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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