Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ category

One of the Most Important Skills to Cultivate: Clear Writing


15416440957_57b12b8111_o.jpgWhich skill separates a job candidate for a professional communication position from the competition?

To me, it’s writing. That’s why we give an onsite writing, grammar, and usage test to all job candidates who apply at NSPRA.

I learned this the hard way by hiring a senior-level staff member who had more than 10 years’ experience in local school public relations. To my dismay, much of her writing had to be reworked and then edited again. All that extra effort turned out to be a real struggle for all of us working on projects with her.

There is no substitute for clear, succinct writing.

We all write every day in one form or another and many of us may not make the time to edit our own pieces. But we should, at minimum, ask a colleague to read them for typos and to make sure that they will make sense to their intended audience.

Improving writing makes you a better communication professional. It can be hard work unless you’re a “word nerd” who enjoys playing with words and making an impact with your copy.

One tip to help improve — or really to just to sit down with a good book — is to read the new resource, Dreyer’s English—An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Author Benjamin Dreyer is copy chief of Random House and his book is authoritative and yet amusing for those who deal with words for a living.

He covers the writing waterfront with dos and don’ts along with giving advice on what the rules are and when it may be okay to break them.

Here are a few examples from the insightful and entertaining book:

  • It’s okay to begin a sentence with and or but. But only if it strikes your fancy and you don’t overdo it.
  • Every once in a while, it’s okay to split an infinitive. He cites the original Star Trek series, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
  • A lot vs. Allot: Unfortunately, we still often see “a lot” being used as one word, “alot.” And we’re not just talking about the loose approach people use on their Twitter accounts.


Consider keeping Dreyer’s English handy while writing your next project — sort of looking over your shoulder to make you a better writer. It’s also a nice thank you gift for an intern or staff member who, too, is headed for a future requiring concise, clear writing.


Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director



Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


You Must Be in the Room Where It Happens


39668350535_0ac8c2b774_o-2018_04_16-11_18_18-utc.jpgThe Room Where It Happens, a song from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, describes the situation of  wanting to be a “player” to influence the decisions and actions that the leaders of our country made back in the era of 1776.

That sentiment is still relevant today in our own professional lives. To make a worthwhile impact, you must be in the room when key decisions are made. (As an aside, if you can ever find a way to see this show, you will be so glad you did—even when ticket prices rival the cost of the NSPRA Seminar.)


How to Have a Seat in Your School District’s Cabinet?

New NSPRA members often ask me and other vets how to gain access to their district’s cabinet.  When I started out in this profession, I was the coordinator of school community relations for a medium-sized district and I was not a member of the cabinet. Within 10 months though, I started attending the meetings and by Year 2, I became a cabinet member.

My decades of experience in school public relations taught me a few things I’d like to share. Although every district and superintendent have differences, many of these tips may help you.

You Must Work to Gain an Admission Ticket to the Room Where It Happens

  • Remember that you have to earn your way into a cabinet position. It’s not an entitlement. You have to earn your stripes by providing solid counsel to your superintendent and cabinet members. Make sure you do that as best as you can in a proactive approach so you start building a credible track record in advising.
  • Build that credibility by writing brief “thought joggers” for your boss dealing with anticipated situations where intervention and increased communication can help avoid controversial miscues in the future.
  • It helps to report directly to the superintendent. If you do not, work with influential cabinet members “who get it” when it comes to understanding the total impact of your communication function. Try to have that person pave the way with your superintendent. Use the rationale that you can be much better in developing messages if you understand fully why and how decisions are made. Otherwise, a void exists and that lack of connection makes your job harder. Your district is at a higher risk when you are not aware of the big picture.
  • Offer to audit each meeting and craft a succinct summary of every meeting in a grid-like format that notes actions taken, next steps, and who does what. (I started this practice to gain entry and by my second meeting, cabinet colleagues started asking, ”Rich, how do you see this playing out in our community?”
  • For many years, I’ve said, “Our best school PR pros have one foot in the schools and one foot in the community, and the stretch marks to prove it.” Where possible, prove that maxim is true by how you practice our profession in your school community. Know the pulse of your community.
  • Read Jim Lukaszewski’s Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor. It’s one of the best bits of advice on this topic. You can buy it through NSPRA here.


The Key Is to Build a Positive Relationship

One of the keys to making all this work is your relationship with your superintendent of schools and your superintendent’s perception of the value you add to your district’s leadership.

If you are not a cabinet member, seek your superintendent’s advice about what steps you must take to become one. Together, measure progress to see what still needs to be done to make it happen.

Measure progress and expectations and you will most likely clear your path to be in room where it happens.


Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive  Director


Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Earn Respect Through Accreditation



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 We’re also offering a special pre-seminar accreditation prep session at NSPRA’s Annual Seminar in Anaheim this coming July.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


One Question to Ask Yourself in Managing Projects and Staff


32475169113_0cb788084e_o.jpgWhen I left the education sector for what turned out to be a well-paid, 6-year sabbatical (I was a general manager and senior vice-president of the public relations division of a Washington, D.C., marketing communication and advertising firm), I was lucky to participate in professional development activities that clearly trumped any offerings I had during my days as a teacher, central office administrator, and education association staff member.

Just like most adults who look back on their favorite teachers or profs who helped shaped their personal and professional attributes, I remember the words of one management consultant, Ken Schatz, who clearly focused on a set of principles that have driven my brand of leadership for more than 30 years.

As some of our younger NSPRA members who are now finding their way into managing a staff and interacting with other managers as colleagues may be learning, going to work each morning is different than it had been in the past. So in this blog, let me offer you one of Ken Schatz’s principles that has worked well for me over the years.


What Did I Do (Or Not Do) to Make This Happen (Or Not Happen)?

In his session with us, Ken reminded us to ask ourselves this question when we evaluate how effective a manager or supervisor we were in a situation:

What did I do (or not do) to make this happen (or not happen)?

When a staff member does not accomplish an assigned task in an appropriate fashion, you need to first look at yourself.

Then ask:

  • Did I give clear directions, set reasonable expectations, and agree on deadlines?
  • Did I check in during the project in a helpful or “coachable” way and encourage questions related to the project? This approach normally calls for taking a gentle approach rather than becoming a micromanagement freak hovering over your colleague every 3 hours or so.
  • Did I fully understand the capabilities of my colleague before I made this assignment?


When things go well, remember that it is important to give credit to your immediate staff and department members for the work they’ve done. When things go wrong, you need to own the problem and begin finding the answers to what you did (or did not do) to make this happen (or not happen).

And yes, I still occasionally ask myself that question today after more than 39 years of managing staff in the private and public sectors. Learning never ends!


Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Demanding Jobs and Great Performance Earn Respect


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.



Rich Signature-bold cropped

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


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
  • 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.


Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

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

Information Is Good;Too Much, Bad; Engagement Is Best


Two great weekly resources for those of us who are serious about our field of school communication are Public Agenda Alert and Both regularly impart  tems of interest to school communicators and make you think about your own practice of school public relations.

This week’s Pew edition carried an article on a study completed in three cities (Macon, Philadelphia, and San Jose) to see how each city’s information systems were performing. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation asked the Monitor Institute to explore key components of local information systems with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Some of the findings, especially in surveys conducted in the communities, were notable:

  • Those who think local government does well in sharing information are also more likely to be satisfied with other parts of civic life. Those who believe city hall is forthcoming are more likely than others to feel good about: the overall quality of their community, the ability of the entire information environment of their community to give them the information that matters, the overall performance of their local government and the performance of all manner of civic and journalistic institutions. My take on this is that open communication breeds trust. 
  • Broadband users are sometimes less satisfied than others with community life. That raises the possibility that upgrades in a local information system might produce more critical, activist citizens. Or it may lead to even richer information to engage the community in decision-making.
  • Social media like Facebook and Twitter are emerging as key parts of the civic landscape and mobile connectivity is beginning to affect people’s interactions with civic life. Some 32% of the Internet users in the three communities combined get local news from a social networking site — 19% get such news from blogs and 7% get such news from Twitter. And 32% post updates and local news on social networking sites.
  • If citizens feel empowered, communities get benefits in both directions. Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.

More Information May Hinder, Not Help

This week’s Public Agenda Alert commented on the study by noting that there’s no question that an open government is crucial to civic engagement – but more information alone won’t do the job.

Their caution, however, is critical to us in school communication. It is important not to fall into one of the most common misconceptions about public opinion – that more information, all by itself, will help the public make better decisions.

Just how much is too much? When you are now explaining the budget shortfalls and what all the numbers mean to parents and community members, when do you say, “It’s all there, just figure it out for yourself?” Or do you make the time to guide interested citizens through the pages of information to help them understand these documents and the impact it will have for the children of your district?

Prepare for a Learning Curve on Issues

The dilemma continues as Public Agenda refers to Dan Yankelovich’s body of knowledge mentioning that the public has a learning curve on complicated problems. He has taught us that a lack of information can derail a policy or a budget. So can lots of other things: a lack of practical choices, mistrust, denial or just lack of urgency about the problem. He claims that all these things can get in the way, even when there is plenty of information on the topic.

Yankelovich notes that our publics need a way to sort out all the information and make sense of it. Public Agenda notes that the “put it out there and let people figure it out” is a good start as the Pew research demonstrates. But it’s only part of what’s really needed for change.

More engagement, dialogue and participation are needed to really solve the fiscal problems our schools are now facing. And that’s why school districts need communication professionals and other leaders to lead the way in developing strategies and tactics to engage more staff, students, parents, citizens, business leaders, and others in solving the fiscal problems we now face.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director