All right, maybe it’s not really trending yet, but in the last 5 years from coast to coast I have seen enough professionals transition from being Chief Communicator to becoming Chief of Staff in mid- to large-size systems that perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a trend. And, by the way, in the past decade or so, I have seen four former communication directors also take on the role of superintendent.
Building on the Positive Relationship with Your Superintendent
For the ambitious public relations professional, this rise in status can be a natural step. The best PR professionals know that they need to take a global, big-picture view of their systems, much like the stellar superintendents they work with day-in and day-out.
Like their bosses, these communication professionals help leaders lead, they provide support and “cover” for staff, and they help build and manage the reputation of the district. They often earn the respect and credibility of staff because they understand the nuances of most school employees’ jobs. They also know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to relating to the public’s opinion of their schools.
Talented PR professionals are organized and, yes, let’s use the old PR cliché, “they know how to get along with just about everyone — even the media.” Most top professionals also understand their superintendents’ thinking and tendencies, which also makes them a great fit for the position.
It’s no surprise then that the next logical step for some PR professionals is to become a Chief of Staff. As one of our NSPRA Board members mentioned, “I may not have the chief of staff title, but I often provide that type of service for my superintendent as well.”
Adding Security and Safety Duties as Well
At our NSPRA Board of Directors meeting this past weekend, regional vice presidents mentioned that they are seeing another duty being added to the PR professional’s very full plate. In some districts, communication professionals have now been asked to oversee the security and safety issues for their systems. Depending on the scope and size of your district, this add-on may make sense if you want to add even more value to your positions with your school communities.
Top communication professionals are always among the visible leaders when a crisis hits a district. To be a part of the team, or to oversee, coordinate, and implement security and safety issues can also be a natural fit for many NSPRA members.
The key to a great school communication job has always been that the communication professional has the deep trust, understanding, and confidence of the superintendent. You earn that trust and understanding by working closely with your superintendent as a cabinet member. More and more, we see that superintendents are leaning on their communication professionals for their strategic thinking and planning. Top PR pros help their districts advance in a hectic climate that is often riddled with community and staff challenges. We pave the way for productivity and support — and that is what our school communication profession is all about.
Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director