Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School PR response to the H1N1 Crisis

Earlier this month, the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of PRSA kicked off 2010 with a program that featured the Fort Worth ISD's Communications Department and their presentation H1N1: Six Days in May and Beyond.

The presentation was in essence the school district's communications/PR response to the H1N1/Swine Flu outbreak that hit our area and the controversy they had to tackle. Below is the video the team presented:

What struck me about that District's response was that it had to be an integrated effort by all areas in order to be successful. This was no time for silos and worrying about stepping on toes. The administration, operations, campuses, technology, transportation, etc. in addition to the communications efforts all had to coordinate and cooperate. From a PR stand-point, they wanted to position the District as doing the right thing for kids. FWISD Senior Communications Officer, Barbara Griffith, pointed out that the actions and decisions were made in a way to show that the district was "going to protect our children."

Communications Carry-out:
  • Plan, plan, plan - "We thought we had a crisis can never plan enough," said Griffith.
  • Trust your communication channels - Think through response mechanism and all of its forms, i.e. dedicated web presence for issue, phone tree, phone hot-line for Q&A, in-house video options, press conferences and media relations, social media tools, etc. 
  • Be flexible - They were shooting at a moving target during the crisis because of internal/external influences such as national, state, and local health agencies mandates. During their meetings, no idea was a bad idea.
  • Pay attention to media needs - Think of things from the media's perspective and plan (or adapt) accordingly.
  • A united front - This was a huge team effort and exemplified the "Ft. Worth way."
From my perspective as school PR professional, I believe the overall operationally integrated effort and approach for continued learning, and a swift return to normal through the H1N1 crisis by the Ft. Worth ISD last year was highly commendable and impressive. Were their decisions popular? Not for everyone inside and outside the organization. But then, that's the line schools districts and leaders have to walk in times of fear in order to meet the needs, trust and expectations of our communities.

Note: This post was delayed in anticipation of the video presentation being uploaded to the FWISD YouTube channel. Special thanks to Barbara Griffith, Clint Bond, and Scott Juvette and their communications/PR team.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    PR pros thrive and learn @FortWorthPRSA

    I am a member of and hold a board position with the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA. At the January Board meeting, we were given the local results from the PRSA's all-chapters survey that was launched in March of last year.

    According to William Murray, the President and COO of PRSA, the purpose of the survey was "to identify, in a methodical, statistically sound way, which Chapters represent best practices in the area of service delivery, and who can serve as models for other Chapters to learn from and emulate."

    The Results
    Here are some of the interesting and in some cases, surprising, data points from the Ft. Worth chapter report:

    Chapter Satisfaction was listed at 82% compared to a 53% all chapter average and 58% peer chapter by size.

    Quotes from the open-ended questions included Positives
    • “Good for networking.”
    • “Necessary.”
    • “Can't think of anything that it is not doing. Very busy bunch.”
    ...and Negatives
    • “We need more of the higher level training experiences like they provide at PRSA New York.”
    • “Sometimes not substantive.”
    • “The same basic formula for monthly meetings gets boring after awhile.”
     The respondents wanted to see our chapter Do More
    • Programs delivered by thought-leaders
    • Ethics programs
    • Newsletter
    ...Do Less
    • Award programs
    • Mentoring programs (This was actually surprising since mentoring should be a fundamental aspect in my opinion.)
    • e-Group or listserv
    ...and Maintain

    Chapter events were rated very well including highest remarks in the categories of Professional, Beneficial, Relevant, a Learning Experience, and Welcoming. (I attribute the last one as being in part because we are in Ft. Worth.)

    There are some great take-aways for the chapter leadership and members to assess moving forward. I really appreciate PRSA National taking this on for the chapters as a way to help us grow as an organization and on our local levels. As a PR professional, I think it is a great investment of my time to be a member of PRSA and look forward to another enlightening and challenging year.

    If you have attended any of the Ft. Worth PRSA chapter events/meetings (or other PRSA chapter meetings) I would appreciate any feedback on your experiences. As always, the comments are yours.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Mining PR Gold: 5 Tips for Pitching Local TV News

    I subscribe to a rather larger number of RSS feeds and e-mail newsletters from within the communications and PR industry. There are some excellent resources out there for professionals who are serious about learning and getting better at their craft. I am going to start sharing more of these great ideas, posts, videos, etc. here on my blog as a way to spread the wealth of knowledge readily available.

    The PR gold I came across this morning was waiting for me in my inbox.'s PR Daily e-news featured a link to a video by Seth Odell on tips for pitching your local TV news stations. Odell is a former broadcast news assignment editor and currently working in higher ed media relations.

    What do you think? Do you have anything to add to these tips? The comments are yours.
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    Friday, January 8, 2010

    How thick is your PR skin?

    European HornetImage by ricardo.martins via Flickr
    Inclement winter weather happens. That's pretty much a given. What isn't always a given is what school districts will do when winter weather threatens to sting them.

    The short-version: Our area experienced record low temperatures resulting in slight accumulation of ice in areas around the district. We opened schools at regular time. Many parents and students took longer times to get to school. Parents (and some students) expressed displeasure in the decision to remain open. They chose to share their displeasure via angry phone calls, on our Facebook fan page and through comments on our blog.

    Winter Weather Catch-22
    There are many things that go into the decision to open, close or delay a school district day because of weather concerns. I'm not going to go into any details on those types of procedures and considerations since they will vary by district.  The bottom-line is these are no-win situations because no matter what you choose to do, you run the risk of upsetting your community.

    What should a school PR person do when a significant number of your community disagrees with your decision and is willing to share their displeasure?
    Here is just a sampling of some of the posts and comments we received.
    We had some thoughtful posts: There are patches of ice and accidents in Mansfield. Schools should have at least been delayed. Be careful!
    Harsh: Its nice to know the district cares so much about state funds and so little about the safety of children that they are keeping schools open!

    Angry: this is unacceptable!
    i think that my child should not have to go to school when weather coditions are this bad!!!
    its hazardous!!!!!!!
    i hate this isd!!!!!!!!!

    Funny: This is not fair my friends in other citys get the day off but I do not!!! :(
    (I am guessing this was from a student or perhaps a staff member.)

    Argumentative: I was amazed to see that our garbage pickup was delayed 2 hours, but the start of school was not.

    The silver-lined Hornets Nest
    It seemed we had stirred the hornets nest with this one. But here's the kicker, since we had provided places for this feedback through our social media channels, we were able to hear them. We were able to appropriately respond when needed. Since we had people's attention, we were able to deliver messages on a couple of other topics. It was enough to be able to listen in on the buzz of issues and concerns that parents were openly sharing. We were even challenged to think and address some issues that had been basically invisible to us and respond quicker.

    It wasn't always comfortable to read, and sometimes bordered on blood-pressure raising. But, the significance of letting those in the community engaged with the district on the social web vent on our communication channels is, I believe, a positive step.

    We even had a few posts that seemed to be fed up with those railing against the district and share their thoughts too:
    ...As adults, our children will be expected to arrive at work on days such as today, even if they arrive late. Accidents do happen during bad weather but blaming the schools for that is unfair. I wonder how many people complaining about the trek to school also made trips to Walmart today...
    Communication Carry-out: You can choose to let those angry words sting you or you can choose to grow a thicker skin. I recommend the latter in cases like these for school PR people so you can hear what's being said. What do you think?
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