School Budget Deliberations and the PR Pro

It used to happen once every budget season — at least that’s when we would hear about it.

Tight budgets mean more cuts. More cuts mean that all administrative and leadership positions find themselves on the chopping block. And communication professionals go down to the June 30th wire for their very own Ryan Seacrest “dim-the-lights” moment:

Will the communication person stay or will she go?

From our viewpoint, we see more communication professionals staying than going.

I am sure some may have been the victim of some well-meaning but thoughtless decision-makers, who often claim that other people will just pick up the duties that the communication professional performed. I have never seen that strategy work.

What I do see is that about 12 to 18 months later, the leadership team and Board begin posting a communication position because they realize that, in today’s communication overloaded world, nobody can keep up and be the recognized “answer” that their parents, community, staff, and media are looking for. When these audiences do not receive “answers,” our school leaders hand the megaphone to critics who gladly blog, tweet, and create listservs to tell their own version of your school district story. In other words, the communication mess grows bigger every day.

Other reasons communication pros are staying and not going

  • We now live in a world where parents are used to getting quick answers or at least knowing where to go for the answers. Parents and others lose confidence quickly when they have to wait for days, get bounced around among many staff members, or do not receive returned calls because the staff is just too busy to respond to a request. People may appreciate your district’s test score, but they also know how you made them feel when you seemingly treated them poorly when they asked for and needed direct communication. Customer service situations can make or break confidence in your schools.
  • The right communication pro can turn complex issues into clear messages that build understanding and support.
  • Competition calls for more communication, not less. Most of the competition is supported by communication professionals — some even have one professional for each school. Cutting communication can translate to a loss of thousands of dollars as you lose your state per student reimbursement when disgruntled parents enroll their children at the local Everything-Is-Great Academy. If you recruit more students into your schools and they stay for all 12 or 13 years, your communication effort easily pays for itself and more.
  • When the media does not receive insight and context, you know the “rest of that bad story.”
  • Crisis situations become more aggravated and long-lasting without effective communication, especially with today’s reliance on social media.
  • Some political or community-active groups often call for cutting the position. If you look throughout history, warring factions often attempt to knock out the communication of their adversaries. Doing so is a perfect strategy for them; it leads to disorganization and chaos and opens the door for their own brand of messages.
  • Communication pros have been instrumental in dealing with increased parent involvement, partnerships, foundations, and special campaigns to increase attendance and effectiveness in diversity communication.

Basically, we are pleased to note that more leaders understand that cutting communication means that you are cutting your major strategy to build more understanding and fiscal support for your schools. Cutting communication has always been shortsighted. But fortunately, we are making some progress as more leaders are seeing communication as the lifeblood of their school communities.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

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