Sunday, September 27, 2009

9 PR rules my daughter learned in kindergarten

This year marks a new chapter in my life as a parent of a school-age child. In the first couple of weeks of school, my daughter's kindergarten class collaborated to establish a set of rules for how to treat each other. When I saw these rules hanging up in her classroom, I was struck by how simple and honest these rules are as well as how they translated as rules for public relations professionals.

9 PR Rules
  1. Say please
  2. Say I'm sorry
  3. Be friendly
  4. Share
  5. Play fair
  6. Don't litter
  7. Never hurt others
  8. Say excuse me
  9. Listen to others
1. Say please - This rule speaks to a sense of decency and politeness. Some days we get so caught up in our work and we forget to be thoughtful with our co-workers, clients, and unfortunately, other members in our community. Forgetting this rule can cause tragic disconnections that are sometimes difficult to mend.

2. Say I'm sorry - If you screw up, own up to it. The sooner, the better. This is true for individuals as well as organizations when things go wrong. Your community will be more likely to forgive mistakes and missteps if you can express honest remorse when needed.

3. Be friendly - Public relations professionals had better like people. I don't mean the "I'm a people-person" platitudes that so easily get thrown around. I mean PR people need to have others' interests in mind when planning, preparing, and implementing in order to be the stewards of information and counsel our community expects us to be.

4. Share - I appreciate this rule for the facets it represents in the professional life of a PR person. Sharing is another word for communicating. Being effective communicators is in my opinion the basis for the work we do. The share rule can be the difference in being a part of a community and being apart from the community.

5. Play fair - The PRSA Code of Ethics includes fairness as part of the core values: "We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression."

6. Don't Litter - I'll be honest, I wasn't exactly sure at first how I was going to fit in this rule as a relevant rule for public relations. However, then I thought about what litter was: trash. So for PR people, this rule is simply to not leave your garbage lying around. Clean up after yourselves. If you make a mess of things, clean it up. Not every idea is a winner. That's ok. If your idea gets turned down, learn from it. That's how we grow.

7. Never hurt others - You might think that this is just an extension of being friendly and saying your sorry. In reality, this rule is different. Hurting others takes a certain level of intention. What this rule is saying is never proceed with plans that you know will do widespread harm.

8. Say excuse me - In addition to fairness, PR people should be held to a standard of advocacy: "We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate." Sometimes I think we need to add the word polite to this notion of public debate. Being civil is never out of style.

9. Listen to others - There is an interesting duality to this rule. A.) You don't know all there is to know about public relations. You need to continue to learn and hone your skills through discussion, research, and professional development. PR is an ever-evolving field and being able to adapt and change is what will make you stand out. B.) You don't know all there is to know about your organization or clients. Active listening within your work environment, on behalf of your organization and through monitoring will mean the difference between taking shots in the dark and making educated and informed communication decisions.

What do you think? What else would you add to this list?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Political Engine vs The School House

As many of my readers know, I work in the communications department of a public school district in north Texas. Last week's plans were derailed by the announcement of President Obama's Tuesday, September 8 live address to students. Like many, our district became a center for lively debate and spirited feedback by our community.

In no way am I here to disparage any of the parents or community members who called to, ahem, "discuss" the merits of showing or not showing the President's address to students. I'd rather focus on an interesting phenomenon in communication and why the headaches are worth it.

School PR and a Presidential Address
As the topic heated up for school districts, we reached out to other school PR teams in our area, across the state, and even a few friends across the country. It was important to find out what they were hearing, how they were handling the calls/e-mails, and if any decisions had been made on showing the broadcast. (Photo credit: darkmatter)

The common themes we heard from our brothers and sisters in school PR were ones of political leanings being argued against the educational decision-making process. Of course this is nothing new, we often have to balance the political winds that blow in a community with educational needs, mandates, and expectations. But this time, the contrast was so stark as to see that we had all been thrust into a no-win situation.

The difference was in the language that was used. While most school districts were trying to internally decide and discuss the instructional merits and curricular needs, we all were hearing arguments both for and against live (as well as taped) broadcasts of President Obama's address that hinged squarely on the shoulders of political dogma. (In our area, many of the calls began, I believed, during and after a local conservative talk-radio show.)

Bottom-line: We weren't going to win over the hearts and minds of our communities because, in this instance, we were speaking different languages and looking at the same thing through different lenses. And this brings me to the bigger positive of the ordeal.

Spotlight on Education
For the many extra hours, meetings, arguments, e-mails, phone calls with media friends and decisions ultimately made, I will still be thankful for one big thing. The nation was talking about education for a change.

In two days time, our neighbor asked, sports-talk radio shows discussed it, I read (and commented) on Facebook friends' wall postings as well as talked with random family members who don't usually engage in these types of talks. They were all talking about education and the issue of Obama's address along with the mainstream media:

There is little doubt in my mind that on Tuesday, September 8 at 12:00 pm EDT, many people will stop what they are doing at work, school, and home to tune-in to the live broadcast of Obama's address just for the curiosity of it. Many will want to confirm their fears or solidify there beliefs, but they all will hear the message or at least hear of it. The address will continue to get local and national media coverage. Parents and students will get asked to share their thoughts via interviews. Pundits will claim righteousness or indifference. The machine will roll and just maybe, a greater discussion will open up on addressing the common issues that plague education.

It is for this reason that I can be thankful for the havoc and short-term PR problems we'll face because they are outweighed by a larger (much-needed) discussion about education in this country. Further, I think we can all be a little calmer if in fact the Presidential address stays within the realm of wanting students to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and to not only stay in school but make the most of it.

Those are good lessons and a debate worth having.

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