Saturday, July 20, 2013

In defense of (and clarifying) #schoolPR

Some people really don't get school public relations (or even PR in general). Repeat after me, public relations is greater than media relations. It's even worse when someone has worked in the field and still doesn't get it.
Thanks to Delaina Biernstein for sharing an article that perpetuates a silly mischaracterization and miscalculation of what is/is not school PR. In the Yahoo! Contributor Network article, "New York Taxpayers Foot the Bill for School Public Relations Services," the writer suggests:
School public relations specialists are essentially hired to spread the word about the good things being done by students, with the hope that getting the information out into the media will help districts get their budgets passed.
These specialists do photography at student recognition nights at school board meetings, write press releases on the latest district news, and assist with school publications. 
They prepare newsletters, flyers, posters, brochures, and articles for district websites. Additionally, school public relations specialists attend major district functions, such as board of education meetings, homecoming, and graduations, to compile stories and photos for dissemination to local media outlets. [emphasis added]

Tactics, tactics, tactics

That brief description above is just a bunch of boring tactics. School PR is more than what this writer purports. I believe school PR pros must approach the position from a strategic communication vision

The Texas Association of School Boards HR Services Division defines the Communications Officer [school PR] function as one that: 
“Manages and directs the dissemination of public information regarding the district. Coordinates the exchange of information with media outlets and the general public. Develops public relations programs and materials to promote a favorable image of the district and its activities.” [2012 Position Detail Report for Communication Officers]
Did you catch that? Coordinates the exchange of information with media outlets and the general public.
To be fair, I'll cut that writer some slack since he claims to have three years of experience working in school public relations. My guess is he likely served in a tactics-driven specialist job and was never given the great professional opportunity to write PR plans using the RPIE process. What he described is the implementation of some tactics that, whether he knows it or not, are from a strategic vision for a district. 

It's also worth noting that in New York, as in other states, a school district's operating budget must be approved annually by vote. This no doubt adds an interesting (challenging) dimension for school communicators, but a strategic process is still in play.

Education leaders must keep school PR in and around their vision and strategy discussions if they hope to have any success in program or campaign implementations. The media may well be a key audience, but it's certainly not the only audience to consider.