Moses and Aaron, His PR Staffer, Would Have Trouble Today

Posted 06/10/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, school media relations

Dr. Don Bagin, my late brother and a pioneer in our communication field, used to tell an old joke that went something like this:

Return with me to the days of Moses leading the Israelites fleeing from the Pharaoh’s army that was gaining ground on them. The Israelites were leaving their homes with their families and their possessions.

When Moses approached the Red Sea, he realized that he and his people were in immediate trouble unless something dramatic happened.

While pondering his next step, Aaron, Moses’ confidant and PR person, suggested that Moses stand on the large rock on the bank of the Red Sea, spread his arms while holding his staff (for a better dramatic visual, I assume), and seek God’s assistance to part the waters of the sea.

After the Israelites had crossed safely, Aaron again counseled Moses to wait for the Pharaoh’s army to enter the dry path created and then close his arms again with the staff (again, for a better visual) and the sea wall will close and cut off the army’s access to Moses and his beloved followers.

Moses seemed a bit skeptical of Aaron’s advice and asked, “Will this really work?”

Aaron responded, “I’m not sure, but if it does, I can guarantee you two pages in the Bible.”

Rim shot, please! Blame my brother.

The Silly Joke Has Teaching Value for Our Profession

Guaranteeing that you’ll get any media coverage for a story has never been possible unless you are totally in charge of the outlet. That’s why we often smirk a bit when we hear statements from superintendents and board members who proudly hail their accomplishment of hiring a former reporter from a menacing paper or TV news station because it will guarantee that they’ll get great coverage of their schools.

The truth is that while these reporters do know the inner workings of their outlets, they also know that posting continuous good news stories will not fly by their previous bosses, editors, and assignment gatekeepers. Former reporters can bring a positive edge for this one function of a PR professional, but they, too, cannot guarantee anything. And their previous bosses may not be so happy about their leaving, and consequently may not be eager doing them any favors.

Today’s Technology Disrupts Sure-Thing Placements

If social media and today’s technology were alive back in the Moses era, other scenarios would have played out like:

  • Just about any Israelite with a smart phone could guarantee coverage of their own story by posting it through social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Only thing, it is not the type of story you would like to see.
  • Using today’s tech tools in Moses’ time could have led to one of the Israelites texting his brother-in-law back in the Pharaoh’s army and spilling the beans about Moses’ plan. Had that happened, the results would have been very different. They could have used Instagram, Twitter, email, and periscope and even drones — all leading to a very different outcome.

Today’s PR Professionals Need a Diversified Portfolio of Tools and the Skills to Go with Them

The point is that top PR pros realize the importance of having good professional relationships with the media and they know how to effectively work with the media to get desired results. They also know that having healthy media relations is just one tactic needed to be to produce positive results for their schools.

Top pros understand the critical importance of having a strategy linked to district goals and using numerous tech tools, engagement programs, internal communication efforts, and marketing approaches to build an effective program.

Believing that media relations alone will carry your communication effort is a mistake.

And, yes, I guarantee it!

Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director Communication E-Kit for Superintendents---3--06262013_Page_01


NSPRA has a practical free tool that provides insight on what is needed to start a professional communication program for your school district. It even offers advice on hiring the right person.

You can get your own free copy by going to


New Insights When We Talk About Testing

Posted 05/08/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, Education, testing


State assessments and testing are often catalysts for discussions that can lead to bashing public education. In addition to privacy issues in some states and the regionalized opt-out movement in others, state testing will once again become an issue as states are now wrestling with their new approaches to their assessment program mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Our prediction is that the new assessments will either sink or swim in the court of parent and public opinion depending on increased authentic communication and collaboration completed with staff, parents, and students.

If we want to see how implementing ESSA can fail, just take a whiff of the Common Core implementation where little attention and spotty consideration were paid to early communication and engagement with these same key audiences.

Where commitments were made to early communication and collaboration, implementation was, for the most part, successful. And we all know the “rest of the story” when the value of two-way communication was ignored, critics filled the void that our collective inaction created.


Good News: We Still Have Time and New Insight to Make Good Things Happen

In early May, a new Gallup report, Make Assessment Work for All Students, was released. Commissioned by the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), it reveals that educators, parents, and students want a balanced approach to K-12 testing, using a variety of academic assessments with a strong preference for those that improve teaching and learning.

Through Gallup, the NWEA surveyed more than 4,200 students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents. We urge you to use this new free resource because it will give you insight on what collaborative steps you can take within your district as well as well as throughout your state. The resource can also help drive some messaging when it comes to testing and communication in your district.

Last week a discussion about the survey took place at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, D.C. One of the findings in the report that was embellished during that discussion rings true for all  communicators: We know that our messaging has to be relevant for our audiences. In the report, parents and students noted that “the assessments don’t have anything to do with us.” They said it was just used by their state to measure the schools and did not focus on student learning.
Additional key findings from Make Assessment Work for All Students include:

  • Three in four students (75%) believe that they spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments, as do more than half of parents (52%). In contrast, 83% of teachers, 71% of principals. and 79% of superintendents say that students spend too much time taking assessments.


  • More than 6 in 10 parents, or 61%, say they rarely or never have conversations with their child’s teacher about assessment results.
  • Data coaches are available in a relatively small proportion of schools and districts, but principals and superintendents who have access to data coaches overwhelmingly say they improve student learning (71% and 85%) and the quality of teaching (82% and 89%).
  • Parents need more information about assessments.
  • Gaps in understanding of the purpose of assessments remain.


The report makes a number of recommendations and also touches on the opt-out movement and the need for more time to communicate, collaborate, and train staff at all levels.

Local educators also need to get aggressive with their state departments of education and “shake some trees” to learn more about their approaches and commitment to collaboration and communication.

The time is needed to Get It Right so that education leaders can prove that we learned some lessons with the bumpy and pot-holed roll-out of the Common Core policies of a few years ago.

To see the full report released last week, go to Make Assessment Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter  including findings and recommendations.

Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Demanding Jobs and Great Performance Earn Respect

Posted 04/11/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Professional Development, school communication, school PR, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

boy 1Great school communication professionals always have too much to do. It’s just the nature of our business.

We never totally catch up because we see opportunities that need our help or other assignments are tossed in our laps because most PR people are known as the “go-to” resource when bad things happen to our schools. And most of us see reputation management as one of our key contributions we make to build support and understanding when they are most needed.


Being the Most Helpful When Your Expertise Is Needed the Most

All this converts to a 24/7 demanding lifestyle that can take its toll on the motivation and physical and mental well-being of our colleagues. Some NSPRA members seem to thrive on being the most helpful person when their expertise is most needed. And from our NSPRA cat-bird seat, that’s when many professionals are extremely valued as their bosses and boards realize just how bad things would be without the talent, work ethic, judgment, and results generated by NSPRA professionals like you. It’s in these situations that you earn your leadership stripes in school administration.


Avoiding Burn Out Becomes a New Priority

So, just how do you avoid retreating and doubting that you will ever get it all done? From personal experiences and observations of some our leading members, here are a few points to consider:

  • Developing a positive relationship with your superintendent is at the top of the list. In many ways your job is very similar to the superintendent’s job — or at least you should be worrying about and acting on the same issues day in and day out. Opening a dialogue with your superintendent about the key aspects of your job will build more support for both you and the PR function in the days ahead. Your superintendent will know that complaints from a principal about the student travel club’s not getting publicity easily takes a back seat to the task of passing next month’s bond election. It’s critical that you do all you can to strengthen the relationship with your top boss.
  • Create an operational plan that has a bit of wiggle room. Every year you should hammer out a plan with your key leadership that demonstrates how the PR function is helping your district achieve its annual goals and objectives. Often when things beyond your control are tossed your way, you can refer to the plan so that key leaders understand that some parts of the plan will not be accomplished or will be delayed. Always add some new proactive approaches to the plan to keep you and your staff fresh in doing new things and adding to your own professional growth. An operational plan can also serve as a shield from having too many extraneous assignments being piled on throughout the year.
  • When pressure mounts, walk away from the situation to clear your head and remember why you are in the education business. Years ago, I used to walk form the central office to a next door elementary school where I would “observe” kindergarten classes and remember the joy of just being a kindergartner. Smiling with 5 year-olds can do wonders to relieve the political stress of your office just 50 yards away. Some members use those times to grab their cameras to take photos and capitalize on those moments to stockpile productive results they can use later.
  • Get away for the NSPRA Seminar or an NSPRA chapter meeting. It is always good to interact with experienced and friendly people who fully understand what you do for a living. And in our world that means primarily just two spots — either at a local chapter meeting or at NSPRA’s Seminar. Each year, Seminar evaluations are full of comments like, “total recharge,” “these people totally understand me and I learned so much,” “I learned in 3 days what would normally take 2 years on the job,” and “I now have a new network of colleagues to chat with throughout the year.”


Through these meetings you learn that you are not in this alone, and that collaboration goes a long way of getting you through your next year of triumphs and opportunities. So, if you need to recharge your battery, remember, it’s not too late to register for NSPRA’s National Seminar, set for July 17 -20 in Chicago. To learn more, just go to:  2016 NSPRA National Seminar.



Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


The Need for School Communication Solutions Is Becoming More Evident Every Day

Posted 03/05/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, Education, school communication, school communication, school PR

Building an effective communication program nearly from scratch can be an awesome challenge.

15646865853_cea8e2fca8_oIncreasingly, superintendents see the need to communicate in a transparent fashion to build understanding and support for their schools. They know that they have to do something about quelling the mounting social media attacks and growing overall criticism of their schools and staff before more damage is being done to the reputation of their schools and staff.

Experience tells them that things never used to be this bad. Sure, they had critics who would send a letter to the Board or local editor, but those occasional situations were far from the piling on we see today through social media. If this were a football game, a flag would be thrown for unnecessary roughness and rudeness.

Your first reaction may be to get into a social media whizzing match with the critics, but that tactic simply leads nowhere real fast. And as our current round of presidential primary debates vividly demonstrate, just combating attacks with facts really doesn’t seem to work anymore.


Time to Build a Public Relationship Program One Block at a Time

What you need in this environment is a planned communication program that is built to absorb critical hits without demeaning the impact of your schools and staff.

And these communication programs and efforts must directly relate to your “raison d’être” — to improve teaching and learning in your schools. If the communication effort does not find a way to support the core of your system’s everyday efforts, you must retool it to do just that.

Better programs also follow the standards of our school communication profession. Currently NSPRA offers its standards through our publication, Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures. It asks you to focus on 4 pillars of a communication program:

  • Comprehensive planning and structure,
  • Internal communication,
  • Parent and family communication, and
  • Marketing and branding communication.

A 5th pillar — crisis communication — is now being studied by NSPRA professionals.

This resource clearly gives you the insight about what you must do to set the building blocks of your program. Throughout each of the 4 areas, you’ll notice that most elements focus on building relationships with your key target audiences who can become ambassadors and reputation makers for local your school community.

If you want to learn more, NSPRA actually has 2 resources to help you get a PR program going:

  • The first is Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures mentioned above. Buy it at a minimal price at
  • The second is a free resource entitled, Communication E-Kit for Superintendents. Just go to Superintendents e-kit and download it.


The best way to turn reputation breakers into positive reputation makers is to build an ongoing, transparent program from the very start.

In this case, if you build it, the reputation makers will come.


Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Photo courtesy of Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Ginny Ross Truly Added Legs to the Phrase: Making a Difference

Posted 02/08/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: tribute

Blogs are often personal and this one is certainly that. Stepping out of character a bit, I thought I’d share the thoughts of many NSPRA leader about Ginny Ross, NSPRA’s Director of School Communication Services from 1972-1990. Unfortunately for us in this profession, Ginny passed about a week ago at the age of 92.

ThroughouGinny Rosst my career, as I work with young professionals, I always advise them to strive to “be known for something.” I ask them to think through, “What is that you want to be known for?”

You should demonstrate those desired attributes through accomplishments as often as you can. And in this case, I’m not talking about counting how many likes you have on your social Facebook account or how often you tweet about your latest gourmet dinners. There is a time and place for all those things. But for career advancement, you should stick to the professional and societal accomplishments where you have made a difference.

Let me take a few minutes to demonstrate just how a true professional — Ginny Ross — made a difference from many of the leaders in our field.


And since this is my blog, I get to go first:

For those of you who didn’t know Ginny, she was one of the major NSPRA forces who helped build us into the NSPRA that we know today. She served our members and our profession first as a school PR pro in the local St. Louis area and then at the NSPRA office for 18 years. I was privileged to work and learn from Ginny in many capacities but she also rallied with Ken Muir and me to take on the threat of bankruptcy that NSPRA faced in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In addition, in another voluntary “gig,” she also headed the NSPRA Building Fund that led to our acquiring the current office condo in Rockville, Maryland, where we eventually retired that mortgage years ago.

Ginny balanced her love of NSPRA and our members, with a passionate enthusiasm for the success of all her family members in sports, academics, and career success. Ginny was a great advocate for all that is right for children. Her career and life’s activities and accomplishments serve as model for all of us in our profession.

Rich Bagin, APR, NSPRA Executive Director

Ginny was one of a kind, with a contagious passion for education, for NSPRA, and for the noble work of school public relations professionals everywhere. She was a national leader, a mentor, a friend, and the consummate professional. All of us privileged to know and work alongside her are the better for it.

John H. Wherry, ED.D., APR, Former NSPRA Executive Director

I remember her well, and consider her love for and involvement in NSPRA a cornerstone of our renaissance as an organization. I hope you’ll share this beautiful tribute with our full membership…. Her light definitely lives on through NSPRA.

Susan Hardy Brooks, APR, NSPRA President

Ginny joined my family for my Mom’s birthday one year and added stories and laughter to our celebration. I just loved her — a woman of wisdom, knowledge, humor, and a kind heart.

Kathy Leslie, APR, Past President

I owe much of my career to Ginny Ross. She wrote the first Win at the Polls with me, encouraged me to run for NSPRA office, and provided incredible support at a time in my career when I doubted my ability to continue school PR work. She cared deeply for kids and was willing to step up and speak out for them.

She stuck with NSPRA and Rich during the lean years and built a strong foundation for the future of our organization. Even after she retired, knowing she was out there rooting for us felt very good. She will be missed.

Gay Campbell, APR, Past President

As many are saying, she was indeed one of a kind, and a truer friend to the organization and profession would be hard to find. Wish more of today’s members had known her and could have benefited from her spirit.

Larry Ascough, Past President

Ginny was a mentor and the best role model a person could ever know. I was fortunate to know and learn from her when serving on the Board in the early nineties. She left a wonderful legacy…. She truly loved NSPRA and was devoted to seeing our organization survive and flourish. She will be missed.

Connie Blaney, APR, Past President

Just as she was to so many others, Ginny Ross was one of my early NSPRA mentors, but to NSPRA, she was so much more. Icon, legend, and treasure come close to describing her, but I believe NSPRA Mother Hen fits her best. I learned so much from her that helped define my career in school public relations.

I was there during those dark days when NSPRA’s existence was seriously threatened, and saw Rich, Ken, and Ginny tirelessly breathe new life into the organization. Ginny never lost faith.

I was also there when we were raising money for the Building Fund any way we could for a place to call home. Ginny knew we could do it. For those and many, many other accomplishments, it was my privilege to present Ginny with NSPRA’s Presidents Award when I served as president.

Joe Lowenthal, APR, Past President

Because she was, we are! She was a source of strength and a motivator for many. We shall forever love Ginny Ross — NSPRA’s drum major.

Burnadine Anderson, APR, Past President

Ginny is a part of our very heart and soul. Our deepest sympathy to her family and legions of friends. That includes all of us. Her deep convictions, massive talent, generous nature, congeniality, professionalism, kindness, wisdom, contributions to the great cause, and her abiding friendship helped us shape who we are.

We first traveled together as early as the 1970s evangelizing for a new era in school public relations. The personal stories could fill a book. I first met Ginny when she was communications director for the Ferguson/Florissant School District in the St. Louis area. Then, she brought her talents to the NSPRA staff, and the rest is history.

For me and so many others, she has been and will continue to be a patron saint. We’re all one in our unlimited fondness for Ginny and all that she has meant to us in our lives.

Gary Marx, APR, Past Presidents Award Winner

Ginny Ross is claimed by Missouri and Kansas. It was here she mentored, inspired, guided, chided, and stood beside all us rookie, wannabe school PR fledglings. Ginny Ross was THE FIRST person to ever suggest we could be more than copy paper jockeys. It was probably from her that I first heard the words “strategy,” “counselor,” and “research.”

My point is Ms. Ross was the point person, the scout, the one who shows the way; and, that “way” did not exist before her. She knew her stuff!

We all could write volumes, and probably will, about Ginny Ross. I just hope we remember that nobody ever goes further than the ones who showed the way. When you are at professional best, look around and Ginny Ross will be in everything you see. You will pass her marker a thousand times in your career. When you do, remember this about Ginny, “she would do anything to help you!” I think we still see a little of that in NSPRA today!

Jim Dunn, APR, Past President

Our profession stood on her shoulders for years and years. Simply a wonderful colleague and friend. My first glimpse into what a woman could do in school PR really spouted from observing Ginny. Most practitioners were men. Ginny held her own in any situation. A very good example for a Nebraska girl just out of college in the early 1970s.

Nancy Kracke, Past NSPRA Board Member

The Mother of NSPRA. I was proud to know her.

Bob Sharp, APR, Past Board Member

Ginny was also my mentor — an amazing lady. She helped me immensely when we were doing the Flag of Learning and Liberty celebration at 67 schools simultaneously one year after the Challenger explosion. Wow, 30 years ago. I also worked with her on many other projects — at work and for NSPRA.

What a class act.

Chevon Baccus, APR, Past President

Now THAT is what we mean by making a difference!


Rich Bagin, APR
Executive Director

My Holiday Wish for All NSPRA Members

Posted 12/07/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

A Boss Who Gets It

NSPRA members can attest that their programs and the value they bring to their schools rest heavily on their superintendents’ commitment to and understanding of a comprehensive communication and engagement program. In other words, we all want a “Superintendent Who Gets It.” So, in keeping with the season, here are my thoughts for a special gift for you this year.

My holiday wish for all our members is a boss who:

  • Seeks your counsel and discusses options before making PR-implicated decisions. 
  • Makes timely decisions to prevent creating a communication vacuum, which would quickly be filled by your system’s critics. 
  • Knows and practices the maxim that internal communication must always come first. 
  • Understands that effective media relations can best be measured by balanced media coverage rather than the unflattering head shot in the latest edition. 
  • Makes the time to listen to new approaches to engagement and marketing in your schools and funds some of them. 
  • Does not nitpick about alternative correct grammar usages — does traveling have one “l” or two? 
  • Often says, “Thank you,” — and means it. 
  • Understands that PR people can keep a secret and pulls you in on confidential matters so you better understand how to deal with all issues in your system. 
  • Realizes that communication is the responsibility of all staff members. Even though you have the title, operational communication often falls on the shoulders of individuals in your system. 
  • Provides a budget for training staff in communication. 
  • Requires an annual communication plan that is tied to your district’s goals and plans — and funds it.

  • Makes you a cabinet member or has you sit in on cabinet meetings as a start to taking your place at the table. 
  • Knows that every major initiative in your system needs a communication strategy to be as successful as everybody wants it to be. 
  • Understands that one taxpayer’s negative tweet does not call for a responsive media blitz in numerous formats because it can ignite more controversy now that you are involved in the fray. 
  • Periodically calls a “timeout” and sits down with you to discuss progress to date and what changes must be considered, and then adjusts workloads and budgets to reflect the changes to make your effort more effective. 
  • Understands and completes the visibility and climate-setting role during tragedies and crises in your system.

Well, just like our children’s, this holiday wish list could go on and on. And we all know that there are many more activities for a “Superintendent Who Gets It.” We’ll just be grateful if you succeed in getting these!

Best wishes for a pleasant holiday season.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Building Morale and Engaging the Public: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Posted 11/09/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

If you talk to school employees as we do in our communication audit process, you often will get an earful about low morale and how employees feel under-appreciated in today’s education-bashing climate. Even when leaders ask employees for their opinions on workplace matters, staff sometimes feel that nobody listens to them. They see certain brands of engagement as “window dressing” that leaders use so they can check off a requirement —  that they engaged staff members about an issue.

NSPRA members are well aware of this problem; many have done a good job of interacting with staff and building internal efforts to authentically engage people at various levels. Now NSPRA has created a project team to work on possible engagement solutions to boost morale in schools and school districts across North America. If all goes well, we hope to publish a new resource for you by this summer. (More on this a bit later.)

The Corporate World Also Grapples with Employee Engagement

We’ve learned that corporations are dealing with their own low morale and employee engagement issues. The Gallup organization has completed helpful research on this issue that asked questions like:

  • Who influences the employee engagement efforts and practices?
  • Is the major influencer at the executive level? (Superintendents and other central office leaders, in our case.)
  • Is it the local level manager? (Principals, in our case.)
  • What part does the individual style of each employee play in engagement practices?

According to an article by Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace management and wellbeing for Gallup’s workplace management practice, Gallup’s findings revealed that the primary determinant of an engaging and high-performing workplace is the manager. Although wide variation in most organizations occurs across teams and business units, he notes that people leave managers more than companies.

Gallup has also reported that as much as 70% of the variance in the employee engagement of teams can be traced back to the influence of the manager — through the manager’s engagement, behaviors as observed by team members, and the natural wiring of managers. In our organizations, that means we are primarily talking about principals as our managers.

Superintendents Also Make a Difference

According to Gallup, when engagement is based on perceptions of the overall organization, it is likely that there is a strong association between perceptions of the CEO and perceptions of the overall company. In a study of 190 organizations, Gallup found that executive leaders influence front-line employee engagement both indirectly and directly. They affect engagement primarily indirectly, through their influence on people they manage themselves, and directly through specific performance management elements, including clear expectations, discussions of progress and a mission or purpose that people can identify with. (Another Gallup resource.)

The Gallup findings indicate that when executive teams are highly engaged, the organization’s managers are 39% more likely to be engaged. When managers are highly engaged, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged. As such, at each level within the organization, the local manager or leader has the ultimate influence over how to communicate expectations, whether employees have a chance to do what they do best, whether individuals have opportunities to develop and whether people are able to see how their work connects to the organization’s overall mission or purpose.

Anyone who has worked in different schools or districts knows that the leader of the system and the school sets the tone for engagement. Some leaders embrace it, while others, not so much! Transforming these leaders or finding new ones committed to engagement is a good place to start in building morale in your schools.

Engagement Resources for Now and the Future

  • Gallup offers research and insight and is one of the leading organizations on employee motivation and performance. (
  • NSPRA has just co-published two new resources based on the real-world experiences of an NSPRA Past President Kathy Leslie, APR, and her colleague Judy Taccogna. Entitled The Politics of Authentic Engagement, their book and its accompanying handbook are great investments with practical insight into authentic engagement for your schools. Learn more and purchase each resource at
  • As mentioned earlier, NSPRA is collecting and assessing the engagement and morale-building programs offered in today’s schools. The NSPRA team is now in its research gathering stage, so if you want your program to possibly become part of this new, exciting resource, here’s how.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director


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