Archive for the ‘school PR’ category

Integrity Is Everything

02/06/2019

IMG_8594 (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)Some Musings About Our Profession

My friend and mentor Ken Weir always prompts interesting discussions about our profession. He always makes me think more deeply about things.

Early in my career he noted that some people say that our job is just to make people look good — like rearranging a flower display so that the most beautiful and long-lasting flowers are front and center to pleasingly carry the “look” of the entire arrangement.

Sure, we all do that in various ways sometimes, but no more than a mother does as she straightens the collar of her son or pats down a stray hair or two before the photographer takes his picture.

Really, we all want our families and colleagues to look good. And if we can help in some way, that, too, becomes part of our job.

But sometimes making our districts look good or protecting their reputation can be high-wire act when it comes to some major issues in our school communities. Our personal integrity and professional code of ethics come into play, and we need to stand firm when unethical situations barrel toward us.

Let me give you an example:

Years ago — before the social media explosion, I received a call from a memb44743905011_5499891846_o-removebger in a suburban district. He was seeking counsel on this situation:

The kindergarten wing of the school district’s elementary school had just burned down and the plan was to move the kindergarten students to the high school.

The kindergarten parents almost revolted because they were worried about how their children would be treated. But the district assured the parents that their 5-year-olds would use separate entrances, would not be in harm’s way, and would never interact with the older students.

Shortly after the move, our member told me that a gun was found in a locker of one of the high school students and that locker was along the hallway leading to the kindergarten class.

He asked if he should disclose this finding to the elementary parents.

After questioning him a bit about the details of his situation (Who already knows? Were the police notified? Was the high school student apprehended? Was anyone hurt?), I told him that he needed to be transparent and authentic. He needed to treat the situation with the sensitivity and empathetic communication that a true pro like him could deliver.

Well, it turned out that his bosses felt differently. They never felt the need to communicate with the parents in their district. This situation never went public.

Such were the days before social media. Be forewarned: this incident would never happen like this today!

 

This story underscores the fact that one of the true hallmarks of a healthy profession is its code of ethics and how people in the profession practice it every day.

We hold NSPRA’s ethical standards high and expect that all of our members feel the same. Spin doctors, con artists, fake news advocates need not apply for membership in a professional association like ours.

Take some advice from one of our retired members. Judi Willis, APR, says it well:

“When you walk out of the office at the end of your career, the most valuable things you’ll take with you are your integrity and reputation. Protect them!”

— Judi Willis, APR

 

A maxim for all of us to remember as we put our ethics into practice every day.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo of child by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

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Creating a “My Kid First” Mentality for Customer Experiences

01/05/2019

 

mkf1It’s a truth universally known: Every parent wants the best for their child, no matter the situation.

Critical to providing a positive customer experience is that school staff members understand that parents come with those high expectations. Staff should always be prepared to deal with the “My Kid First” (MKF) mentality when they talk with parents or host them at parent conferences and other gatherings throughout the year.

Parents want schools to treat their children fairly, provide a caring and nurturing climate, and leave them with a sense that their child is in great hands in your class and your school.

If parents don’t feel this sense of security, your schools will quickly be in jeopardy of losing students to private, charter, or other alternative programs that are now readily available in this era of school choice. So, as we prepare to interact with parents in our schools, we must always remember to provide staff with professional development opportunities so that they can make the most of their customer/parent experiences.

In NSPRA’s newest publication, Making/Marketing Your School the School of Choice, we offer a number of tools to boost the customer experience with your school including:

  • First Impressions Report Card — A look at functional signage, clean hallways and classrooms, displays of student art work, etc.
  • “Secret Shopper” Customer Service Checklist — A review of the timeliness of your responses, how you address questions and requests, how warmly you greet people, etc.
  • How Customer Friendly Is Your School? — Useful questions to guide your assessment: Can office signs be read from all approaches? Do all employees — not just office staff — take responsibility for answering phones because phones should not ring for more than 5 times? Have all employees been instructed on how to greet visitors and offer assistance?

 

Plus, a number of newer customer service books for business ventures have recently hit the market. Most address the attitude and flexibility of staff dealing with situations. As an example, Jeanne Bliss, a customer service industry guru just published, Would You Do That to Your Mother? Some school transferrable advice from Bliss includes:

  • Let your availability reflect how you care. Be there to answer questions and give guidance; don’t make customers hunt for answers.
  • Let your paperwork navigate customers to clarity and understanding. Avoid jargon as well. What is a blended learning and is it only in a blended classroom?
  • How you apologize is your humanity litmus test. Things will go wrong, that’s a given; handle them with empathy and compassion.
  • A graceful departure may lead to an eventual return. If you lose a student or parent to a competitor, be helpful and wish them well. They may just return next semester once they realize how much your school offered them.
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One additional takeaway on the newer approaches to customer service is that employees should have the authority to override policy from time to time when common sense or the “golden rule” should prevail. For instance, don’t let this scenario be the norm: “You submitted your application 9 minutes late for the scholarship because an accident backed up traffic, so we cannot accept it.” No, be reasonable! Accept the application!

Understand that people come to you with the “My Kid First” mentality and make sure that the importance of creating a positive customer experience always guides your actions.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

 

 

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

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.

wall

 

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

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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.

 

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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