Effectiveness of Mehlville Messenger discussed by school-board members

Palamand critical of content, delivery of district newsletter

By BURKE WASSON

While the Mehlville School District aims to get its message out with its monthly newsletter, the Mehlville Messenger, Board of Education members wonder how effectively that is being accomplished.

The school board recently tabled a decision to renew a one-year contract with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Suburban Journals for the printing and delivery of the Messenger. Board members discussed the possibility of delivering the Messenger by direct mail rather than having the newsletter inserted monthly into the Suburban Journals and Post.

But while that method currently is being considered by the board, School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wallace said the move to direct mail would be more costly to the district.

The board in June 2006 approved a one-year contract with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Suburban Journals for the typesetting, printing and distribution of the Messenger. That contract expires with the Messenger’s August 2007 issue. The Journals were awarded the contract after submitting a low bid of $48,936 and have proposed a contract for the 2007-2008 school year in the same amount.

The district’s request for proposals last year also yielded a $96,312 bid from the Call and a $113,334 bid from PM Graphics. The proposals from the Call and PM Graphics included postage while the proposal from the Post/Journals did not.

Despite concerns about the higher cost of paying for postage through direct mail, board members and then-interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers, who yielded the superintendent’s position to Terry Noble on July 1, said they would be open to the idea if it would generate more readership.

“I know some of you have mentioned to me a concern about yes, it’s being distributed to so many people, yes, we are saving money,” Chambers said at the board’s June 28 meeting. “But are people reading it?”

Wallace said that a study done in January by consulting firm UNICOM•ARC showed that recognition numbers for the Messenger were at an all-time high.

“We did a phone survey with UNICOM•ARC, and Messenger recognition numbers were as high as they’ve ever been,” Wallace said. “We did a survey in January, I think it was, or in the early winter and this was after we’d been with the Journal for about five months.”

But board member Venki Palamand said that through his personal, informal survey of residents, he has discovered that many do not know that the Messenger is inserted in the Journals and some are not even aware that the newsletter exists.

“I do not think delivering the Messenger via the Suburban Journals has been an effective way to reach our residents,” he said. “The informal polls I have conducted tell me that many residents are not even aware that they get the Messenger. Positive news about the district has little impact if very few in a community are even aware of it.”

Because of that concern to reach district residents more effectively, Palamand said he would be in favor of delivering the Messenger through direct mail instead of as an insert in the Journals — even if it proves to be roughly $50,000 more costly.

“Although more expensive, I think we should deliver via direct mail,” Palamand said. “Just as any business with a good product or service needs to effectively reach their potential customers, Mehlville needs to make sure our good news reaches the community.”

Board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. said at the June 28 meeting that he believes UNICOM•ARC’s January phone survey might be skewed because many people confuse the Mehlville Messenger with the district’s Mini Messenger and the Parent Messenger, which is not paid for by the district but rather by advertisers.

“There’s another issue, too, where people are confusing the Messenger with the Mini Messenger thing that they get in the mail that says it’s not paid for by the Mehlville Messenger,” Frank said.

“The Parent Messenger,” Wallace said.

“They’re paid for by the advertisers?” Frank said.

“Mmm hmm,” Wallace said.

“Because there’s some people that I’ve talked to that when I ask about the Messenger, that’s what they’re referring to,” Frank said.

Besides discussion on improving visibility and delivery of the Messenger, board members and Chambers also indicated June 28 that they would like to improve the content and design of the publication.

Chambers additionally cited a printing problem that marred a recent issue.

“Are they aware that printing was really bad the last issue?” Chambers said.

“Was who aware?” Wallace said.

“The printer,” Chambers said.

“Yes,” Wallace said.

“Are they giving us any adjustment for that?” Chambers said.

“I don’t know if they’re giving us an adjustment,” Wallace said. “But the reason that they gave for the printing being they were dismantling that printing press in there and installing a new printing … I mean, we were the last day on that press. That’s not an excuse. I’m just telling you that …”

“It was really bad,” Chambers interjected.

As for the Messenger’s layout and content, Palamand is “not satisfied” and said he would like to see a more organized design “so that similar news, such as news about staff or high-school students, is not scattered on different pages.”

“I am not satisfied with either the content or the way we deliver the Mehlville Messenger,” Palamand said. “I would like to see one or two pages of every issue devoted to alumni news. We have had many successful graduates from Oakville and Mehlville over the years, and I think it is important for members of the community, especially those new to the area, to know that. Alumni who go on to become doctors, lawyers and small-business owners are the best endorsement of our local public education system, and we need to get that message out to our community.”