Archive for the ‘accountability’ category

Like it or not, political communication is now part of our jobs

06/09/2017

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There is no denying that our jobs have changed. The new wave of elected officials is empowered as a result of their recent political victories. Psychologically they seem to be on a roll and are trying to move their agenda items through as quickly as possible. So like it or not, we need to think like politicians—more than ever. It’s the world in which we now compete for better understanding of our school-related issues.

Writing for a New York University publication, Jay Rosen asked us to answer these questions if we are to think politically:

  • What do we stand for that others also believe in?
  • Who is aligned against us?
  • Where are we most vulnerable?
  • What are our opponents’ strengths?
  • How can we broaden our base?
  • Who are our natural allies?
  • What can we unite around, despite our internal differences?
  • What are the overlapping interests that might permit us to make common cause with people who are not (education leaders)?

The truth is losing

David Ignatius of The Washington Post, wrote a piece after the last November’s national election entitled, The Truth Is Losing. In an interview with the State Department’s Richard Stengel, Ignatius offered:

  • “We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today. Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”

The article points out that going “tit for tat” in arguing with extremists through social media was not that fruitful. Stengel noted that by empowering others to be the messenger, they could make the case more emphatically.

  • “The central insight was that we’re not the best messenger for our messages because in the post-truth world, the people we are trying to reach automatically question anything from the U.S. government.”

With today’s climate, this may ring true with some of your local community audiences as well.

Have others tell your story: Begin or revitalize a true Key Communicator Program

In my 40 years in this business, I’ve never seen this tactic fail if executed correctly — Never!

Over the years, it has been watered down by some, but used correctly, a Key Communicator Program can be valuable.

Some key points are:

  • This trust-building tactic is critical in today’s instant communication world. You truly need a Key Communicator Program to inspire confidence in what you say and do. It adds credibility.
  • Unfortunately over recent years, as I noted, we’ve seen an increase of Key Communicator Programs that have turned into little more than listservs in certain communities. If you’re tapping the old and new power structures in your community, regularly meeting with small segments of your key communicators, and communicating with them electronically, you’ll be on your way to building a base of well-respected spokespeople for your schools. As David Ogilvy reminded us, Don’t count the people that you reach, reach the people who count.”
  • Remember, many parents and others may prefer to hear their school messages from respected leaders and neighbors rather than from school officials. If run appropriately, this Key Communicator process can help you develop credibility in this era of anything-goes social media.
  • One last note on Key Communicators: People need to get to know you face to face. Only after that can you can begin using your earned credibility through videos, Twitter, email, Facebook, etc. But first, you need to start with in-person meetings — otherwise people may just see you as another empty pitchman or woman for your schools — sort of like the ones you see on late-night insurance commercials.

Most of us did not start our education careers thinking that we will be dealing in the political arena. Any excellent communication program normally excels at developing positive relationships with its key audiences. So in some respects, we’ve been practicing political communication for some time.

It’s time to place an even stronger focus on the political leaders and influentials who can make or break your next education initiative. Step up and prove what great communication and engagement can do for your school community.

If we don’t do it, who will?

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

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Communication Is a Management Function

05/05/2017

 

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Quickly, this is the third edited excerpt from an acceptance speech I gave to superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. One topic I covered was the need to make communication a management function.

Here’s the edited excerpt:

By now, I hope you are beginning to see that communication should be a management function. You need to integrate communication into all that you do or you will risk losing the battle we now face. Having a strong communication function will help you advance your system during this climate of uncertainty that we are now facing.

As you can see by now when I talk about communication, I am not talking just about great publicity but about engagement, marketing, reputation management, ongoing internal engagement, and external communication programs.

You need to have someone who knows what they are doing to make your communication function be as effective as it can be.

Former vice President Joe Biden, (“Uncle Joe” to some of us), often says that he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. Using Uncle Joe’s formula, I can tell you that communication is not a priority in most school districts right now. Our research shows 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? Charter organizations are spending from 10 to 25% or more on their communication and marketing efforts according to our observations. Budget wise, this is not a fair fight!

Every year for our Annual Seminar, we receive proposals to run sessions entitled PR on Shoestring. During my tenure, we’ve never accepted any of them because that’s the wrong message to send if we want to make a management commitment to communication. And most of these shoestring programs normally trip over their own laces and die easily because the districts made no commitment to them. (Hint to NSPRA members: Change the “shoestring approach” to “low-cost and effective tactics to support your communication program.”)

Communication must be a management function.

Character Counts in Communication

And finally, in this fake-news, alternative-fact world, you need to bring integrity into this discussion. Character counts in our 2world of communication.

We see so much twisting of facts, just plain mistruths or half-truths sprinkled along with the fake news accounts. Your staff and community need to know that you stand for integrity.

Today, with a smart phone, anyone can publish any falsehood. But reasonable parents, staff, and others need to know what’s true, where you stand, and how you will lead your system. Don’t let silence create a vacuum — your critics will quickly fill it.

We have always said that the term “PR” really stands for 2 items:

  • Having a Public Responsibility to communicate
  • And developing Public Relationships.

That is where we build credibility and trust though authentic communication.

Please join me in making that happen. Because I ask: If we do not do it, who will?

We need to make that commitment at the local level now, more than ever.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

A New Strategy for Marketing in this Era of Choice

03/13/2017

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Recently, I spoke before a group of superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. I most appreciate that honor and I also used my acceptance to speech to share some messages with these leading superintendents who rally around public education.

One topic I covered was marketing in this era of choice. What follows is an excerpt from that speech:

 

Focus on the LOCAL SCHOOL, Not the School District Per Se

Now may be the time to take a different strategy when it comes to competing in this era of choice.

We can continue to whiz on one another when it comes to achievement results, graduation rates, college acceptances, etc. We also can brag about the fact that we teach ALL students — not just those who could be considered— in youth sports vernacular— the traveling squad of an elite under-13 b-ball team.

But, guess what?

Much of what we say doesn’t matter.

As much as that hurts me to say it, much of what we say doesn’t matter. But we do need to continue to say it — except with new approaches and different audiences.

Only our advocates and perhaps a few reporters seem to listen to us. So to return to this era of political communication, you can see that OUR base listens to us, while THEIR base obviously doesn’t.

I am asking you to consider switching strategies.

Focus on your individual schools because on the local level, your Snyder Elementary School is being compared to the ABC Charter Academy down the street.

It is time to talk about individual schools and not just your school district.

For most parents and decisionmakers, it becomes a SCHOOL versus SCHOOL issue.

I urge you take fresh look at this approach and begin a process of defining an identity program that is built by parents and staff at each of your schools. Your staff and parents need to believe that their Snyder Elementary School offers a great opportunity for their children and that your staff goes the extra mile and cares about their children.

Late this summer, NSPRA will be offering a guidebook on Making and Marketing Your School as a School of Choice. The booklet explains a process of getting staff and parents together, collaborating to solve some image problems that their school may have, and then developing a marketing plan to maintain and boost enrollment in their school. It also urges readers to look at the messaging of the ABC Academy on the other side of the street, see what they tout that may be attacking one of your perceived weaknesses.

Taking this School versus School approach allows you to play your comprehensive district’s card as a value-added benefit. All the auxiliary services and benefits that you provide — from counseling, the spectrum of Special Ed programs, co-curricular opportunities, and enhanced technology programs — all add up to a major plus when people consider choosing a school.

If what you offer is unmatched, say so with a checklist approach similar to a report card that clearly communicates what your competing charter doesn’t have. We need to be proactive about our attributes in this era of competition.

A commitment to this school-by-school strategy can benefit you in various ways:

  • It can reduce your need to focus on perceived Big Public Education problems. You know that past national surveys like the Gallup/PDK say that schools across the country are not doing well. But then they , for the most part, give favorable rankings to their local schools. You will be dealing with what’s really important to your local community, their kids, and their schools.
  • Our research over the past 10 years continues to reveal that school-based communication is often the most read communication offering in school districts today. You have always had the attention of parents. But now in this era of over-communication, it is more important than ever.
  • Believe it or not, in a single second, 2.5 million emails are sent, and in that same second:
    • 193,000 text messages are posted
    • 219,000 posts are added to Facebook
    • 7,2590 tweets are sent

 

To break through this clutter, you need an interested audience.

And you have it, for the most part, with your PARENTS.

Most parents and families have a vested interest in their child’s school — much more than in your school district. Take advantage of it and build support at the school level.

It will spill over into their next school in your district and continue through their entire time with your schools. You can then convert these parents into supporters for your schools. They understand your schools and will not believe the public-education bashing because their experience trumps all the negative rhetoric they hear.

But this will not happen unless we continue to be proactive in developing school communication programs at each school.

Begin looking at your individual schools and assist them in getting better and building an identity. And then make sure parents know of all the good things happening in their local school along with the value-added support provided by your district’s array of additional services.

We urge you to consider this school versus school approach as that’s how most parents and families approach their “choice” decision.

 

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

 

Authentic Communication Builds Trust

05/09/2011

“The trouble with quotes from the Internet is that you never know if they are genuine.” Abraham Lincoln

Chuck Becker, an e-communication consultant who now works with NSPRA, shared the above quote with me the other day. He knows that I enjoy using quotes to help tell a story, and he certainly hit the credibility nail on the head when it comes to using Internet sources. (Of course, I guess there could be a number of current people who are named Abraham Lincolns.)

Misusing quotes is just one credibility problem. Here are a few other problems we see happening more often than in the past:

  • Too often, it seems that some people cherry-pick the jewels of an article and use them, out of context, to help them make their point. Or they glean information from an Internet source without even confirming original sources or worse yet, without checking who funded the reported article or study. Before we start using information because it is a great fit for our persuasive articles, we need to do our best to learn its origin and funding sources.

For example, a survey of a taxpayer’s revolt group may only ask leading and biased questions about cutting the budget without ever asking residents whether they feel that paying a bit more to save their child’s programs would be a choice for them and their community. We see too many seemingly “overnight” organizations that are created to hide the funders and influencers about issues.

As a precaution, it is always appropriate to ask about the funding of these organizations (follow the money) and what the original survey questions were as well as the survey methodology to help you understand how credible the work really is. Now in a democracy, anyone has the right to give their opinions. It is the media’s role to check the truth of people’s rhetoric and point out discrepancies, but media’s budget cuts have diminished the “watchdog” roles of the past. It is now up to leaders like NSPRA’s members to point out what’s real and credible for their constituents.  It can be a tricky, shadow-boxing move to step into these rather political situations, but the truth needs to be told and your leadership team needs to feel empowered to do it.

  • The second example deals with school leaders establishing and maintaining trust with their staff and key publics. Many studies and reports give guidance, but my recommendation for the best recent treatment is The Speed of Trust, The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M.R. Covey. (By the way, Stephen M.R. is the son of Stephen R. Covey of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame.)

The book is a blueprint of setting values, building relationships at all levels, and walking the talk when it comes to core values of your leaders and organization. In our work in school communication, it naturally converts to the face-to-face and engagement tactics of building trust with community leaders, parents, and staff.

The book also answers the question of gaining trust back once you’ve lost it. It can be done, but it’s a long, uphill road. Two quotes by both Coveys help paint that picture:

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into.”   Stephen R. Covey

“No, but you can behave yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into … and often faster than you think!”     Stephen M.R. Covey

The real bottom line of the trust issue deals with the behavior of your leaders at all levels (superintendency, school board, principalship, teacher association and other employee groups, etc.) and whether they have developed a culture of mutual trust in your system. Communication is the ingredient needed to help create that culture of trust.

All your critical constituents need to know your system’s values and what they stand for in the everyday operation of your schools. The behavior of your leaders showcased by effective communication should remind your constituents that your district is the one to trust when it comes to the education of all children in your community.  Without authentic responsible communication, the Internet will once again fill the void created by school leaders who do not communicate on a regular, credible and strategic basis.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

What Is It That You Do for a Living?

06/28/2010

NSPRA members can attest that when they answer the question, “What is that you do for living?,” they normally have to answer a second question: “Why does a school district need a public relations professional, communication specialist, director of public engagement, or whatever title you have?”

You certainly know why, and the more people understand what you do, the more you will increase understanding of the critical role you perform for your school system every day.

The annual NSPRA Seminar which starts in just two weeks in Charlotte, N.C., is probably the only national gathering place where everyone understands what you do for a living. As Jim Van Develde, NSPRA’s Northeast Regional VP notes, the Seminar is the one place where everyone knows your “game.”

In NSPRA’s new 75th Anniversary edition of The Wit and Wisdom of PR Success, veteran Pam Bailey says she is a shipbuilder because she specializes in building relationships. Over the years, I even urged members to consider adding public accountability to their titles because it clearly focuses on a key ingredient of what a great communication effort should be doing for your school community.

We even asked, in twitter-like fashion, in our most recent NSPRA membership survey, “What are you doing now?” See how these responses begin molding a clearer picture of “what is it that you do for a living.”

  • Killing rumors and spreading the truth.
  • Strengthening parent ownership of my district.
  • Enhancing morale, promoting integrity, reducing inaccuracy — and it’s only 10 AM.
  • Teaching my Board that transparency breeds trust.
  • Making money for our district by recruiting non-district students into our schools.
  • Traveling the lonely road of convincing our leaders that engagement is more than saying thanks for doing it our way.
  • Trying to bring “objectivity” to our cabinet meetings and still keep my job.
  • Making it easy for parents to find the info they need.
  • Trying to convince school employees that I am not the district photographer and that I don’t control the media.

Two additional definitions also shed some light on answering the question:

“I give good people (staff and community) good information (accurate, timely, and clear) and help them have good conversations (engagement and facilitation) and they will make good decisions (support for district initiatives) that will increase student achievement.”

“Public relations — the way we practice it — is the glue that holds everything together and the grease that makes it all work. With tight budgets and constraints, it is needed more than ever.”

This list is just a start. We need to demonstrate what we do with results and we need to regularly share those results with key decisionmakers. Everyone in education is dealing with difficult budget situations. Our systems need clarity, understanding, and support now more than ever. Your position — regardless of your title — is the catalyst to make them happen.

And that really is a key answer to what you do for a living.

Rich Bagin, APR, NSPRA executive director