Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Benefit of School Public Relations

The Brownwood ISD School Board could use a lesson in the need for school public relations. In a recent news article about a decision on whether or not the BISD should hire a new Public Relations Coordinator, the board seemed to have a a hard time quantifying the position's value.
“I know that Emily [the former BISD PR person that left earlier in the year] did a fantastic job, it is evident in ways that can’t be quantified, but when we start to think of the future all I am thinking about is cost,” said school board trustee Michael Cloy. [emphasis added]
 Another board member seemed to grasp the benefits of school public relations.
“I do believe that there is a residual that comes from this particular position that, though hard to quantify, I think it is easy to see by our attendance, by our enrollment, by the communications that our community gets to experience at a different level,” said school board trustee Eric Evans. [emphasis added]
Thanks to the Texas Legislature once again creating havoc with public education funding, costs and budgets receive the bulk of attention instead of the quality of instruction and student academic success.

In my opinion, school districts that cut school PR programs and staff or those that continue to leave out funding to create a position dedicated to communications, lose a fundamental part of effective district operations.

School districts have staff for business, finance, facilities, curriculum, counseling, nutrition, transportation, etc. Each of the these people or teams bring an area of expertise that is hard to substitute or make up on the fly. But that is exactly what districts do when they disregard or cut communications. And yet, when surveys are done, superintendents are hired, and groups discuss the ways in which a school district can be better, typically, the number one response is, you guessed it, communication.

Communication is crucial to school district operations. The expertise that professional communicators bring is one that is hard to replicate with even the brightest of individuals. I'd bet that most district administrators believe that they are adequate to good communicators. What school PR people should be able to bring is the ability to see all of the moving parts within and outside the district and how decisions will be perceived. School communications pros must be able to have that situational awareness to grasp the challenges that are currently facing the district while navigating leadership through situations. Being able to simultaneously adapt to traps and ultimately reaching the district's patrons are what separates the school PR pros that are there to be strategic components versus those that are just press release writers.

I like that those BISD board members from the article seemed to inherently know that communications is beneficial. I just wish they knew why. Perhaps school PR people need to do a better job of explaining that.
Photo credit: saxcubano via Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, September 8, 2011

PR is lost without Ethics

September is Ethics awareness Month for PRSA. I appreciate that the national organization (of which I am a proud member) highlights this important aspect of the public relations profession. According to the PRSA website, Ethics Awareness Month seeks to "inform and educate the public relations profession about ongoing issues and concerns regarding PR ethics."

We talk a lot about reputation management for our clients and organizations. But what about for ourselves? What's your reputation worth?

PR pros must be proactive in maintaining our own credibility. Thankfully, I have never been faced with a situation where I was asked to intentionally mislead, lie or cover-up something on behalf of an organization. And I hope I never will.

But I think it's bigger than an individual decision. Every time an apparent ethics breach occurs and a PR pro is caught in the middle, or worse, the cause, our profession veers off course. Collectively, we lose and the profession is lost without a foundation of ethics.

Take a close look at the fist line of the PRSA Member Code of Ethics pledge:
I pledge:
To conduct myself professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness, and responsibility to the public...
PR ethics is one of those areas that sadly, sometimes gets forgotten from within, mocked from outsiders, and keeps us from taking steps forward.

I've heard for years about how we need a PR campaign for the PR profession. Well it starts with a focus on ethics to (re)build our profession's credibility.

I love the call to action over on Neville Hobson's blog on this topic:
Why don’t we all make September our own ethics awareness month by asking ourselves: What am I going to do?
Here’s a start: before the end of this month, read your respective professional association’s code of conduct:
(If you’re not a member of any of these bodies, read the codes anyway.)
Fantastic idea.
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