Archive for the ‘school PR’ category

Stocking Stuffers for Every School Communication Professional

12/08/2018

15972909905_68db55cea5_o (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)You can hear it in the air: ’Tis the season for joy and merriment. I wish all who work in school PR a wonderful holiday season for you and your families as well as a great and healthy new year ahead.

We hope all your holiday wishes come true, but just in case they don’t, here are some stocking stuffers I’m tossing your way.

Feel free to “re-gift” those you can’t use.

 

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  • First, a stocking stuffed with a superintendent who “gets it.” One who listens, understands what little may be ultimately controllable, and one who gives you green lights and budgets to make a real communication difference in your system.

 

  • Cell phone batteries that never die.

 

  • A copy of the NSPRA classic, The Wit and Wisdom of PR Success. I could teach a full semester of a School PR course for superintendents just based on the valuable advice in this compendium by some of the best in our business. For instance:

“Don’t wait to be asked.” John BuddWit and Wisdom cover front (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)

“Public relations programs without effective internal communication are built on quicksand.”Buddy Price

“People want to be served, not sold — involved, not told.”Patrick Jackson

 

  • A “Go Bag” with battery extenders, extra phone chargers, nutrition bars, apparel and underwear changes, and a few photos of your special loved ones because you know it may be days until you see them again.

 

  • A copy of Jim Lukaszewski’s Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor, a perfect fit for every school public relations professional.

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  • A Do Not Disturb Sign or — maybe better yet — a Please Disturb Sign for your office door.

 

  • A stack of 25 small gift cards to hand out to staff and volunteers for doing a great job.

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  • At least 3 outstanding principals who serve as positive role models for building-level PR — one each for elementary, middle and high school.

 

  • A stash of 5 additional personal days that you probably won’t get a chance to use but at least you can feel good about having them in your back pocket all the time.

 

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  • A ticket to NSPRA’s newest member benefit, NSPRA Connect, where you can ask nearly 2,000 school PR pros for their helpful insights about your upcoming sticky issue or stewing dilemma or operational tool like what the best choice is for a mass communication system.

 

  • An extra night’s sleep — just because we all need to recharge once in a while.

 

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  • Tickets for both you and your superintendent in July for a chance to network with colleagues at NSPRA’s National Seminar in Washington, D.C.

 

  • A quiet moment to sit back, reflect and smile because you have one of the most meaningful and important jobs in the world. You help kids every day.

Those of us in our profession know how our work makes a difference in the lives of students, staff and our school communities. Savor those accomplishmgift-3ents.

Be sure to make some time to be good to yourself and your loved ones in the holiday season ahead.

Best wishes and happy holidays to you,

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Santa photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

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School Public Relations People Look at the Whole Apple

10/07/2018

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Outstanding past NSPRA President, Ann Barkelew, APR, commissioned this mini-poster during her tenure back in the early 1980s. It reads, “School Public Relations People Look at the Whole Apple.” After all these years, it still hangs on my office wall because it says so much to those of us who fully grasp the impact of our profession.

In my last blog, I focused on how important it is to get a seat at your cabinet’s table or as Lin-Manuel Miranda says in his acclaimed musical Hamilton, that you need to be in “the room where it happens.”

Another way of getting where you need to be is to follow Ann’s advice — look at the whole apple. To make an impact for your system, look at all of the operational and possible controversial potholes that you anticipate for your schools. If you consistently develop this insight, the practice can become a critical function of your job.

But here’s a heads up: You must have courage. Be ready for pushback because some colleagues may see you as “mucking around” in what they consider to be their turf, not yours.

As I have said many times, and immediate past NSPRA President Tom DeLapp, APR, recently told us, two school district jobs are more similar than others: that of the superintendent and the communication professional. You are both there to deliver the greater good, to identify what can be better, to protect the reputation of your system, and to assist others to make it happen.

So when you see or hear or find out about missteps or know of potential practices or inattention that can harm the operation and reputation of your system, it’s time to speak up.

Here are two concrete examples of where your insight could be valuable to the district:

  • School bus delays — When vehement parents call the “bus barn” and no one picks up the phone, the problem continues to fester. To solve it, you could suggest having some informed temporary customer service help be assigned to the bus barn. (Hint: Always offer a few solutions as possibilities to assist in “righting the ship.”)

 

  • Growing negativity of parents about your middle school programs — Parents who have choices leave your system as they approach the transition period after elementary school. Even more depart as high school looms. What to do? Just present the data you have and note that you need to start focusing on this departure pattern sooner rather than later. Your curriculum and instructional folks surely know that this type of exodus may be apparent. Gather them as a team to talk about viable steps to take to begin finding solutions.

 

These are just two instances of how looking at the whole apple can help you become a catalyst to move your system in the right direction.

Of course, none of this should happen unless you and your superintendent are on the same page and your superintendent supports the approaches you’ve identified. Typically, you can discuss preliminary approaches with cabinet colleagues; a collaborative approach creates a smoother path as you move forward. No one should ever be blindsided at a cabinet-level meeting.

I urge you to look at the entire apple and share your thoughts about potential solutions with your superintendent. It’s one thing to be in the room where it happens, but it’s a major step to be in the room and to make it happen.

 

Creating a Wall of Fame as a Motivational Tool

Previously, we highlighted how one school — Bensalem Township School District in Pennsylvania — started a high school wall of fame to boost a positive and substantive image in its community. Just two weeks ago, the second group of outstanding graduates was installed at a special Saturday afternoon ceremony.

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Naturally, friends and relatives of all of the inductees attended the event, but one exception in the audience was a current high school student along with his parents. They had just moved into the community.

You might ask, why would they go to this ceremony?

At the high school’s annual Back-to-School night held just a few days before, the parents and their son saw the wall of fame display as they entered the hallway. They stopped to read about the accomplishments of some 24 graduates. They all were so impressed with what they read — a Pulitzer Prize winner, renowned scientists and doctors, and successful entrepreneurs among them — that they decided to come with their son to the ceremony. They thought it would be an opportunity to be inspired and understand what Bensalem High, combined with their son’s hard work, could do for their son in the years ahead. Stirred by the speeches of how their high school experiences and teachers contributed to their paths in life, the son leaned over to his parents and said, “Someday I’m going to be on that wall.”

Strategically, the wall’s mission was to boost the image of Bensalem High School. And it looks like that plan may just be working. In this case, at least one student at a time.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Tap 1,800 School PR Pros for Insights and Solutions

06/11/2018

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With NSPRA Connect, You’ll Have the Wisdom of Countless Pros at Your Fingertips

One of NSPRA’s major strengths is our members’ willingness to share their solutions and insights on issues that they’re facing and their readiness to offer helpful opinions or information about the nuances and effectiveness of new tech functions. I often say that NSPRA is like “having a friend in the business” when it comes to school public relations.

We launched NSPRA Connect just a bit over a month ago and it has already caught the attention and provided solutions to hundreds of our members. Collaborative software industry experts tell us that our participation rates are much higher than most other launches. Given that NSPRA members are communicators and networkers by nature, we expected a healthy response.

Now to make it an even a richer resource for our members, we’re urging more members to participate or at least receive the daily open forum digest. Take a quick, 30-second scan and you’ll get a feel for what’s percolating across the country. We encourage you to join in to share your own info or to ask even more questions.

From a recent listing of topics or issues we saw these:

  • Announcing transgender graduates’ names
  • Labor public relations negotiations
  • The latest in annual reports
  • Welcoming a new superintendent
  • Updates on OCR complaints
  • Broadcasting Board meetings
  • Providing the media with Board background materials when you are using Board Docs
  • Approaches to internal communication
  • Archiving social media posts
  • Project management software solutions
  • Using social media schedulers
  • And more

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NSPRA Connect Demonstrates What We Do for a Living

NSPRA Connect also gives members the opportunity to demonstrate by example what school PR professionals are working on for their districts. Just share a screen shot with your superintendents to convince them that a few of the examples from others align with recommendations you’ve been attempting to implement in the past year. And if you work with superintendents who are not totally committed to a comprehensive communication program, begin showing them how our function is working for others throughout the US and Canada.

NSPRA Members Get Connected Today

This new membership benefit will only get better as more members participate. If you have not connected yet, just go to connect.nspra.org and start reaping the benefit and insight of NSPRA Connect.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Are You Excited About What You Do?

05/05/2018

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Last week Gallup released a new poll noting that half of American adults work full time for an employer, but only 13% who are working full time are actually excited about what they do.

I trust that our school communication professionals — a spirited, creative and exciting group — would rank their jobs much higher than the 13% that this latest Gallup poll found.

 

Good Experience, But Something Was Sorely Missing

I have said many times that my stint as a VP in the corporate agency business was one of the best experiences I have had during my career. I learned a great deal more about leadership, sales, customer service, how to make or lose money, and how to make our programs accountable and successful. But even though we were successful, somehow I felt that our work there was a bit hollow contrasted to working for our school community.

One of my client accounts back then was for a plastic surgeons’ group who specialized in enhancement and reduction procedures for their affluent customer base in the Potomac communities just outside of Washington, D.C. While visiting with some of the doctors leading their practice, I found out that one of the docs had just returned from saving the toes of a teenager who inadvertently cut his toes while mowing his parents’ lawn. (Even in wealthy Potomac, Maryland, some families still cut their own lawns back then!)

I was impressed with the results and recommended that we highlight this work as a general interest story that demonstrated the humane side of their practice.

Well, let’s just say that this idea turned into a “dog that did not hunt.” The client did not want to promote their repair and restoration work because it was not the type of work that they wanted to be known for.

 

They Were Correct and I Learned Something About Myself

And they were correct. Strategically I was off target.

We regrouped and offered more relevant and profitable procedures for their prospective clients. This approach worked and our business relationship with them blossomed into a viable one for our agency.

But I wasn’t excited about this work. It felt hollow after working in a local school district and for two education associations.

I realized that most of us get into education to help students and staff improve through engagement and communication. We also enjoy building more support for our local systems. And when our work makes a difference, we get even more excited about it.

Now I know we all have bad days and we experience circumstances that are out of our control. But even during those times, we are there to help improve and possibly provide solutions to protect the reputation of our systems.

It all depends on what we value and how we practice our profession.

Most NSPRA members enjoy the opportunities to help their systems in authentic and results-oriented ways. In fact, I’ll bet most NSPRA members I know even get excited about their work. Unlike those unlucky people in the Gallup poll.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

 

 

Earn Respect Through Accreditation

04/05/2018

APRLogo2

Adding value and respect to your career is a goal most professionals have, no matter where they work or what they do. Adding those two attributes to the public relations profession is a must if you are serious about committing your lifetime to our profession. After all, we all hear from people that PR is just a fluff job; you only need to be good with people, make the right contacts with the media, and know how to “spin” and navigate your employer out of trouble and into a favorable spotlight. Unfortunately, this mistaken image of PR still prevails among those who do not understand our business.

Early in my career, I remember telling a future in-law that I was in public relations. She laughed and said, “Oh you mean you deal in B.S.” I can’t explain here my first knee-jerk response in that moment, but I did manage to muster something like, “Walk in my shoes for a week (if you can keep up) and you will see first-hand what I do for a living.”

More than 30 years later, I see that we still are fighting a negative image in some circles. Many of us have overcome that image by amassing positive results for our employers and by serving as ethical and trustworthy role models in our school communities. Our consistent performance and the style of our practice have earned the respect and credibility needed for our profession.

Another Path to Respect and Value Is Through Accreditation

But there is another path to becoming respected in our field and it’s by being accredited.

NSPRA is a member of the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), the organization that provides the testing process for accreditation. When you venture through the accreditation process, you take an exam and go before an interview panel to assess what you know and how you practice it. The process judges your readiness to earn the right to put the APR (Accreditation in PR) moniker after your name, signaling that you have achieved a high standard in our profession.

Currently 187 NSPRA members are accredited. Just a tad over 10% of our membership.

One quick historical note you should know: In 1976, NSPRA started its own accreditation program with the first exam. NSPRA pioneers, Joe Rowson, APR; Dr. Don Bagin; and Dr. Ken Muir, APR, crafted the test and the administered it at the 1976 Seminar in Philadelphia. A number of veterans and a few newbies (I was about 12 years old at the time) passed the exam and then began using the ASPR label after our names.

The ASPR accreditation program transformed over the years and then joined the UAB in 2000 to become one unified test for all of us in the PR profession. We made the move to have equal status with all industries that needed accredited PR counsel and services.

 

Sunday-Annual meeting-San Antonio 2017--06212017

What Are the Benefits of Accreditation?

If you want to learn why you should be accredited, just contact current NSPRA members to see what they think the benefits of the accreditation process have been. Ask our NSPRA office for a listing of our current accredited members if you want to discuss the process.

But quickly, here are few benefits of accreditation that we have seen over the years:

  • Accreditation sets you apart from other PR people, indicating that you “measured up” to the standards and knowledge of our profession.
  • It gives you an “admission ticket” to be considered for other higher level positions because you have proven your understanding of the full scope of the need for the four-step process.
  • It broadens your awareness and practice of our profession and gives you more gravitas when someone asks you for solutions to everyday or sticky situations in your systems.
  • It arms you with answers to approaches so you can be much more strategic in your practice of public relations.
  • It gives you confidence to tackle new situations knowing that you have a foundation of proven practices rather than just a “gut reaction.”

 

Earning accreditation is something that will stick with you forever. Bosses come and go, but your APR will be with you throughout your entire career. If you have your APR, you’ll earn the respect of your colleagues and will be recognized as one of the best in our profession.

To learn more about the accreditation process, go to https://www.nspra.org/professional_development/accreditation. We’re also offering a special pre-seminar accreditation prep session at NSPRA’s Annual Seminar in Anaheim this coming July.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Get Aggressive in Building Your Communication Budgets

01/07/2018
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Pulling for Your PR Budget

In an era of public-education bashing coupled with increasing competition for students, school leaders must integrate communication into all that we do or we will risk losing the battle we now face. A strong communication function will help you advance your system during this period of uncertainty.

But you can do only a little bit — and in inconsistent ways — if you do not have the resources you need to make a difference. Yes, money does make a difference.

Here is a case in point:

NSPRA members tell us 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?3

Non-NSPRA member districts most likely spend less than that.

Our assessment is that corporate charter companies are spending from 10 to 25% or more of their budgets on their communication and marketing efforts.

In comparison, this is not a fair fight!

Think about it. A district with a total budget of $100 million sets aside just $100,000 to cover a full-time experienced professional and possibly a part-time assistant. That leaves little or nothing in the budget for tech tools of mass communication and engagement services, video capabilities, software for efficiency, tech equipment, professional development, and more. Although talented NSPRA professionals are known for stretching the impact of their dollars, there are only so many times that they can consistently pull rabbits out of their respective hats if they don’t have the money to back up their herculean efforts.

Former Vice President Joe Biden often says he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. And this sentiment is painfully obvious to us as we look at the dilemma that school communication professionals face today. It may be time for your leaders to look at your budget and consider what your district needs.

Most school districts are now in the midst of building their operational budgets for the year ahead. So, now’s the time to get aggressive in making sure that your system has what it needs to be competitive in the school choice movement.

To get started on persuading leaders to increase communication budgets consider these two approaches:

Use a Cold-Cash Accountability Model

For years, NSPRA has asked decisionmakers to look at enrollment swings in this era of choice. The more students you lose to competition, the more money you lose from state reimbursement.

With a well-planned marketing communication effort, you can retain students and recruit new students, which can make a long-term impact on your budget realities. For example, if you recruit 15 first graders who earn a $4-6K state reimbursement in just 1 year, you will have added $60-90K to your district’s budget for that year. If you retain them for all 12 years, your district would earn between $720K-1.08M over their school career. And that’s for just 15 students.

Investing in an accountable communication and marketing effort can reap large financial dividends for your system. But the investment must happen now to develop a marketing and engagement effort to retain and recruit students.

Budget for Schools that Are Most Vulnerable  to Lose Students to Competition

Another accountable approach to communication budgeting is to select a few schools who may need extra communication assistance to help them build their brand in a competitive marketplace. View competition today as more of a school vs. school model rather than pitting your entire school district against one competing charter school. Parents are judging one school against another. In other words, think about how your Valley Elementary stacks up against the new ABC Elementary Charter just three blocks away. Changing your view of school choice will help you build your case for increased funding for your marketing efforts.

Each school needs to look at itself, assess it strengths and weaknesses, and then work on becoming your community’s school of choice. Communication and engagement efforts are key to this phase. Then your branding and recruiting efforts can effectively occur. You need to budget for the communication and engagement facet of the plan or you are surely bound to fall short in view of the competition.

By setting aside funds for this initial type of effort, you will help more budget decisionmakers understand where your communication dollars go. And you will assist in retaining and recruiting students, adding positive numbers to your district’s bottom line.

We need more effective communication to combat new education alternatives in our local communities. It is time to get aggressive in building a budget to meet these new communication needs in our schools. To make and market your schools as schools of choice in the year ahead, you need additional resources.

If we don’t do it, who will?

Remember, don’t create a communication vacuum because your competition will gladly fill it if they haven’t done it already.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

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