Archive for the ‘Communication’ category

Some Holiday Cookies to Munch On

12/10/2017

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, Krisitn 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

 

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Communication in Times of Disasters: Anticipate Your Next Steps

09/11/2017

32446708754_816985d897_oLike most NSPRA members we are all wondering what we can do NOW to help our districts and members in Texas and surrounding states as they just begin their recovery operations. Now we are also worrying about Florida and related areas as Hurricane Irma is creating her devastation and disruption throughout  the Southeast this week. And we realize that some families in the northwest and California have lost homes because of wild fires. It certainly has been one difficult month for many already this year.

Naturally, we’re thinking about all families who are hit by this destruction and, like others, we’re donating money because experts tell us that those monetary donations are the best way to help people at this point. The experts also tell us that we should avoid sending truckloads of school supplies, teddy bears, and even clothing for now as people are not ready to accept those wonderful gifts.

To play our part, NSPRA is giving readers examples of the best practices from districts who have been through similar tragedies. We’ve listed the examples at www.nspra.org. Normally, we reserve these membership resources for members, but we will open this section of our website for anyone who is looking for this type of assistance during the next few weeks.

Anticipate and Prepare

If your area was blessed by not being hit by weather-related storms, now is the time to think through how you would handle such destruction in your area school districts.

In my opinion, one of the top characteristics of a real PR professional is to anticipate situations so that you can be prepared for them if they do occur. If your crisis manual needs updating, do it.

If you don’t have one that is thorough enough to help you through these difficult situations, start creating one now. Seek samples from colleagues who are willing to share. Contact us at NSPRA for some materials.

Also consider buying NSPRA’s The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual for Schools — just updated a year ago by one of our industry’s major crisis gurus, Rick Kaufman, APR, of Minnesota.

Build Your Local Network

One quick hint is to start building a network of municipal officials (police, fire and EMT first-responders, government officials, etc.), ministerial and corporate contacts. Get their cellphone information as well as alternative contact information so that you have key data when you need it.

In the best of situations, you should also try to visit with them face to face if you have no organizational network that already does that for you in your community. The time to do that is now.

You also need to develop your state’s emergency contacts as well as those from FEMA. (One NSPRA member was once assigned to direct helicopters for relief locations as their storm progressed.)

Get the Message Out Any Way You Can

As an example of how to communicate with your community in as many ways as possible, back in my school district days, we had an elementary student nearly burn down his school. In our cabinet meeting immediately after the incident, we came up with a plan to move kids from grade levels to different buildings at all schools. Transportation and class schedules were a challenge, but the communication obstacles were also hurdles. In that pre-Internet age, we directly called parents we could reach, set up telephone lines just to help parents and students through this situation, and sent out radio and broadcast releases.

Realizing that churches were a naturally gathering place for many in our community, we also faxed (remember fax machines?) notices to the area ministerial group, called each in the group and asked them to announce the changes from the pulpit, and had many of them even put the schedule we provided in their bulletins. Before we had social media tools at our disposal, we had to creatively think about how to make the most of resources that were in our community.

Remember, anticipation and preparation are keys to running a successful communication program. We know that a school PR professional’s job is never done.

And that’s why we call this blog Always Something.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

P.S. Do donate to the appropriate helpful charity to help those who have been hit by the last month’s devastation.

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

Delivering Beyond the Normal and Expected

08/02/2017

Pages from Draft-NSPRA 2017 San Antonio Monday General Session--0628017

In the year ahead, consider stretching your thinking about solving school community issues or expanding your district’s opportunities by using great, creative school PR.

I often say that because of NSPRA’s award programs, we have a cat-bird seat to see the very best tactics and strategies throughout the US and Canada.

As I reviewed this year’s winners, I was struck by the content choices of the programs that went beyond the normal-but-critical accomplishments that many of our professionals provide.

Let me share just a few stellar examples:

PSJA Votes Campaign

This Golden Achievement winner for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in Pharr, Texas, tackled a community issue of low voter registration with their school employees and greater community.33

Through great engagement and marketing of voter registration campaigns, employee voter registrations went from less than 25% to more than 72% in the 2016 presidential election.

From Here You Can Go Anywhere

People often ask us at NSPRA:

What can we do with nearly 80% of our residents who no longer have connections with our schools?

After two defeats in capital bond measures, the Traverse City Area Public Schools in Michigan knew it was clear that parents were in favor of the measure, but the total community — not so much.tcaps

So a Golden Achievement award-winning campaign was born to demonstrate the terrific results earned by Traverse City graduates. Entitled From Here, You Can Go Anywhere, billboards, kiosks, website banners, and other social media applications carried the message out to the community so people could see the real achievements of graduates.

Marketing in Our Increasing Era of Competition

We all know that we are in an era of increased competition — a major issue many of us are facing. Some see vouchers and other initiatives — Education Savings Accounts, Opportunity Scholarships, etc., that are really “vouchers in sheep’s clothing” — as solutions. Others see them as another way to bash education and steal and reduce funding for public education.1

As the choice movement continues, we see members turning up the flame on their marketing efforts. This year, the Garland Independent School District in Texas, one of our Gold Medallion winners, began marketing its new Montessori schools that the district offers.

The effort certainly opened the eyes of some people. They now realize that plenty of choices are within our public schools to meet the increasing needs of all our students.

Communication to Combat Health and Safety Issues

And finally, this space does not permit me to sufficiently discuss these three Gold Medallion winners except to praise them for their results and effort. Their communication focus dealt with testing water for lead, a “Be Well Campaign” supporting youth mental health issues, and opening communication about the severity of opioid and heroin crisis in local communities.3

You can learn about these Gold Medallion Winners and 8 others by going to Gold Medallion winners.

Stray from Your Lane

All of these examples prove that our school PR profession should stray at times from our normal lane of what is expected of us for our schools. Every once in a while, we need to jump from our normal lane, and go down another path to enlighten and help solve major community issues in your school community.

It takes courage to take these steps and you will undoubtedly receive push-back from colleagues and others — like “Why in the world is the school district’s communication director mucking around in this community problem?”

But you know better than most what a communication effort and campaign can do to bring focus and solutions to the key issues that your school community is facing.4

So muster up the courage to begin persuading your district’s leaders to look at school PR beyond the “good news” function we continue to provide. Use your talent and insight to help your students and staff succeed by going beyond the normal and the expected.

We encourage you to drive out of your lane — speed bumps and flashing yellow lights and all — to make a new difference in your school community.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

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

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

Internal Communication Is Critical for Success

04/06/2017

tagline iconCreate a Culture of Communication in Your Districts

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 internal communication — one of the weaker components in schools that we often find when we conduct communication audits around the U.S. and Canada. What follows is an excerpt from that speech on internal communication:


As we complete communication audits for school districts across the country, we see that by far the weakest component is internal communication.

Ideally, we want all staff to become ambassadors for their schools, to vote in finance elections where it applies, and to become advocates for their schools, their children, and their communities.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens.

Lots of lip service is given to having internal communication, but it often breaks down quickly as pockets of staff have little knowledge or a feeling that they know what is really going on.

They report little authentic engagement — even when their input is sought on topics of mutual interest. Most school districts have a problem in closing the communication loop when it comes to internal communication.

Superintendents can make a big difference in setting the parameters for the importance of communication at every level. Our experience tells us that communication accountability is rarely measured and that may be the clue to solve this disparity.

We need to hold principals, central office administrators, service personnel supervisors, and others accountable with a communication component in their evaluations. (What gets measured gets done.)

Some do a great job communicating internally, while others ignore it. I can’t tell you how many times we have heard from a staff member, “Well, I find out what’s happening around here by calling my colleague in another building because their principal tells her staff what is going on and why decisions are made.”

In many cases, staff actually want to know what’s going on and can’t get an answer without fishing for it.

It does not have to be that way.

As superintendents, you can begin by modelling an approach to start the process to make internal communication a priority. You can begin by planting the seeds for a culture of communication in your district.

All staff are part of your communication effort and, by making a commitment to communication awareness and with a bit of training, you can make it happen.

To make my point about the power of internal communication, one staff member recently reported from an audit of a school district with 25,000 students:

“When the district’s tagline is not believed by the frontline, this district is headed for big trouble.”

Repeat: “When the district’s tagline is not believed by the frontline, this district is headed for big trouble.”


 

Let’s make internal communication a priority in our school districts.

 

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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