Thursday, December 31, 2009

Peaks and valleys lead to what's next (or 2009 can suck it)

Peaks and valleysImage by ccferg via Flickr
One line has been stated, repeated, tweeted, retweeted and for some, even provides some relief: "2009 can suck it."

I don't consider myself to be mean-spirited or anything like that. My family just had a very difficult year. I won't bore you with the details, all I will say is peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.

No complaining about the past. We should always learn from the past upon going through life's (and work's) peaks and valleys and decide to move forward.

That's why I like some of the social media, communications and public relations predictions and dream posts for 2010. I think taking time to reflect on where we've been in the communications industry and look forward to organizational, collective and individual potential in the coming year is inspired.

So what's next? 
I will leave the predictions for others who have down such a good job of taking their best shots at 2010. As for me, I have some plans:
  • APR - it's time to re-focus on getting accredited in public relations
  • PRactice, PRactice, PRactice - I love soaking in great knowledge, lessons, and ideas from books, blogs, and presentations. In 2010 I want to put even more key points into play at work and in my professional life. (Most recent book is a must-read: The New Rules of Marketing and PR.)
  • (Re)Learn conversational Spanish - I will be on a short-term mission trip to Spain in March for my church and I really need to get my act together on brushing up on the language. This is totally a personal thing and has been on my short-term goals list for quite some time.
  • Seek Speaking Opportunities - I have really enjoyed the opportunities I've had to speak to professional organizations and other groups. I plan on continuing the trend and offering up such services. (I think I'm officially over my fear of public speaking.)
  • Clean up Social Media Garbage - It's time to go back and shut down accounts for those random social media tools left unattended. You know the ones I'm talking about. Tools that popped up and folks flocked to try them out but then left them swaying in the constant breeze of the Internet.
I know there will be more for me to add to the list next year. For now, this will be a place for me to start. What about you? What's next for you in 2010? The comments are yours.

Oh and before I forget, Cheers and Merry New Year from Next Communications.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Better business of school district public relations

incompleteImage by JaBB via Flickr
I feel very fortunate to work in PR for education. As my PR counterparts in other industries, organizations, and businesses are winding down their calendar year, we are at the half-way point of our 2009-2010 school year. Yes, the holidays and regular breaks are quite nice and on many levels the differences in being in school PR versus other forms of PR are quite noticeable. However, I think more and more school PR people are missing a great opportunity in our respective communities when we don't treat our school districts like businesses.

Business concepts for school PR
When it comes down to it, public school districts are about two of the most precious commodities in our communities: children and tax money (and not necessarily in that order depending on the day and the media-inquiry).

I don't know too many school PR people who live and breath tax money much less local, state, and national funding or who could present on the various facets of school finance without some studying, preparation and help from the internal finance experts in our districts. And that's ok.

The business I'm talking about is in terms of thinking about the various functions of your school districts and how using business-world concepts can make our districts better.

School districts and their customers
School PR people should be advocates for customer service in our districts. 
But wait, school districts don't have customers!

You better believe we have customers. Our customers (or buyers) are our parents, students, community members, and even other staff members. What are we selling? School districts sell trust. We are selling an idea. Thankfully, educating kids is a good idea.

Unfortunately we sometimes go about selling it the wrong way or don't do enough to let our buyers know what's out there.

An incomplete thought
This isn't my regular style of blog post since I am not really offering up any ideas at this point.

However, I am very interested in exploring the business of school public relations. I want to look at what makes a district's communication/PR department's job easier, better, manageable, and useful within a district's community. I want to look at various buyer personas within school districts to help PR people craft targeted messages and use specific communication channels to fill needs.

I'd like to get your feedback as well. What am I missing? What other ways do PR people need to view school districts in business terms? As always, the comments are yours.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

By Jove, I think they get this transparency thing

yes.Image by (michelle) via Flickr
Yesterday I sat in on a District-wide Educational Improvement Council (DEIC) meeting made up of a few administrators, teachers, and members of the community. The group's charge is to develop the annual District Improvement Plan, put forward a school calendar or calendar options for review, and provide other additional recommendations.

During the meeting while the group discussed calendar options one of the comments caught my attention:
"...well we are coming across to the community as being so much more transparent and open with so many things in the district now,  so if we don't provide this it might come across in a bad way."

That one line made my day. It confirms, in a small way, that our staff is understanding and believing in what we in the Communications Department strive toward - honest and effective communication with our district community.

I know it's a small victory, but it was one worth remembering and sharing.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

School PR and the grad student's questions

Show and TellImage by hylah via Flickr
I was recently asked by a graduate student from a local university if I would be willing to take part in an e-mail interview for a class project in which answers were needed from an administrator in public relations at a school district. I was glad I agreed to help because it forced me to take a step back and look at our communication program in the school district. Plus, it was a fun bit of show and tell:

What is the importance and role of public relations in your district setting?
PR in our district is a function of the Department of Media and Communications Development. The importance depends on the PR strategies and tactics needed for a variety of situations. In general terms, our role is to determine and use the communication channel(s) that help the District forge mutually beneficial relationships with individuals and organizations vital to the District's growth and development.

What techniques and strategies do you have in place for implementing positive public relations?
We have positioned ourselves as being crucial to the communications counseling during decision-making processes. Our department maintains a multitude of strategic initiatives thanks to positive levels of trust and credibility from within the organization. The relationships we maintain with our stakeholders help us to position our District with our community.

Briefly describe the public nature of your school district and expectations that have been put into place for you as an administrator.
Since we are a public entity, our charge includes providing access to information and ensuring an appropriate amount of transparency on behalf of our community. As part of our mission, the Communications Department "fosters an environment of open and honest communication aimed at building trust and credibility with the District's key internal and external stakeholders."

What various roles do administrative positions carry as it relates to public relations?
Administrators play a crucial PR role for school districts. In many cases, it is preferable to have the  appropriate administrator (i.e. Superintendent, Human Resources, or Curriculum and Instruction administrator, etc.) speak on topics relevant to their areas of expertise instead of me as a spokesperson.

What are your ideas of how to successfully work with the internal and external publics?
Be honest. Think about how your audience wants to receive the information and messages. Determine which communication channels are going to effectively reach your publics. Listen to what your stakeholders have to say about your actions.

What do you have in place to determine local and public opinion about school issues, climate, etc?
We utilize a variety of "listening" techniques and tools such as word-of-mouth, internal network, Google alerts and RSS feeds. We are in the process of developing/using further online tools as part of our reputation management initiatives. In addition to the technology tactics, we have several top administrators in the community in service organizations, plus we have a strong network of PTA organizations and booster clubs. The grapevine is a great source of informational nourishment if you know when fruit is ready to be picked.

How do you inform teachers about email usage and proper Internet usage?
Currently, we rely on staff trainings and new-employee orientations to explain these issues as well as providing information in staff handbooks. Unfortunately, this is not always the best way to reach the staff especially when so many other competing messages get in the way. When it seems like we are having issues arise, we put together mini-campaigns internally to help spread the information and expectations.

How do you plan to maintain positive school/parent relationships?
It goes back to being the trusted resource for information and explanations. It is imperative that we are involved in difficult situationsso that we can look at it through a communications/PR lens. We have to be prepared to offer advice on reactions and determine optimal options for the District. Further, we can operate within the District's vision, which is to is "to provide a superior education to each student within our diverse community by encouraging mutual respect and enthusiasm for learning in a safe and friendly environment." This vision helps the PR team craft messages around clear educational and community themes.

For my school PR colleagues, how would you answer these questions for your school districts? Have you ever taken the time to assess your communication efforts and objectives? I'd love to see what you would add. As always, the comments are yours.
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Nonprofit Facebook Primer

Above is the presentation slides from yesterday's social media session on Facebook for the Fort Worth Funding Information Center. The group was kind enough to invite me back to give this follow-up session on Facebook after my first presentation last Spring on nonprofit social networking.

For attendees: What did you think of the information presented? Do you have any additional questions that did not get asked? What other topics would you have liked to receive?

For non-attendees: I certainly appreciate any thoughts from you as well.

The comments are yours.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Facebook making privacy controls easier

Mark ZuckerbergImage by jdlasica via Flickr
Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, sent an open letter to the social network's users announcing some good news both for the company and for users. He announced Facebook now has over 350 million users. To put that into perspective, the Facebook population is larger than those of all of the countries in the except China and India.

The other, and arguably more intriguing, bit of information from Zuckerberg was the announcement of updates to Facebook privacy settings:
"The plan we've come up with is to remove regional networks completely and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone.

We're adding something that many of you have asked for — the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload." (emphasis added)
Make good privacy choices
This is an important change because it will provide individuals a way to have better control and hopefully filter their postings for appropriateness. Perhaps this is Facebook's way of letting users help themselves and making good choices online. I especially liked how Zuckerberg leads users down the path of choosing privacy settings:
"...the best way for you to find the right settings is to read through all your options and customize them for yourself. I encourage you to do this and consider who you're sharing with online." (emphasis added)
If you're a Facebook user, will this change be helpful to you? Do you think people will take the time to update their privacy settings? The comments are yours.
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