Posted tagged ‘public relations’

Creating a “My Kid First” Mentality for Customer Experiences



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.

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.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photos 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


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

The Comment Conundrum


Interactive Internet capabilities have given us a host of new tools to use in our communication sandbox. For good reason, one in particular is receiving more attention. But it may harm the reputation of your schools and staff more than it helps.

What is this more recent addition? Comment Sections.

Comment sections on school district web sites and e-newsletters are starting to pop up as some districts see using them as a proactive sign that will lead to more engagement and transparency. After all, that’s what we all preach is at the heart of a great communication program, isn’t it?

Journalists have taken the lead in this arena and most of us can attest that we often go to the comment section after scanning the gist of an article to see what others say about what we’ve just read … especially if it’s about our schools.

The Minnesota News Council, a long-respected “watch-dog” group of journalists and publishers, discussed comment sections at its forum last fall.

Just a few of the sound bites from that session included:

  • The Minnesota Star Tribune receives 15,000 comments to its online stories every month. Others agreed that the interactive approach is becoming one of the more popular features of their e-outlets.
  • One media reporter characterized comment sections as “nothing more than a cesspool of hate, personal attacks and other sentiments that aren’t worth the electrons they occupy.” I think we know where he stands.
  • They noted that 4 to 5% of all online users comment online and many commenters are active and repeat users.
  • Some editors worry that the commenters will start attacking their sources and the editors want to protect them from these attacks.
  • Estimates by a Star Tribune editor noted that only about 10% of the comments are outright offensive, 40% present no problem to screeners, but the other 50% fall into a “gray area.”
  • Some monitor comments before publishing them, others require commenters to give an e-mail and a real name, while others allow commenters to be anonymous. With large volumes, the verification process is virtually impossible.
  • An editor from the St. Cloud Times noted that there is an expectation that what you say online is anonymous; people will say things, both good and bad, that they may not feel comfortable saying if they had to sign their name on it. One former reporter who now is a college professor offered that anonymity in comments leads to “the lowering of civil discourse in society.”

Should you offer comment sections in your own newsletters or web sites?

First, you need to go into a planning discussion with your eyes wide open.

Consider these issues:

  • Why do you want to start using this feature? What is missing from your current feedback and listening devices? Will they be improved by adding a comment section? Do you currently have a survey program that will give you a more representative response from your community? Do you already meet regularly with key opinion leaders and seek their input on current and future issues?
  • Is this feature is a good fit for your community? Or are you planted in a volatile and political community with a wave of activists who have the potential to dominate and spread their negative agenda on school issues? If using this tool will only give more visibility to the “usual suspects” who have already registered their thoughts with the school district, it may not be worth using.
  • Is this feature a fit for your School Board? Or is your Board seen as overly focused on pleasing the “squeaky wheel element” in your community?
  • Will you require confirmation of commenters’ identity and post their names with the story?
  • Do you have time to monitor and confirm submissions if this new feature becomes popular in your community? (One NSPRA member recently criticized one of our Power Hour Sessions on social marketing because we did not warn people about the time these ventures really take. The critic noted that her office, “Does not have the staff to monitor, so we won’t go there; we don’t like to work on Sunday afternoons/and/or at stoplights to monitor social media.”)
  • Will you limit topics for comments to key school community issues? Some newspapers have limited their topics for comment because dealing with race and religion has created more problems and has polarized the community.

Years ago, the late Pat Jackson, a national PR guru, commented that instant polls were as close to historic “mob-rule lynchings” as you could get. And now we see that some of these new tools offer some of the elements of that era as well.

Another less-than-shining example is that a few years ago a school system sought assistance about what to cut in the school district’s budget. After holding a series of forums and online offerings, one of the repeated items people told officials to cut was the Superintendent’s expensive car allowance. But, in fact, the Superintendent DID NOT HAVE A CAR ALLOWANCE.

Now, it was good that this piece of misinformation surfaced so it could be corrected. But it also makes you wonder how many hundreds of others saw the car allowance accusation, and ran with it in their circle of friends and community activists. We all need to remember Mark Twain’s advice, “A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

But many positive examples of using newer web devices have bolstered communication for school districts. One shining example is a past NSPRA Golden Achievement Award-winning web blog entitled, Heard It Through the Grapevine, by the Shenendehowa Central Schools in Clifton Park, New York. Now a few years old, the tactic was started to provide people with a place to get answers to questions and to address rumors and wild claims that had no basis in fact. Not all questions are posted if they attack individuals, but the system is working well enough that the district receives some 250 questions a month.

So there is Always Something to consider when exploring new e-communication tools for your schools. Just do your homework. See how these tools will benefit your community and your schools. Balance the benefit with the capacity you have to execute this type of ongoing feedback solution.

NSPRA would love to hear your thoughts about these features. Just comment below.

Rich Bagin, APR, NSPRA executive director