Archive for the ‘school PR’ category

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

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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

 

 

 

Overcoming the “Viral Disruption of Pure Nonsense”

02/10/2017

news-2Don’t know about you, but I’m getting less tolerant of the growing discussion of facts, alternative facts, and the fake news label. I previously offered my “fake news” advice in the last submission of  Always Something.

Communication organizations are wearing their codes of ethics, beliefs and core values as badges of honor to remind folks what we all stand for. See NSPRA’s bedrock of statements at https://www.nspra.org/nspra-mission-goals-beliefs and NSPRA’s code of ethics at https://www.nspra.org/code-ethics. And by the way, through NSPRA President Julie Thannum’s leadership, we are now embarking on codifying a set of core values for NSPRA.

In one sense, it is a bit sad that we still have to remind everyone where we stand on ethics and our beliefs. I firmly believe that the way we practice our profession easily “trumps” (sorry about that; couldn’t resist) the need to brag about our guiding principles.

Can’t help to think about the old Dragnet TV series (now on cable channels) with Detective Joe Friday who would ask direct questions and guide respondents with his almost patented, “Just the facts, Ma’am’” response. He was a no-nonsense guy who relied on facts to solve the case. He didn’t ask for “alternative facts” or “fake news” because he knew they were distractions to getting to the truth.

In that light, now we are seeing more of a push-back from journalists who are standing their ground, and even increasing coverage of governmental operations and policymaking. Jeff Bezos, the fairly new owner of The Washington Post, has used his Amazon success story to increase staff to follow the actions on the Hill and the Oval Office.

Famed journalist Ted Koppel offered the following in a recent column in The Washington Post:

It sounds dangerously undemocratic to argue against broadening the scope of the White House Press Corp. But we are already knee-deep in an environment that permits, indeed encourages, the viral disruption of pure nonsense.

The only appropriate response is an even greater emphasis on professional standards: factual reporting, multiple sourcing, and careful editing…. Rarely in the nation’s history has there been a need for objective journalism that voters and legislators alike can use to form judgement and make decisions.

He quotes John Adams with, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

 

As all this swirls around in Washington and state houses, local leaders need to stay committed to the facts in their messages as they explain what’s needed to become even better for their communities and children. We also need to reach out to the seemingly newly empowered segments of our community to show them what’s needed for their children and their schools as well as what the impact would be of cuts for those same kids and communities.

Here’s a real example in practice: My late brother, Dr. Don Bagin, once went to a local taxpayer’s group meeting and sat in the first row taking notes and asking questions which surfaced answers or non-answers unhelpful to the taxpayer’s group. At that time, he was the communications director for the local schools, and his presence helped to professionally disarm the messaging from that group in a local upcoming board budget vote.

Heed the call: Continue to stand up for what’s right for the children in your community.

If we don’t do it, who will?

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

 

A Superintendent’s Gift That Keeps on Giving

12/08/2016

gift-3Every superintendent needs one of these gifts to be successful. In fact, every school board member should make sure they provide the motivation and support to make this gift a reality.

So, what type of gift are we talking about?

It’s the gift and insight of a professional school communicator. Just look at the advice our savvy members gave when we created a poster a few years ago entitled NSPRA Members Know.

Here’s a peek at their wisdom:

NSPRA members know —

  • Tradition is a guide — not a dictate.
  • Experience allows you to ask the right questions.
  • People make mistakes and what happens next is the important thing.
  • Managing your community’s expectations is perhaps the most important thing you can do.
  • Stay organized and positive during the budget season.
  • Campaigns are not about issues, they are about voters.
  • That being strategic makes everything else fall in place.
  • That being there matters.
  • When to give the person being interviewed the high sign to STOP TALKING.
  • How to stay calm in a crisis and provide communication leadership.
  • Having a brochure and a video isn’t a communications strategy.
  • If you are not taking care of students, you’d better be taking care of someone who is.
  • Trust starts by being human, and builds by being honest.
  • The joy of seeing a child recognized, a parent helped, and a community proud.
  • That it is important to have communicators at the decision and planning table.
  • If we don’t stay in touch, we will soon be out of touch.

 

Most successful superintendents understand the true value of a seasoned communicator at their side. In today’s world of instant communication, fake news, and self-anointed expert bloggers searching for followers, they understand the critical role of a school communication professional.

It’s time to give superintendents the gift of a professional communicator. You can start with a free kit for superintendents on starting a program and follow it up with a free subscription to Communication Matters for Leading Superintendents. You can find both of these items on our website at www.nspra.org. And to continue to receive weekly advice in a clear, concise and brief format, become an NSPRA member or subscriber through our website.

We wish you all a great holiday season and brief respite from the stress of leading our schools through some perceived rocky political times.gift3

 

Together let’s make 2017 a year in which we continue to do what’s right for all our children and where we clear a path for more support of public education.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing Tall for Public Education

11/04/2016

cheerleaderIn the past year, I noticed a few instances of people making a difference by standing up for public education.

No, I’m not talking about the campaigns to rally support because we need to wake up legislators at all levels so that they seriously look at how some of their initiatives harm our school children in local communities. The farther decisionmakers are away from everyday school life, the closer they are to making bad decisions.

We applaud statewide and local rallies, social media campaigns, and concentrated efforts to make positive changes for all children wherever we can. Many NSPRA members are leaders in these support-building efforts.

Creating a Culture of Support for Local Educators

I am talking about a powerful face-to-face local strategic tactic based on local leaders’ standing with and beside our education community. For example, this year alone I have learned about:

  • Business, government, and faith leaders of a local community who enthusiastically hailed high school teachers back to their school by forming a two-sided welcoming gateway. The video showed these respected leaders clapping and cheering the staff on to say that they are so important to their community. The video was then distributed for the community and school district employees to witness the stamp of approval given by these community leaders. Media coverage extended the impact of this seemingly simple tactic to help teachers feel good about what they do and to see how appreciated they are by these leaders.
  • This same approach was also implemented at middle and elementary schools, but this time parent group members recruited other parents to help with this welcome back and appreciation approach to instill support for educators in their schools.
  • At the student level, we have seen, via video streaming, high school seniors returning to their neighborhood elementary and middle schools and parading through the hallways garbed in their graduation outfits so that elementary students can see the older kids from their neighborhood who are happy and successful about graduating and proving that the youngsters, too, will be doing the same thing 4 to 10 years from now. Again, videos captured the excitement and smiles on the faces of the kids and are shared with parents in their communities. This tool motivates students to stick with their public schools as they can see first-hand just what lies ahead for them.
  • Younger students seeing themselves in their older peers can boost their self-worth and also helps keep your students in your schools. Often we lose students when they make the transition from elementary to middle or from middle to high school. So we have seen older students returning to their feeder schools to talk about what lies ahead for them. Often the older students wear athletic jerseys, cheerleading and band apparel as well as sharing other school club activity materials. It all helps to build excitement for the students’ next step in their systems.

 

Low-Cost Approach to Build Support

Creating a culture of support does not have to cost a great deal of money. It takes time to organize activities and the effort needs the cooperation of principals and other staff members to make events happen. For those educators who fret about students’ leaving our schools for other opportunities, giving back some time to build continued support should certainly be worth the investment.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Demanding Jobs and Great Performance Earn Respect

04/11/2016

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.

 

 

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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

03/05/2016

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 www.nspra.org.
  • 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.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

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