School Public Relations People Look at the Whole Apple

Posted 10/07/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: marketing, school communication, school PR

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Outstanding past NSPRA President, Ann Barkelew, APR, commissioned this mini-poster during her tenure back in the early 1980s. It reads, “School Public Relations People Look at the Whole Apple.” After all these years, it still hangs on my office wall because it says so much to those of us who fully grasp the impact of our profession.

In my last blog, I focused on how important it is to get a seat at your cabinet’s table or as Lin-Manuel Miranda says in his acclaimed musical Hamilton, that you need to be in “the room where it happens.”

Another way of getting where you need to be is to follow Ann’s advice — look at the whole apple. To make an impact for your system, look at all of the operational and possible controversial potholes that you anticipate for your schools. If you consistently develop this insight, the practice can become a critical function of your job.

But here’s a heads up: You must have courage. Be ready for pushback because some colleagues may see you as “mucking around” in what they consider to be their turf, not yours.

As I have said many times, and immediate past NSPRA President Tom DeLapp, APR, recently told us, two school district jobs are more similar than others: that of the superintendent and the communication professional. You are both there to deliver the greater good, to identify what can be better, to protect the reputation of your system, and to assist others to make it happen.

So when you see or hear or find out about missteps or know of potential practices or inattention that can harm the operation and reputation of your system, it’s time to speak up.

Here are two concrete examples of where your insight could be valuable to the district:

  • School bus delays — When vehement parents call the “bus barn” and no one picks up the phone, the problem continues to fester. To solve it, you could suggest having some informed temporary customer service help be assigned to the bus barn. (Hint: Always offer a few solutions as possibilities to assist in “righting the ship.”)

 

  • Growing negativity of parents about your middle school programs — Parents who have choices leave your system as they approach the transition period after elementary school. Even more depart as high school looms. What to do? Just present the data you have and note that you need to start focusing on this departure pattern sooner rather than later. Your curriculum and instructional folks surely know that this type of exodus may be apparent. Gather them as a team to talk about viable steps to take to begin finding solutions.

 

These are just two instances of how looking at the whole apple can help you become a catalyst to move your system in the right direction.

Of course, none of this should happen unless you and your superintendent are on the same page and your superintendent supports the approaches you’ve identified. Typically, you can discuss preliminary approaches with cabinet colleagues; a collaborative approach creates a smoother path as you move forward. No one should ever be blindsided at a cabinet-level meeting.

I urge you to look at the entire apple and share your thoughts about potential solutions with your superintendent. It’s one thing to be in the room where it happens, but it’s a major step to be in the room and to make it happen.

 

Creating a Wall of Fame as a Motivational Tool

Previously, we highlighted how one school — Bensalem Township School District in Pennsylvania — started a high school wall of fame to boost a positive and substantive image in its community. Just two weeks ago, the second group of outstanding graduates was installed at a special Saturday afternoon ceremony.

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Naturally, friends and relatives of all of the inductees attended the event, but one exception in the audience was a current high school student along with his parents. They had just moved into the community.

You might ask, why would they go to this ceremony?

At the high school’s annual Back-to-School night held just a few days before, the parents and their son saw the wall of fame display as they entered the hallway. They stopped to read about the accomplishments of some 24 graduates. They all were so impressed with what they read — a Pulitzer Prize winner, renowned scientists and doctors, and successful entrepreneurs among them — that they decided to come with their son to the ceremony. They thought it would be an opportunity to be inspired and understand what Bensalem High, combined with their son’s hard work, could do for their son in the years ahead. Stirred by the speeches of how their high school experiences and teachers contributed to their paths in life, the son leaned over to his parents and said, “Someday I’m going to be on that wall.”

Strategically, the wall’s mission was to boost the image of Bensalem High School. And it looks like that plan may just be working. In this case, at least one student at a time.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

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You Must Be in the Room Where It Happens

Posted 09/10/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: Professional Development

39668350535_0ac8c2b774_o-2018_04_16-11_18_18-utc.jpgThe Room Where It Happens, a song from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, describes the situation of  wanting to be a “player” to influence the decisions and actions that the leaders of our country made back in the era of 1776.

That sentiment is still relevant today in our own professional lives. To make a worthwhile impact, you must be in the room when key decisions are made. (As an aside, if you can ever find a way to see this show, you will be so glad you did—even when ticket prices rival the cost of the NSPRA Seminar.)

 

How to Have a Seat in Your School District’s Cabinet?

New NSPRA members often ask me and other vets how to gain access to their district’s cabinet.  When I started out in this profession, I was the coordinator of school community relations for a medium-sized district and I was not a member of the cabinet. Within 10 months though, I started attending the meetings and by Year 2, I became a cabinet member.

My decades of experience in school public relations taught me a few things I’d like to share. Although every district and superintendent have differences, many of these tips may help you.

You Must Work to Gain an Admission Ticket to the Room Where It Happens

  • Remember that you have to earn your way into a cabinet position. It’s not an entitlement. You have to earn your stripes by providing solid counsel to your superintendent and cabinet members. Make sure you do that as best as you can in a proactive approach so you start building a credible track record in advising.
  • Build that credibility by writing brief “thought joggers” for your boss dealing with anticipated situations where intervention and increased communication can help avoid controversial miscues in the future.
  • It helps to report directly to the superintendent. If you do not, work with influential cabinet members “who get it” when it comes to understanding the total impact of your communication function. Try to have that person pave the way with your superintendent. Use the rationale that you can be much better in developing messages if you understand fully why and how decisions are made. Otherwise, a void exists and that lack of connection makes your job harder. Your district is at a higher risk when you are not aware of the big picture.
  • Offer to audit each meeting and craft a succinct summary of every meeting in a grid-like format that notes actions taken, next steps, and who does what. (I started this practice to gain entry and by my second meeting, cabinet colleagues started asking, ”Rich, how do you see this playing out in our community?”
  • For many years, I’ve said, “Our best school PR pros have one foot in the schools and one foot in the community, and the stretch marks to prove it.” Where possible, prove that maxim is true by how you practice our profession in your school community. Know the pulse of your community.
  • Read Jim Lukaszewski’s Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor. It’s one of the best bits of advice on this topic. You can buy it through NSPRA here.

 

The Key Is to Build a Positive Relationship

One of the keys to making all this work is your relationship with your superintendent of schools and your superintendent’s perception of the value you add to your district’s leadership.

If you are not a cabinet member, seek your superintendent’s advice about what steps you must take to become one. Together, measure progress to see what still needs to be done to make it happen.

Measure progress and expectations and you will most likely clear your path to be in room where it happens.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive  Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Expose the Negative Education Rhetoric for What It Is: Our Critics’ Brand of Propaganda

Posted 08/11/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: democratic society, Education, school choice

logo-anaheim-2018-sample-girl-10012017.jpgIn late July, we just concluded NSPRA’s very successful national Seminar in Anaheim, California, where more than 1,000 participants (local school communication professionals, superintendents, association leaders, corporations, and other school officials) rallied around our theme of Proving the Value of Public Education.

In my opening message to our audience, I noted that we’re in the midst of the strongest competition we’ve ever faced in our lifetime — a roiling political climate that gives short shrift to the importance and worth of public education, and one that supports half-baked privatization solutions that are based on an approach of  “leave-no-fat-wallet-behind.”

My point was that all of us at the Seminar — alongside the more than 10 million others working in schools across the country — need to stand up and become both active and reactive whenever and wherever we see public education being bashed.

 

Time to Squelch the “If-You-Know-Nothing, Say-Something” Crowd

We have so much to be proud of, but yet we continue to let those who vociferously rally behind the “If-You-Know-Nothing, Say-Something” banner when they talk about public education.

We can’t stay silent when ignorant talking points become the norm in our communities.  It’s time to let people know how wrong these hollow critics are.

The more of us who join in letting folks know just how wrong they are, the better chance we have of making a significant difference in our local communities.

Leadership organizations have offered their Stand Up for Education Campaigns and we applaud their work. But we need more of a “ground game” that confronts these false accusations in a forceful but civil way. Reach down and muster up the feelings that made you become an educator, and use that forceful emotion to verbally prove why public education is better now than it has ever been.

Here’s a start:

Check out this video from East Aurora School District 131 in Illinois. In a positive, moving manner, it clearly demonstrates the value of our public schools.

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EASD 131: Personal Grad Walk – Diego Terrazas

 

As you just saw in the video, like East Aurora, in the normal course of our business every day, we take struggling students at a tender age and teach and nurture them to become successful in school and in society. It’s one of the best attributes we have to prove that public education is one of our local communities’ most valuable assets. I often say that our students can tell our story better than we can. Follow the video’s example and strive to find ways to develop UNFORGETTABLE stories about the impact that public education has on your kids and your community.

Those of us in this profession have the fine-tuned skills, the professional judgment, and the strong-held beliefs that can begin turning our communities into believers and advocates for public education.

 

One More Point — and It’s a Four-Letter Word

Day in and day out, we all need to roll up our sleeves and do our part to overcome the pervasive negativity about public schools. But there’s a four-letter word that can help put us on the right path and change the destructive tide that’s seeping in everywhere.

And that is — VOTE! 

Start with yourself. Then work within your communities with voter registration programs to set a climate that practicing citizenship can make a difference.

We can talk and lead, but in the end, we all need to vote.

 

Who’s for Kids and Who’s Just Kidding?

As a 501(c)(3) organization, NSPRA can’t tell you how to vote, but we can urge you to vote. In any election about every candidate, you just need to answer this question: “Who’s for kids and who’s just kidding?”

The answer should make your choices crystal clear.

 

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Tap 1,800 School PR Pros for Insights and Solutions

Posted 06/11/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: Member benefit, news, school PR

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With NSPRA Connect, You’ll Have the Wisdom of Countless Pros at Your Fingertips

One of NSPRA’s major strengths is our members’ willingness to share their solutions and insights on issues that they’re facing and their readiness to offer helpful opinions or information about the nuances and effectiveness of new tech functions. I often say that NSPRA is like “having a friend in the business” when it comes to school public relations.

We launched NSPRA Connect just a bit over a month ago and it has already caught the attention and provided solutions to hundreds of our members. Collaborative software industry experts tell us that our participation rates are much higher than most other launches. Given that NSPRA members are communicators and networkers by nature, we expected a healthy response.

Now to make it an even a richer resource for our members, we’re urging more members to participate or at least receive the daily open forum digest. Take a quick, 30-second scan and you’ll get a feel for what’s percolating across the country. We encourage you to join in to share your own info or to ask even more questions.

From a recent listing of topics or issues we saw these:

  • Announcing transgender graduates’ names
  • Labor public relations negotiations
  • The latest in annual reports
  • Welcoming a new superintendent
  • Updates on OCR complaints
  • Broadcasting Board meetings
  • Providing the media with Board background materials when you are using Board Docs
  • Approaches to internal communication
  • Archiving social media posts
  • Project management software solutions
  • Using social media schedulers
  • And more

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NSPRA Connect Demonstrates What We Do for a Living

NSPRA Connect also gives members the opportunity to demonstrate by example what school PR professionals are working on for their districts. Just share a screen shot with your superintendents to convince them that a few of the examples from others align with recommendations you’ve been attempting to implement in the past year. And if you work with superintendents who are not totally committed to a comprehensive communication program, begin showing them how our function is working for others throughout the US and Canada.

NSPRA Members Get Connected Today

This new membership benefit will only get better as more members participate. If you have not connected yet, just go to connect.nspra.org and start reaping the benefit and insight of NSPRA Connect.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Are You Excited About What You Do?

Posted 05/05/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: General, school PR

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Last week Gallup released a new poll noting that half of American adults work full time for an employer, but only 13% who are working full time are actually excited about what they do.

I trust that our school communication professionals — a spirited, creative and exciting group — would rank their jobs much higher than the 13% that this latest Gallup poll found.

 

Good Experience, But Something Was Sorely Missing

I have said many times that my stint as a VP in the corporate agency business was one of the best experiences I have had during my career. I learned a great deal more about leadership, sales, customer service, how to make or lose money, and how to make our programs accountable and successful. But even though we were successful, somehow I felt that our work there was a bit hollow contrasted to working for our school community.

One of my client accounts back then was for a plastic surgeons’ group who specialized in enhancement and reduction procedures for their affluent customer base in the Potomac communities just outside of Washington, D.C. While visiting with some of the doctors leading their practice, I found out that one of the docs had just returned from saving the toes of a teenager who inadvertently cut his toes while mowing his parents’ lawn. (Even in wealthy Potomac, Maryland, some families still cut their own lawns back then!)

I was impressed with the results and recommended that we highlight this work as a general interest story that demonstrated the humane side of their practice.

Well, let’s just say that this idea turned into a “dog that did not hunt.” The client did not want to promote their repair and restoration work because it was not the type of work that they wanted to be known for.

 

They Were Correct and I Learned Something About Myself

And they were correct. Strategically I was off target.

We regrouped and offered more relevant and profitable procedures for their prospective clients. This approach worked and our business relationship with them blossomed into a viable one for our agency.

But I wasn’t excited about this work. It felt hollow after working in a local school district and for two education associations.

I realized that most of us get into education to help students and staff improve through engagement and communication. We also enjoy building more support for our local systems. And when our work makes a difference, we get even more excited about it.

Now I know we all have bad days and we experience circumstances that are out of our control. But even during those times, we are there to help improve and possibly provide solutions to protect the reputation of our systems.

It all depends on what we value and how we practice our profession.

Most NSPRA members enjoy the opportunities to help their systems in authentic and results-oriented ways. In fact, I’ll bet most NSPRA members I know even get excited about their work. Unlike those unlucky people in the Gallup poll.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

 

 

Earn Respect Through Accreditation

Posted 04/05/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: accountability, Professional Development, school PR

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Adding value and respect to your career is a goal most professionals have, no matter where they work or what they do. Adding those two attributes to the public relations profession is a must if you are serious about committing your lifetime to our profession. After all, we all hear from people that PR is just a fluff job; you only need to be good with people, make the right contacts with the media, and know how to “spin” and navigate your employer out of trouble and into a favorable spotlight. Unfortunately, this mistaken image of PR still prevails among those who do not understand our business.

Early in my career, I remember telling a future in-law that I was in public relations. She laughed and said, “Oh you mean you deal in B.S.” I can’t explain here my first knee-jerk response in that moment, but I did manage to muster something like, “Walk in my shoes for a week (if you can keep up) and you will see first-hand what I do for a living.”

More than 30 years later, I see that we still are fighting a negative image in some circles. Many of us have overcome that image by amassing positive results for our employers and by serving as ethical and trustworthy role models in our school communities. Our consistent performance and the style of our practice have earned the respect and credibility needed for our profession.

Another Path to Respect and Value Is Through Accreditation

But there is another path to becoming respected in our field and it’s by being accredited.

NSPRA is a member of the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), the organization that provides the testing process for accreditation. When you venture through the accreditation process, you take an exam and go before an interview panel to assess what you know and how you practice it. The process judges your readiness to earn the right to put the APR (Accreditation in PR) moniker after your name, signaling that you have achieved a high standard in our profession.

Currently 187 NSPRA members are accredited. Just a tad over 10% of our membership.

One quick historical note you should know: In 1976, NSPRA started its own accreditation program with the first exam. NSPRA pioneers, Joe Rowson, APR; Dr. Don Bagin; and Dr. Ken Muir, APR, crafted the test and the administered it at the 1976 Seminar in Philadelphia. A number of veterans and a few newbies (I was about 12 years old at the time) passed the exam and then began using the ASPR label after our names.

The ASPR accreditation program transformed over the years and then joined the UAB in 2000 to become one unified test for all of us in the PR profession. We made the move to have equal status with all industries that needed accredited PR counsel and services.

 

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What Are the Benefits of Accreditation?

If you want to learn why you should be accredited, just contact current NSPRA members to see what they think the benefits of the accreditation process have been. Ask our NSPRA office for a listing of our current accredited members if you want to discuss the process.

But quickly, here are few benefits of accreditation that we have seen over the years:

  • Accreditation sets you apart from other PR people, indicating that you “measured up” to the standards and knowledge of our profession.
  • It gives you an “admission ticket” to be considered for other higher level positions because you have proven your understanding of the full scope of the need for the four-step process.
  • It broadens your awareness and practice of our profession and gives you more gravitas when someone asks you for solutions to everyday or sticky situations in your systems.
  • It arms you with answers to approaches so you can be much more strategic in your practice of public relations.
  • It gives you confidence to tackle new situations knowing that you have a foundation of proven practices rather than just a “gut reaction.”

 

Earning accreditation is something that will stick with you forever. Bosses come and go, but your APR will be with you throughout your entire career. If you have your APR, you’ll earn the respect of your colleagues and will be recognized as one of the best in our profession.

To learn more about the accreditation process, go to https://www.nspra.org/professional_development/accreditation. We’re also offering a special pre-seminar accreditation prep session at NSPRA’s Annual Seminar in Anaheim this coming July.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

A Half Million Respondents Confirm What NSPRA’s Auditors Have Consistently Heard for Years

Posted 03/10/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, school communication

Personalize Your Direct Messaging

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NSPRA again tips its hat to the annual results of the partnership of the Speak Up Research Project, Project Tomorrow and Blackboard, Inc., for capturing the latest trends in home-to-school communication. The partnership has been conducting this valuable research since 2003.

You can review the results at Blackboard’s Trends In Community Engagement report. For the full nifty infographic which is great for quickly sharing much of their findings, go to Parents share expectations for K-12 communications in new report at Blackboard’s blog.

 

Listen Up to a Half Million Voices

The survey reported feedback from more than 514,000 K-12 students, parents, educators and community members. It even tapped the wisdom of school communicators between Octobers 2016 and January 2017.

Some key findings include:

  • Parents would like information to be conveniently pushed directly to them instead of having to seek it out.
  • At the same time, parents are busy and don’t want to be overloaded with messages. Schools should send timely, highly impactful information.
  • Email is the best way to reach them no matter their child’s grade level or whom the communication is coming from (teachers, school administrators or the district).
  • Personalization is a key thread of expectations concerning communication. Personalized emails, text messages, voice messaging, direct phone calls, and face-to-face meetings scored well in expectations from parents.
  • A disconnect for many parents was the use of Facebook for district messaging. Parents were not enthralled to use Facebook for their school messages. They wanted a system to be more personalized. The authors even noted that principals and school communicators seem to be leaning more to Facebook for messaging —  which is not parents’ preference.

 

NSPRA’s Communication Audits Confirm These Findings

Our NSPRA Communication Auditing process seeks to learn the preferences of parents, community leaders, school board members, and staff at all levels about content, frequency, channels of communication, formats, etc. We, too, hear that people prefer personalization and directly pushing messages to them as their top priorities in communication.

When we ask people about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media channels, those vehicles are normally not even close to the preferred messaging format.

But Here Comes the But

But things may be changing rapidly.

You won’t really know for sure unless you ask your preferred target audiences (parents and others) about their preferences. Simple feedback devices at the building level can tell you a great deal about your parents and teachers’ preferences. The same approach can help you be more effective and efficient with district messaging as well.

Just make the time to ask or to learn more about your specific needs by completing a communication audit for your district. (Contact NSPRA if you want more information about an audit.)

As more of our parents have grown up in the digital world, they may want us to do more with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But our bet is that you will need to weave in the personalization factor as best you can in every new approach that you decide to take.

We are all fortunate to have this annual research to give us an indication of where home-to-school communication may be heading.

But it is up to us to find out what’s real in our own school communities.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director