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

 

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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

Persuasion Strategies to Make Your Messages Stick

Posted 02/11/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: marketing, school communication

8268543370_da8c21bf81_oIf you don’t follow marketing guru Seth Godin’s daily blog, you should. It’s a quick scan that will make you think and possibly adapt his thoughts to planning your work. You can catch it here to subscribe.

Last week he offered his thoughts on what motivates people to take action. He called the blog, The Super Bowl Is for Losers. He pointed out that the people of Minnesota spent a half billion dollars to build the indoor stadium and make concessions to host the event now two Sundays ago. And he noted that they will probably lose money just like other cities have who built stadiums to demonstrate that they too were first-class cities.

He asks, “So why does it keep happening? “Why, despite volumes of documented evidence, do well-intentioned people spearhead new projects like this?”

 

How does Godin’s message help us?

Godin offers some insightful lessons on human behavior that I’ll try (in italics) to translate for those of us in school communication:

  • The project is now. It’s imminent. It’s yes or no. You can’t study it for a year or a decade and come back to it. The team (your local coalition) creates a forcing function, one that turns apathy into support or opposition. So in this era of “instant everything,” we may need to jump on that trend to talk about the wonderful new school you plan to build with pictures of the gleaming new building they will be visiting in the years ahead to represent their caring community.
  • The project is specific. Are there other ways that Minneapolis could have effectively invested five hundred million dollars? Could they have created access, improved education, invested in technology, primed the job market? Without a doubt. But there’s an infinite number of alternatives vs. just one specificWe need to be specific in our building campaigns as well. Providing new spacious, technology-enhanced safe schools for our crumbling school infrastructure is the specific goal we’re after.
  • The end is in sight. When you build a stadium, you get a stadium. When you host a game, you get a game. That’s rarely true for the more important (but less visually urgent) alternatives. We need to point to our immediate end of building a school and the results that the school will bring to students and the community.
  • People in power and people with power will benefit. High-profile projects attract vendors, businesses and politicians who seek high-profile outcomes. And these folks often have experience doing this, which means that they’re better at pulling levers that lead to forward motion. We need to capture some of these same powerful leaders to work with us in building what’s best for their children, grandchildren, and total community. It’s time to leave no generation behind.
  • There’s a tribal patriotism at work. “What do you mean you don’t support our city?” And what do you mean that you don’t support our children, grandchildren, and future taxpayers and leaders in our community? We’ve worked too hard and too long to give up on our children and our school community. We’re proud to be a member and advocate for all that our homes and families stand for.

 

Godin ends his blog by noting that in the face of human emotions and energy, a loose-leaf binder from an economist has no chance. And in his example, the stadium was built and the Super Bowl arrived.

And, as I have been saying for years that, “When facts and emotions collide, emotions win just about every time.” It’s time to lead with emotions and there’s no better way to tap those emotions by doing what’s best for all our children in all our respective school communities.

Once again, if we don’t do it, who will?

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School

 

 

 

 

 

Get Aggressive in Building Your Communication Budgets

Posted 01/07/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: Budgets, Communication, school choice, school PR

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Pulling for Your PR Budget

In an era of public-education bashing coupled with increasing competition for students, school leaders must integrate communication into all that we do or we will risk losing the battle we now face. A strong communication function will help you advance your system during this period of uncertainty.

But you can do only a little bit — and in inconsistent ways — if you do not have the resources you need to make a difference. Yes, money does make a difference.

Here is a case in point:

NSPRA members tell us that most NSPRA districts spend just one tenth of one percent of their entire school district budget on communication.

One tenth of one percent — that’s .001%! Really?3

Non-NSPRA member districts most likely spend less than that.

Our assessment is that corporate charter companies are spending from 10 to 25% or more of their budgets on their communication and marketing efforts.

In comparison, this is not a fair fight!

Think about it. A district with a total budget of $100 million sets aside just $100,000 to cover a full-time experienced professional and possibly a part-time assistant. That leaves little or nothing in the budget for tech tools of mass communication and engagement services, video capabilities, software for efficiency, tech equipment, professional development, and more. Although talented NSPRA professionals are known for stretching the impact of their dollars, there are only so many times that they can consistently pull rabbits out of their respective hats if they don’t have the money to back up their herculean efforts.

Former Vice President Joe Biden often says he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. And this sentiment is painfully obvious to us as we look at the dilemma that school communication professionals face today. It may be time for your leaders to look at your budget and consider what your district needs.

Most school districts are now in the midst of building their operational budgets for the year ahead. So, now’s the time to get aggressive in making sure that your system has what it needs to be competitive in the school choice movement.

To get started on persuading leaders to increase communication budgets consider these two approaches:

Use a Cold-Cash Accountability Model

For years, NSPRA has asked decisionmakers to look at enrollment swings in this era of choice. The more students you lose to competition, the more money you lose from state reimbursement.

With a well-planned marketing communication effort, you can retain students and recruit new students, which can make a long-term impact on your budget realities. For example, if you recruit 15 first graders who earn a $4-6K state reimbursement in just 1 year, you will have added $60-90K to your district’s budget for that year. If you retain them for all 12 years, your district would earn between $720K-1.08M over their school career. And that’s for just 15 students.

Investing in an accountable communication and marketing effort can reap large financial dividends for your system. But the investment must happen now to develop a marketing and engagement effort to retain and recruit students.

Budget for Schools that Are Most Vulnerable  to Lose Students to Competition

Another accountable approach to communication budgeting is to select a few schools who may need extra communication assistance to help them build their brand in a competitive marketplace. View competition today as more of a school vs. school model rather than pitting your entire school district against one competing charter school. Parents are judging one school against another. In other words, think about how your Valley Elementary stacks up against the new ABC Elementary Charter just three blocks away. Changing your view of school choice will help you build your case for increased funding for your marketing efforts.

Each school needs to look at itself, assess it strengths and weaknesses, and then work on becoming your community’s school of choice. Communication and engagement efforts are key to this phase. Then your branding and recruiting efforts can effectively occur. You need to budget for the communication and engagement facet of the plan or you are surely bound to fall short in view of the competition.

By setting aside funds for this initial type of effort, you will help more budget decisionmakers understand where your communication dollars go. And you will assist in retaining and recruiting students, adding positive numbers to your district’s bottom line.

We need more effective communication to combat new education alternatives in our local communities. It is time to get aggressive in building a budget to meet these new communication needs in our schools. To make and market your schools as schools of choice in the year ahead, you need additional resources.

If we don’t do it, who will?

Remember, don’t create a communication vacuum because your competition will gladly fill it if they haven’t done it already.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Some Holiday Cookies to Munch On

Posted 12/10/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: General, school communication

girl eatingAs we approach our holiday break, most of us are a bit frantic “to get it all done.” NSPRA member jobs are always busy, but when you add the layer of personal and family holiday shopping and home responsibilities, it may seem like we added just another stressful and unforgiving deadline we need to meet.

But we all need a break from the stress.

Let’s do our best to take advantage of being away from the everyday pressures of our school communication jobs and return from the holiday break refreshed to tackle the new challenges that we face for the remainder of this school year.

At NSPRA, we are planning to unveil a number of new products and services in the months ahead. Here are just a few:

  • A new collaborative software tool we are calling NSPRA Connect, where you can post your own request for assistance or counseling and hopefully receive numerous relevant responses from NSPRA colleagues. You will have access to more than 1,700 PR consultants who face nearly the same situations you face every day. The new system goes to the heartbeat of NSPRA — members networking to help one another. Watch for it later this spring.
  • We’ll also be co-publishing two books by respected NSPRA veterans, Kristin Magette, APR, and Trinette Marquis-Hobbs, APR. Kristin is updating her Embracing Social Media book and Trinette is working on a data-based approach to school communication. Our co-publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, is setting publishing deadlines. We are keeping our fingers crossed to have both publications by our Anaheim Seminar in July.
  • Plus, we’ll be publishing the second edition of Making and Marketing Your School as a School of Choice in time for the Anaheim Seminar. The book’s focus is to help school leaders make their individual schools winners when it comes to our era of competition, which seems to be growing through the advocacy of federal and state legislation and funding. Our plan is to have the book ready this spring.
  • Early in 2018, we will be offering a new collection of past webinars and EduTalk Radio shows in our Members-Only section of our website. Entitled Play That Again …, this section will be a collection of NSPRA members’ insights on a wide-range of evergreen issues and practices.
  • Also starting in January will be a new electronic version of NSPRA’s popular Wit and Wisdom, where members offer their brand of wit and wisdom to be shared through NSPRA’s Twitter account.
  • Finally, we plan to have a new communication review process to be available by the NSPRA Seminar in July. Targeted for smaller school districts, these reviews will give districts the use of SCoPE surveys and e-interviews and focus groups to help them set the course for effective communication practices in their districts. We’ve nearly completed two beta projects with NSPRA districts that will lead to the new service to be launched next year.boy-with-santa-hat.png

 

It is a busy year for all of us, but we should take pride in what we do every day for our students, their districts and communities. Nobody does it better on a consistent basis than NSPRA members and their districts.

Enjoy your holiday and let’s make 2018 a year of accomplishment for our school communication profession.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

Your Graduates Tell Your Success Story Better Than You Can

Posted 11/10/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

joy2-e1510326592709.pngMost of us enjoy our jobs and careers because of some impact we may have had along this journey of working in school communication. We all can proudly speak about our moments of accomplishments leading to the success of others.

NSPRA and our members are quick to share from an overflowing fountain of great ideas just waiting to be implemented. But implementation is often burdened by challenges and hurdles of convincing bosses and Boards to support the idea, finding enough budget and staffing resources, and finally mustering up the will and tenacity to make it all happen. In other words, it takes a lot of WORK!

Among many other functions, my job calls for me to offer solutions to school leaders when they may be facing image- or reputation-damaging moments. We have many snapshots of success, but because of the above-mentioned challenges, some never really get a chance to dance in the end zone.

On a personal note, recently I enjoyed watching from afar an end-zone dance worth sharing.

The Seed Was Planted Many Years Ago

A quick story is that I started my school communication career in the Bensalem School District, just immediately north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was proud of our work for that system, but, unfortunately, it had a lingering reputation that it was never as good as the nearby more affluent systems. Those of us who worked there at all levels knew better, but it seemed that we could not get out of the shadow of the other systems.

Years after I left my local position, I started finding and highlighting practical and proactive examples of helping school districts improve their reputations in their communities. I am so pleased to report that one of those ideas gave birth and came to fruition in the Bensalem School District just a few weeks ago.

Thanks to Rosemary Boccella, a former teacher at the school and a champion of a “high school wall of fame” idea she learned from NSPRA, Bensalem’s reputation is shining a bit brighter these days. (Full disclosure: Rosemary is my sister-in-law and a frequent staff volunteer at the NSPRA Seminar.)

Rosemary took what she learned from NSPRA, developed her own playbook, and persuaded many others — school officials, a group of former great teachers (many still correspond with their graduates), some current teachers and staff, and the local school foundation — to make it all happen.

The result was the inaugural class of a wall of fame now posted in the hallway of a newly expanded high school, an evening celebration induction dinner, words of wisdom by the inductees, additional funding for the district’s school foundation, and a proactive reputation-building moment for the Bensalem School District, with the promise of more to come in future years.

A Glance at Some of Bensalem’s Distinguished Alumni

Here are just a few of the 14 inductees for this first year. You can see why Bensalem is proud of being a part of their successful journeys:

  • Joy Deangdeelert Cho, selected as Time magazine’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet 2015 and 2016 and Time’s Design 100 in 2008, founded Oh, Joy! a brand that now includes various licensed product lines, how-to lifestyle videos, and a daily blog with a focus on design, fashion, food, and joyful moments from everyday life.
  • Aaron Jay Kernis, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1998 for his String Quartet No. 2, was Inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2013. A teacher of music composition at the Yale School of Music since 2003, he received Grammy nominations for Air and his Second Symphony.
  • David Issadore, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering at University of Pennsylvania, developed new technologies to bring medical diagnostics from expensive, centralized facilities directly to clinical and resource-limited facilities. He developed a biomedical chip for the early detection of rare pancreatic cancer and tuberculosis cells for under-served populations.
  • Carol J. McIlwain who served over 31 years with the US Navy in engineering and program management, was the Director for Acquisition and Contracts in the Office of Naval Intelligence. She deployed for 3 years to Iraq and Afghanistan as Department of Defense Civilian Senior Advisor establishing Ministry of Defense.

 

One local media account (Bensalem Times) noted,

Though their careers range from business and medicine, to graphic design and performing arts, they all had one thing in common — gratitude to their alma matter for helping them become the professionals they are today.

 

bKudos for Making the Idea Bloom

So Bensalem deserves a tip of NSPRA’s hat for taking our kernel of an idea and making it bloom through persistence, care for public education, persuasion, and a healthy dose of HARD WORK!

In this time of school selection competition, we need more reasons to confirm the value of public education. And remember, your graduates can tell your success story better than you can.

Bensalem, it’s time to dance in the end zone for a job well done!

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photos by Diana Leferovich, Diana Leferovich Photography

One Question to Ask Yourself in Managing Projects and Staff

Posted 10/05/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: internal communication, Professional Development, school communication

32475169113_0cb788084e_o.jpgWhen I left the education sector for what turned out to be a well-paid, 6-year sabbatical (I was a general manager and senior vice-president of the public relations division of a Washington, D.C., marketing communication and advertising firm), I was lucky to participate in professional development activities that clearly trumped any offerings I had during my days as a teacher, central office administrator, and education association staff member.

Just like most adults who look back on their favorite teachers or profs who helped shaped their personal and professional attributes, I remember the words of one management consultant, Ken Schatz, who clearly focused on a set of principles that have driven my brand of leadership for more than 30 years.

As some of our younger NSPRA members who are now finding their way into managing a staff and interacting with other managers as colleagues may be learning, going to work each morning is different than it had been in the past. So in this blog, let me offer you one of Ken Schatz’s principles that has worked well for me over the years.

 

What Did I Do (Or Not Do) to Make This Happen (Or Not Happen)?

In his session with us, Ken reminded us to ask ourselves this question when we evaluate how effective a manager or supervisor we were in a situation:

What did I do (or not do) to make this happen (or not happen)?

When a staff member does not accomplish an assigned task in an appropriate fashion, you need to first look at yourself.

Then ask:

  • Did I give clear directions, set reasonable expectations, and agree on deadlines?
  • Did I check in during the project in a helpful or “coachable” way and encourage questions related to the project? This approach normally calls for taking a gentle approach rather than becoming a micromanagement freak hovering over your colleague every 3 hours or so.
  • Did I fully understand the capabilities of my colleague before I made this assignment?

 

When things go well, remember that it is important to give credit to your immediate staff and department members for the work they’ve done. When things go wrong, you need to own the problem and begin finding the answers to what you did (or did not do) to make this happen (or not happen).

And yes, I still occasionally ask myself that question today after more than 39 years of managing staff in the private and public sectors. Learning never ends!

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District