Thursday, September 25, 2014

From School PR to Plan 'B'

B

I've left school PR.
I can now call myself a former education communication professional. It was time for a change. I found myself at a crossroads of sorts in my career. It felt like I either needed take a deeper dive into PR and public education or seriously explore other opportunities.

I chose the latter.

To be clear, I've loved my 13 years (including the last eight in a public school district) in school PR. I've worked with a truly remarkable team and I will miss working alongside those dedicated professionals with a heart for education and communication innovation, and a relentless pursuit for what's next.

It was time to see what's next for me.

After a while in school PR one starts to get the hang of things. The school years seem to come and go. While each year is distinctive, you pretty much much know how it'll end up. The trip may be a little chaotic, but you already know the general destination. It's good, some years, really good, but it's also a little predictable.

So what changed?

Me. I think I changed. I look back over the last several months and certain things strike me as being signs of things to come. I didn't notice them at the time, but looking back I believe things shifted. It's telling to me that it's been quite some time since I've sat down to write a post. It's hard to say if that's because I got lazy, busy, bored, or a combination of the three.

On to plan 'B'

I'm heading to Balcom Agency next week (get it, plan 'B'). It was time to stop letting my comfort zone be a barrier for me from fully exploring my career growth. I don't yet know how it will go, but I've received some excellent feedback and support on what others see in me and what I have to offer. Having never worked in an agency setting before, I'm anxious to see how the process works with clients. But I'm loking forward to the new challenge. In fact, I think it'll B great.

It's too soon to determine what, if anything, will change about this blog other than perhaps less of a focus on PR in an education setting. If possible, I hope to come back from time to time to write as much for my sanity as it is for others' professional learning.

Thanks for reading and I hope you stick around for what's next.
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Photo credit: dr via Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dig deeper when you know the story is close #schoolPR #mediarelations

Where did May go?! Another school year is coming to a close. I've been in school PR for 13 years now (lucky 13!) and as does most Mays in education, the month just goes. Quickly. We had some challenges and some great bright spots. One such bright spot came in the middle of the month and brought with it an important media relations lesson: If you know a story worth telling is buried in obscure information, dig deeper and find your pitch.

The Inquiry

The email was simple. I received a quick message from one of our American Sign Language (ASL) teachers that read as follows:
"Our ASL classes are having Deaf visitors on campus to speak with the students. I was wanting to contact the new stations and see if they would be interested in doing a story about our involvement with the Deaf community. I understand I’m to run this by you first. Is there anything specific for me to do on my end? I was planning to send out an email today."
First off, I was happy the teacher contacted me before attempting to email media outlets. That tells me the media relations procedures are being followed. That aside, this sounded like the beginning of human interest story. Maybe.

Wanted: Context and Details

There wasn't yet enough to make it newsworthy. The teacher had not shared the basics like when, where, and why to go along with a brief who and what. Without relevant details, a story stalls. The bit of info that stood out to me was the teacher's use of the phrase "speak with the students" along with sign language students. I completely admitted my ignorance to the teacher about ASL and the deaf community. So the teacher and I spent a few back-and-forth emails to get to the all important why to go along with the what. We also established the best times for photos/video as well as possible student and staff interviews. By digging deeper, our pitch was definitely starting to take shape.

The Pitch

After working with the teacher, we came up with what turned out to be a pretty solid media pitch:
Mansfield ISD American Sign Language students listen with their eyes and speak with their handsDeaf community visitors join ASL students in showcase of sign language learning and experiences Friday, May 23 
WHAT: Several members of the deaf community will visit the Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy in order to interact with American Sign Language students of various levels. This will give new and seasoned signers an opportunity to use their signing skills in a deaf-friendly environment. The students will showcase art work that contains aspects familiar to the deaf experience as well as give literary performances. 
WHY: The Mansfield ISD ASL program provides sign language learning opportunities for over 160 students. Members of the deaf community were invited to participate and share in a learning opportunity for students. 
VISUALS: All ASL teachers and students will be available for media interviews along with the visitors at any time during or between classes.
(We also included the visitors names and titles, location of the campus, and best time for interviews.)

The Coverage

Thankfully, the event took place on a Friday and thus helped since this was going to be a softer news pitch. Here's the story: Mansfield Students Learn What It's Like to be Deaf

Photo credit: holy via Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Working Together

Our PRSA chapter recently held a joint program with our friends at AAF Fort Worth and Social Media Club Fort Worth to host author/speaker Jackie Huba for a fun evening at Four Day Weekend Theater. This night on the town took well over four months to coordinate, as the organizations' presidents met and e-mailed each other to work out details.

The groups share a few members, and we all recognized an opportunity to join forces on the March 27 event to meet our common desire to provide quality programming. We had a great time, too, as you can see by the photos on our Facebook page.

One day before, March 26, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and WFAA-TV announced their own partnership. A content sharing partnership

"The news executives said their companies will share a wide range of content, including breaking news, sports, business, traffic, weather, dining and entertainment from all over North Texas. They also expect their staffs to work together occasionally on joint projects."

Both of these partnerships, our three organizations and the two local news outlets, caught some people by surprise. They took planning. They took not being afraid to fail. Hopefully when we look back, they will have provided positive outcomes. But if it was a fail, let us fail forward with intelligence gained.

My point is, I believe we are stronger together than we are separate. Unlikely mass communication compatriots can (should?) occasionally work together for the greater good. It might be one of the things that keeps us all afloat.
Corey Lark (SMCFW president), Jackie Huba, Rene Murphy (AAF FW president), and me.
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A version of this post appeared as my President's Column in the eChaser newsletter.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

RPIE for the #schoolPR Pro: Communication Plan Checklist #tspra14

School public relations programs have a much greater chance of success with proactive, strategic planning that incudes measurabIe objectives set forth by research and evaluated. The following is the RPIE for the School PR Pro checklist I created to share with other school public relations pros to guide them through the 4-step process -- Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation.  


This checklist was first prepared and shared at the 2014 Texas School Public Relations Association conference during the roundtables session.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stuck between a shock and a tarred place

I first considered writing another column about the solid program we have for members and guests at the next luncheon. But that seemed like fluff when put up against a local, sensitive topic, the discussion of which substantially advances the PR profession and professional.

Sometimes working in PR and strategic communications sucks. That's where I believe the leadership and communications teams at JPS Health Network found themselves over the last few months. The situation of a patient and family leading up to a judge's ruling and follow-through on the order is unbelievably sad. To be clear, I have no interest mulling in print the thorny sociopolitical issues of this episode because it is so emotionally charged. Instead I would point to the well-presented and effective updates JPS released to the media.

JPS was stuck between a shock and a tarred place. No outcome was pleasant. Whether you're an in-house PR pro or hired consultant, in health care or nonprofit, a corporate communicator in education or in any part of the vast PR realm, at times things will go wrong. And the pain, the hurt, the confusion can last months.

Communication professionals provide strategic value to an organization in situations like these by being the voice of reason, conscience or even dissent to help leadership through the thicket. At such moments I appreciate the colleagues I know through PRSA who can help me strengthen an idea, clarify some wording, or just be a friendly ear. It’s great to know I’m not alone.

I tip my hat to the JPS Health Network communications and community affairs team. 

You do good work.
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Photo credit: brookenovak via Flickr Creative Commons
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The content for this post first appeared in the February eChaser newsletter as the my submission for the monthly President's Column. The eChaser is a joint digital newsletter for the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA, SPJ of Ft. Worth, and IABC Ft. Worth.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Children, it's ok to be in PR. Just be ethical.


When things go wrong in politics, things tend to go right for the media. Political corruption lead stories and exposés (local and national) can be the stuff on which journalism careers are made.

Because of this duality, it's no surprise that a well-respected (and well-followed) journalism academic and commentator, Jeff Jarvis, would chime in on the recent #bridgegate scandel in New Jersey. Quick recap: NJ Gov. Chris Christie fired a deputy chief of staff as part of some fallout over what apparently was a politically motivated George Washington Bridge toll booth and lane closure issue.

On Friday evening, Jarvis was tweeting screen captures from released government staff emails involving early reporting and a Wall Street Journal inquiry into Fort Lee toll booth topic that lead to "stonewalling." Most of his commentary was about what one would expect from a journalism associate professor.

However, one of his tweets raised the hairs on the back of my neck when he wrote: "Children, this is why you don't want to be a flack for a living."
Well thanks, Jeff. </sarcasm>

Let's just go ahead and paint the PR profession with the same damaging brushstroke because some political staffers (perhaps with questionable ethics) wrote some internal emails trying to figure out their next steps. Of course they should know by now that electronic communication within government agencies falls under FOIA rules and tend to eventually see the light of day. Duh.

What bugged me is that Jarvis picked this episode to flippantly dismiss thoughts by students of going into public relations, strategic communications or really any career in which one might be referred to as a "flack" for an organization. To be clear, I do not believe for a second that his remark will be the deciding factor for a student exploring the field of mass communications to scoff at PR. To me, it's just sad (infuriating?) reminder that our profession gets a bum rap.

It's up to us as PR professionals to practice strategic communications in an ethical manner. We should be among the chorus of calls for transparency, honesty, and open communication. I'll leave you with the charge given to us from the PRSA Code of Ethics. The Code advises PR professionals to:
  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
  • Foster informed decision making through open communication.
  • Protect confidential and private information.
  • Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.
Perhaps even academics like Jeff Jarvis can appreciate their future hacks working with ethical flacks. (tongue-firmly-in-cheek!) Or at the very least, I hope he understands that ethical PR pros actually do exist.

Photo credit: tracylee via Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, October 18, 2013

Agenda-setting theory: helped or hindered by social media?

I frequently read the editorials and columns in the opinion section of my hometown newspaper. I like their digital subscription option these days since the print version mostly ended up in the recycling bin unless I needed to wrap something breakable. But that's a different story. I like catching up on what those veteran newspaper journalists have to say in and about this city.

Recently, Jim Witt, executive editor, included an intriguing bit of insight into working in the media in a piece about a former colleague who left the newspaper business. 
“When you work at a newspaper, you get to be around a lot of smart people every day. You get to be “in the know” about almost everything going on, and — until Facebook and Twitter — you decide what the public knows. You can do things that help the community by pointing out problems and offering solutions.”
Did you catch it? He's alluding to a disruption to agenda-setting theory by a couple of social media tools. Agenda-setting theory describes the "ability [of the news media] to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda."1 
“In other words, the media shape top-of-mind presence regarding issues. The typical news consumer focuses on a handful of topics daily, and these topics are presented to him or her, in one form or another, by the media. With the next news cycle, a topic from the day before may disappear, and so does its importance among news consumers.” 2  
Now, PR pros understand that we play an important function in this multi-directional process since journalists cannot possibly cover all of the possible angles, stories, or topics. It's our role to augment and advance the issues through media relations that impact the communities and organizations we represent. 

But what about Facebook and Twitter? The behemoths of the social web. As the editor mentions, journalists used to have the market cornered on what the public knows. As masters of mass communication, media outlets laid out the news of the day. And then new media tools changed things. Over time, the eyeball economy has shifted to what some might describe as a democratized system of attention.  

A local reporter told me recently their assignment editor had been coming down on all of the reporters about being more entrepreneurial with the development of stories. Translation: dig deeper into those Facebook messages and Twitter leads. Sources are just waiting to help tell a story. (This reporter was not thrilled at this concept but understood the expectation.)

I believe it's important for PR people to understand that this shift has taken place. We need to use this to frame our thinking for issues management since their are tools to help monitor some of these very same sources. We still need to follow the conversation, streamline access to the facts, truth and subject-matter experts as needed, so we ultimately position our organizations for success.

The agenda-setting theory is still spinning today, it just has a few (million) more spokes in the wheel.

1 McCombs, M; Reynolds, A (2002). "News influence on our pictures of the world". Media effects: Advances in theory and research.
2 Study Guide for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations (Communication Models and Theories)

Photo credit: rustman via Flickr Creative Commons