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

Communication Is a Management Function

Posted 05/05/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: accountability, Communication, Education



Quickly, this is the third edited excerpt from an acceptance speech I gave to superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. One topic I covered was the need to make communication a management function.

Here’s the edited excerpt:

By now, I hope you are beginning to see that communication should be a management function. You need to integrate communication into all that you do or you will risk losing the battle we now face. Having a strong communication function will help you advance your system during this climate of uncertainty that we are now facing.

As you can see by now when I talk about communication, I am not talking just about great publicity but about engagement, marketing, reputation management, ongoing internal engagement, and external communication programs.

You need to have someone who knows what they are doing to make your communication function be as effective as it can be.

Former vice President Joe Biden, (“Uncle Joe” to some of us), often says that he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. Using Uncle Joe’s formula, I can tell you that communication is not a priority in most school districts right now. Our research shows 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? Charter organizations are spending from 10 to 25% or more on their communication and marketing efforts according to our observations. Budget wise, this is not a fair fight!

Every year for our Annual Seminar, we receive proposals to run sessions entitled PR on Shoestring. During my tenure, we’ve never accepted any of them because that’s the wrong message to send if we want to make a management commitment to communication. And most of these shoestring programs normally trip over their own laces and die easily because the districts made no commitment to them. (Hint to NSPRA members: Change the “shoestring approach” to “low-cost and effective tactics to support your communication program.”)

Communication must be a management function.

Character Counts in Communication

And finally, in this fake-news, alternative-fact world, you need to bring integrity into this discussion. Character counts in our 2world of communication.

We see so much twisting of facts, just plain mistruths or half-truths sprinkled along with the fake news accounts. Your staff and community need to know that you stand for integrity.

Today, with a smart phone, anyone can publish any falsehood. But reasonable parents, staff, and others need to know what’s true, where you stand, and how you will lead your system. Don’t let silence create a vacuum — your critics will quickly fill it.

We have always said that the term “PR” really stands for 2 items:

  • Having a Public Responsibility to communicate
  • And developing Public Relationships.

That is where we build credibility and trust though authentic communication.

Please join me in making that happen. Because I ask: If we do not do it, who will?

We need to make that commitment at the local level now, more than ever.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Internal Communication Is Critical for Success

Posted 04/06/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, internal communication, school communication, school PR

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.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director