members

  • If the school board is heavily influenced by one of its members, direct your efforts toward that person.
  • If the board tends to rely heavily on whatever the school administration recommends, trying to work directly with the board is unwise because such efforts may be perceived as an “end run” around those in authority.

Communicating with Decision Makers

Once you are ready to make an informed presentation to decision makers, you should proceed on three separate but interrelated fronts:

  • Testify at public hearings.
  • Write to key officials and organize a campaign to encourage others from the community to write.
  • Circulate, tabulate, and publicize a petition like that in appendix 2.
  • Make appointments to see each key decision maker in person.

Using the Media

The media—newspapers, magazines, radio, and television—are the means by which you can obtain the broadest dissemination of your views to the community. If you expect editors and producers to publicize your material, however, you must make it relevant, timely, and interesting. You must also supply media representatives with the tools they need to do their job: well-written releases, good photographs, and high-quality recordings.

Tips for Communicating with the Media

The ability to get your message across through the media depends on choosing the right content for the needs fo the moment and putting it in the form that will have the greatest impact. Remember that the media reports news. Therefore, consider what makes a particular event or concern newsworthy.

  • Stress facts and stories that illustrate the local impact of music education.
  • Generate news of your own (sending invitations to media personnel well in advance of the event). You can:
    • Publicize school music concerts.
    • Present an award to a local government official.
    • Conduct a survey of parents.
    • Issue a report on some aspect of music education in your schools
  • Make personal contacts with reporters or sources of interesting stories that appear in your local paper.
  • Write in a way that gains the attention, concentration, and the agreement of your audience. A simple, straightforward approach is nearly always best, but use an appropriate format, narrow the points covered, and slant the style of each communication to the needs of your reader or listener. Consider including:
    • Statistics—for proof of your assertions
    • Quotes—to give weight to your opinions
    • Anecdotes—to give your statements a human element
    • Colorful, interesting, and informative facts

Taking Aim and Making Contact

Reaching large numbers of people depends on using the media. Your job is to lead editors, reporters, and managers to the realization that music in American schools must be clearly identified as central to the well-being of young people, schools, and society—and that it is central to the interests of their readers, listeners, or viewers.

In working with the media, remember that every editor, reporter, or producer is a professional whose primary task is to present important and interesting information to the public. Prove that you are a reliable source of this information. If a member of your group has a personal contact with the media, use it!

Prepare for your media campaign by obtaining or preparing a media list. (You may be able to obtain a list from a local advertising firm, a bank, or a charitable organization. You can also construct such a list consulting Working Press of the Nation or Bacon’s Publicity Checker at your local library.) The list should contain addresses for all local media, with the names and telephone numbers of each media outlet’s personnel, including:

  • Education or cultural reporters
  • Editors
  • Assignment editors
  • Public service directors
  • News directors
  • Announcers
  • Producers

Introducing Your Campaign

Begin your media campaign with an introductory letter to everyone on your media list. This letter should:

  • Briefly set forth the general philosophy and specific goals of your team.
  • Ask for the addressee’s professional assistance in reaching the community.
  • List the name, title, address, and daytime telephone number of one team member who can be contacted for further information. Be ready to supply the information when the reporter needs it—journalists live by deadlines.
  • Kick off your campaign with an announcement of the members of your team, the problems you face, and your goals.

Choosing the Medium

Your choice of medium—print or broadcast—will depend largely on the nature of the message you need to convey.

  • Send short accounts of “hard news” to all media.
  • Send notices of concerts and other events to newspapers and radio stations for listing in cultural calendars.
  • Send more detailed descriptions of evolving curricula or involved legislative initiatives to lifestyle, educational, or cultural reporters at newspapers and in the broadcast media and to the editors of local or regional culture-oriented magazines.

Print Media

One of the basic tools for communication with professionals in the print media is the press release. Generally, it is appropriate to send press releases to newspaper or magazine editors whenever you want to draw their attention to a forthcoming event that might be of interest to the publication’s readers.

After sending a release on a topic of special importance to your campaign, consider following up with a phone call. You should time your calls to reach media representatives a few days after they receive your release. Try to call reporters and editors at a time that is convenient for them (a call to the newspaper or magazine receptionist is an easy way to get this information), and be prepared to supply whatever information they might need to fill in the details of your story.

You may obtain even more coverage in a feature article with a story that offers some unique angle—preferably of human interest. (Editors love features about both celebrities and local people with whom their readers are likel
y to identify.)

Photo Guidelines

  • Photographs should be 5 x 7-inch glossy black-and-white prints, in sharp focus and with high contrast between light and dark areas.
  • They should be visually appealing. This means that they should have interesting content: preferably one or two people in action—definitely not a large, posed group or a static, formal portrait. It also means that they should be well composed, drawing the viewer’s attention to the action without the distraction of extraneous details.
  • They should be accompanied by suggested captions. Each photo’s caption should be typed on a peel-and-stick label and attached to the black of the print.
  • They should not be your only copies. Newspapers cannot usually return photos, so keep your negatives.

If you have kept well-organized notes of the detailed research you undertook before writing the release, you are certainly ready for the eventuality of a reporter’s questions. Try to have photographs available to accompany the story.

If you know of an unusual event, you can ask for a newspaper photographer to cover the story or you can send in your own photographs.

Broadcast News Programs

Guidelines for Press Releases (Broadcast Media)

  • Plan the release to fit a specific time limit.
  • Focus on who, what, why, when, and where-but use the first few seconds to present material designed to capture listeners’ attention rather than to get your main point across. This material should raise a question—which should be answered in the body of the release.
  • Put the date in the heading (rather than as a dateline, which begins the text.)
  • Type all release in all capital letters, triple spaced, on one side of the paper.
  • Submit the release two weeks before the date on which you want it aired.
  • Write in an economical yet conversational manner; reinforce the style with quotations, while avoiding complexities. Remember, the broadcast audience cannot jump back to the beginning of a page of text if they miss your message.
  • Read the release aloud before sending it out. Your ear will tell you if it is adequate.

Many of the principles that apply to print media also apply to broadcast media: radio and television.

  • Begin by making contacts at local stations (introducing yourself first to the program director or public service director).
  • Send press releases (addressed to the news director) whenever you have information that might be of interest to them.
  • Be prepared to respond to broadcasters’ requests for more information. (Providing information, in this case, may include making yourself or another appropriate person available for appearance on a news, public-affairs, or talk-show program.)

Radio Press Releases

Plan radio press releases to be read within a thirty-second limit (probably about 75 words). Radio is an especially useful medium for up-to-the-minute coverage; sometimes a telephone interview between your team’s spokesperson and one of your media contacts can go on the air almost immediately after an important music education story breaks (such as the publication of a new school budget).

A variant on this type of press release is the simple notice of an event for inclusion in a station’s calendar. Publicize concerts and similar events by giving only the place, performers, date and time, and admission price.

Television Press Releases

In style, a television release should be similar to one written for radio, but you must allow for the fact that the viewer has to take in a great deal of audio and visual information in the time allotted.

  • Design your release to fill a sixty-second spot, about 125 words reading slowly.
  • Open with an intriguing lead and proceed in as clear and straightforward a manner as possible.
  • Emphasize visual images.
  • Be prepared to help the station help you by providing the information and access they will need.

Extended Broadcasts

A radio or television station may sometimes respond to a press release with a request that you supply someone to take part in an interview, in a panel discussion, or in a talk show or a listener call-in show. Radio stations and cable television outlets, in particular, schedule a relatively large amount of air time for public service broadcasting in all of these formats. If possible, of course, you should grasp these opportunities.

  • Whenever the news item mentioned in a release can be tied into the deeper issues involved in your campaign, mention in your cover letter to the news director that you would be happy to arrange for the guest appearance of an expert (probably one of your team members).
  • If you would like to discuss the issues but don’t want to tie them in to a particular calendar event, feel free to contact the host or producer of an appropriate show to ask about such an appearance.
  • If a team member is asked to take part in a broadcast, have him or her cooperate fully with the staff of the show. Help the staff with practical suggestions for getting the point across—and pay close attention to their suggestions as well. Before your expert goes on the air, have him or her ask the staff’s advice regarding makeup and dress.

Public Service Announcements

Public service announcements, or PSAs, are another way in which broadcasters fulfill their responsibility to the communities they serve. The National Coalition for Music Education has developed a celebrity PSA package that has been sent to hundreds of stations across the country—and updated PSAs, featuring current artists, will be sent out as they become available. Many radio and TV stations are delighted to air these professionally produced messages.

  • If you believe that you can suggest appropriate PSA topics of local importance, write a letter to the station public service director explaining the goals of your campaign and telling how the community will benefit when your message is aired. If the station decides to work up a PSA, they may ask you to write a rough script, which their experts will refine for you.

Tips For Writing PSAs

  • For radio: Write as you would for a radio news release, but add another level of interest: music. You need only to specify the general approach and let the station personnel arrange the details.
  • For television: Emphasize the visual. If the PSA director of a local broadcast or cable television station asks you for a list of ideas keyed to events in the community, choose ideas that can be linked effectively to images.