Get Aggressive in Building Your Communication Budgets

Posted 01/07/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: Budgets, Communication, school choice, school PR


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.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director



Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


Some Holiday Cookies to Munch On

Posted 12/10/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: General, school communication

girl eatingAs we approach our holiday break, most of us are a bit frantic “to get it all done.” NSPRA member jobs are always busy, but when you add the layer of personal and family holiday shopping and home responsibilities, it may seem like we added just another stressful and unforgiving deadline we need to meet.

But we all need a break from the stress.

Let’s do our best to take advantage of being away from the everyday pressures of our school communication jobs and return from the holiday break refreshed to tackle the new challenges that we face for the remainder of this school year.

At NSPRA, we are planning to unveil a number of new products and services in the months ahead. Here are just a few:

  • A new collaborative software tool we are calling NSPRA Connect, where you can post your own request for assistance or counseling and hopefully receive numerous relevant responses from NSPRA colleagues. You will have access to more than 1,700 PR consultants who face nearly the same situations you face every day. The new system goes to the heartbeat of NSPRA — members networking to help one another. Watch for it later this spring.
  • We’ll also be co-publishing two books by respected NSPRA veterans, Kristin Magette, APR, and Trinette Marquis-Hobbs, APR. Kristin is updating her Embracing Social Media book and Trinette is working on a data-based approach to school communication. Our co-publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, is setting publishing deadlines. We are keeping our fingers crossed to have both publications by our Anaheim Seminar in July.
  • Plus, we’ll be publishing the second edition of Making and Marketing Your School as a School of Choice in time for the Anaheim Seminar. The book’s focus is to help school leaders make their individual schools winners when it comes to our era of competition, which seems to be growing through the advocacy of federal and state legislation and funding. Our plan is to have the book ready this spring.
  • Early in 2018, we will be offering a new collection of past webinars and EduTalk Radio shows in our Members-Only section of our website. Entitled Play That Again …, this section will be a collection of NSPRA members’ insights on a wide-range of evergreen issues and practices.
  • Also starting in January will be a new electronic version of NSPRA’s popular Wit and Wisdom, where members offer their brand of wit and wisdom to be shared through NSPRA’s Twitter account.
  • Finally, we plan to have a new communication review process to be available by the NSPRA Seminar in July. Targeted for smaller school districts, these reviews will give districts the use of SCoPE surveys and e-interviews and focus groups to help them set the course for effective communication practices in their districts. We’ve nearly completed two beta projects with NSPRA districts that will lead to the new service to be launched next year.boy-with-santa-hat.png


It is a busy year for all of us, but we should take pride in what we do every day for our students, their districts and communities. Nobody does it better on a consistent basis than NSPRA members and their districts.

Enjoy your holiday and let’s make 2018 a year of accomplishment for our school communication profession.




Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


Your Graduates Tell Your Success Story Better Than You Can

Posted 11/10/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

joy2-e1510326592709.pngMost of us enjoy our jobs and careers because of some impact we may have had along this journey of working in school communication. We all can proudly speak about our moments of accomplishments leading to the success of others.

NSPRA and our members are quick to share from an overflowing fountain of great ideas just waiting to be implemented. But implementation is often burdened by challenges and hurdles of convincing bosses and Boards to support the idea, finding enough budget and staffing resources, and finally mustering up the will and tenacity to make it all happen. In other words, it takes a lot of WORK!

Among many other functions, my job calls for me to offer solutions to school leaders when they may be facing image- or reputation-damaging moments. We have many snapshots of success, but because of the above-mentioned challenges, some never really get a chance to dance in the end zone.

On a personal note, recently I enjoyed watching from afar an end-zone dance worth sharing.

The Seed Was Planted Many Years Ago

A quick story is that I started my school communication career in the Bensalem School District, just immediately north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was proud of our work for that system, but, unfortunately, it had a lingering reputation that it was never as good as the nearby more affluent systems. Those of us who worked there at all levels knew better, but it seemed that we could not get out of the shadow of the other systems.

Years after I left my local position, I started finding and highlighting practical and proactive examples of helping school districts improve their reputations in their communities. I am so pleased to report that one of those ideas gave birth and came to fruition in the Bensalem School District just a few weeks ago.

Thanks to Rosemary Boccella, a former teacher at the school and a champion of a “high school wall of fame” idea she learned from NSPRA, Bensalem’s reputation is shining a bit brighter these days. (Full disclosure: Rosemary is my sister-in-law and a frequent staff volunteer at the NSPRA Seminar.)

Rosemary took what she learned from NSPRA, developed her own playbook, and persuaded many others — school officials, a group of former great teachers (many still correspond with their graduates), some current teachers and staff, and the local school foundation — to make it all happen.

The result was the inaugural class of a wall of fame now posted in the hallway of a newly expanded high school, an evening celebration induction dinner, words of wisdom by the inductees, additional funding for the district’s school foundation, and a proactive reputation-building moment for the Bensalem School District, with the promise of more to come in future years.

A Glance at Some of Bensalem’s Distinguished Alumni

Here are just a few of the 14 inductees for this first year. You can see why Bensalem is proud of being a part of their successful journeys:

  • Joy Deangdeelert Cho, selected as Time magazine’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet 2015 and 2016 and Time’s Design 100 in 2008, founded Oh, Joy! a brand that now includes various licensed product lines, how-to lifestyle videos, and a daily blog with a focus on design, fashion, food, and joyful moments from everyday life.
  • Aaron Jay Kernis, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1998 for his String Quartet No. 2, was Inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2013. A teacher of music composition at the Yale School of Music since 2003, he received Grammy nominations for Air and his Second Symphony.
  • David Issadore, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering at University of Pennsylvania, developed new technologies to bring medical diagnostics from expensive, centralized facilities directly to clinical and resource-limited facilities. He developed a biomedical chip for the early detection of rare pancreatic cancer and tuberculosis cells for under-served populations.
  • Carol J. McIlwain who served over 31 years with the US Navy in engineering and program management, was the Director for Acquisition and Contracts in the Office of Naval Intelligence. She deployed for 3 years to Iraq and Afghanistan as Department of Defense Civilian Senior Advisor establishing Ministry of Defense.


One local media account (Bensalem Times) noted,

Though their careers range from business and medicine, to graphic design and performing arts, they all had one thing in common — gratitude to their alma matter for helping them become the professionals they are today.


bKudos for Making the Idea Bloom

So Bensalem deserves a tip of NSPRA’s hat for taking our kernel of an idea and making it bloom through persistence, care for public education, persuasion, and a healthy dose of HARD WORK!

In this time of school selection competition, we need more reasons to confirm the value of public education. And remember, your graduates can tell your success story better than you can.

Bensalem, it’s time to dance in the end zone for a job well done!



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photos by Diana Leferovich, Diana Leferovich Photography

One Question to Ask Yourself in Managing Projects and Staff

Posted 10/05/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: internal communication, Professional Development, school communication

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

Communication in Times of Disasters: Anticipate Your Next Steps

Posted 09/11/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: crisis communication, school communication

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

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

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

Anticipate and Prepare

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

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

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

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

Build Your Local Network

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

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

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

Get the Message Out Any Way You Can

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

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

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

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



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

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


Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


Delivering Beyond the Normal and Expected

Posted 08/02/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: NSPRA award-winning programs, school communication

Tags: , ,

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

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

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

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

Let me share just a few stellar examples:

PSJA Votes Campaign

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

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

From Here You Can Go Anywhere

People often ask us at NSPRA:

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

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

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

Marketing in Our Increasing Era of Competition

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

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

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

Communication to Combat Health and Safety Issues

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

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

Stray from Your Lane

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

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

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

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

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



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Like it or not, political communication is now part of our jobs

Posted 06/09/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: accountability, Communication, Key Communicators, school communication


There is no denying that our jobs have changed. The new wave of elected officials is empowered as a result of their recent political victories. Psychologically they seem to be on a roll and are trying to move their agenda items through as quickly as possible. So like it or not, we need to think like politicians—more than ever. It’s the world in which we now compete for better understanding of our school-related issues.

Writing for a New York University publication, Jay Rosen asked us to answer these questions if we are to think politically:

  • What do we stand for that others also believe in?
  • Who is aligned against us?
  • Where are we most vulnerable?
  • What are our opponents’ strengths?
  • How can we broaden our base?
  • Who are our natural allies?
  • What can we unite around, despite our internal differences?
  • What are the overlapping interests that might permit us to make common cause with people who are not (education leaders)?

The truth is losing

David Ignatius of The Washington Post, wrote a piece after the last November’s national election entitled, The Truth Is Losing. In an interview with the State Department’s Richard Stengel, Ignatius offered:

  • “We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today. Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”

The article points out that going “tit for tat” in arguing with extremists through social media was not that fruitful. Stengel noted that by empowering others to be the messenger, they could make the case more emphatically.

  • “The central insight was that we’re not the best messenger for our messages because in the post-truth world, the people we are trying to reach automatically question anything from the U.S. government.”

With today’s climate, this may ring true with some of your local community audiences as well.

Have others tell your story: Begin or revitalize a true Key Communicator Program

In my 40 years in this business, I’ve never seen this tactic fail if executed correctly — Never!

Over the years, it has been watered down by some, but used correctly, a Key Communicator Program can be valuable.

Some key points are:

  • This trust-building tactic is critical in today’s instant communication world. You truly need a Key Communicator Program to inspire confidence in what you say and do. It adds credibility.
  • Unfortunately over recent years, as I noted, we’ve seen an increase of Key Communicator Programs that have turned into little more than listservs in certain communities. If you’re tapping the old and new power structures in your community, regularly meeting with small segments of your key communicators, and communicating with them electronically, you’ll be on your way to building a base of well-respected spokespeople for your schools. As David Ogilvy reminded us, Don’t count the people that you reach, reach the people who count.”
  • Remember, many parents and others may prefer to hear their school messages from respected leaders and neighbors rather than from school officials. If run appropriately, this Key Communicator process can help you develop credibility in this era of anything-goes social media.
  • One last note on Key Communicators: People need to get to know you face to face. Only after that can you can begin using your earned credibility through videos, Twitter, email, Facebook, etc. But first, you need to start with in-person meetings — otherwise people may just see you as another empty pitchman or woman for your schools — sort of like the ones you see on late-night insurance commercials.

Most of us did not start our education careers thinking that we will be dealing in the political arena. Any excellent communication program normally excels at developing positive relationships with its key audiences. So in some respects, we’ve been practicing political communication for some time.

It’s time to place an even stronger focus on the political leaders and influentials who can make or break your next education initiative. Step up and prove what great communication and engagement can do for your school community.

If we don’t do it, who will?



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director