Friday, June 8, 2012

Valuing School PR and Summer Timing

Earlier this week the Dallas ISD received some summertime media attention with their incoming superintendent setting the salaries for four chiefs in his cabinet including $185K for a Chief of communications.

I have no interest in debating whether or not this individual should or should not be paid this as a base salary for a school PR job mainly because I don't know the ins and outs of the DISD budget. Nor am I interested in the arguing the newsworthiness of the Dallas Morning News article that raised eyebrows because that education reporter was simply following the template of others: share salary of public official + compare it/share it = shock and disbelief  x  readers. Textbook.

No, I'm focused on two intriguing aspects of this situation from a school PR perspective:

(1.) An increase in the value of school communication professionals by superintendents and (2.) the timing of summer information releases.

Top-level value of school public relations
The article mentions that the new superintendent, Mike Miles, is bringing the district's communication position into the executive fold. 
DISD’s top communications position has not been a chief-level job, but Miles said the change was needed because there will be an increased focus on communication.
Honestly, I was surprised to read that communications was not previously an executive or cabinet-level position in Dallas ISD. By including his communications person among his chiefs, the new superintendent has shown how much he values strategic communications for his district administration. I sincerely hope DISD has found someone to help bring things along (or turn things around depending on where you sit) for the school communities. School PR should take note of how expectations for internal and external communication can be of value and service to a school district.
“We’re going to do communications differently,” Miles said. “Most people in the community will agree that our communications have to be better.”
I do, however, take exception to part of the Dallas Observer's post on the salary from their "Edumication News" section. (Yikes!) and his premise that anyone can do communications because it's a sales job. Joe Tone writes,
There are plenty of areas of public education that require a really specific set of skills. But communications isn't one of them. It's sales, basically, only for almost every customer you have, yours is the only product they've ever heard of.
Wrongo. What Joe Tone doesn't realize (or care to understand) is that strategic communications and school public relations does require a specific skill set just like other administrative functions. But that's ok, he's in the media. He can write what he wants. I may need to save that list for a future post.
Summer Timing
The other tactical aspect of this news story should be of interest to school PR pros as well. While the administration of school districts continue all year long, some of the stories for education reporters dwindles in the summer. While this salary brouhaha will cause a bit of bruising in the short-term for DISD, it won't have lasting effects since people move on to other things in their heads pretty quickly. Especially in the summer. If there was going to be a time for an OMG-look-at-what-they-are-paying article to come out, the summer is really the best time for it. Controversial news has a better chance of being managed internally and externally when released over the summer. I recommend information-gathering and using online statements as well as direct communication with the community in addition to working with the media. It's true during the school year and during the summer.

Photo credit: grbenching via Flickr Creative Commons