Reputation Management Using strategic communication and community engagement to build support for your schools Presented by JIM DUNN
Topics we’ll cover • Understanding today’s educational climate • Your role as the communications leader • Take Home ideas • Community Engagement Strategies • Personal communication techniques & challenges • PR works in big and little districts
It’s A High Pressure System! • External pressure to dramatically and rapidly improve is pressurizing rather than energizing the system • It’s demoralizing, not motivating us • Conflicting state, federal and local demands keep us off balance • When facing adversity, we circle the wagons and shoot each other! • Economic crisis leads to cocoons, coalitions and conflicts When the pie gets smaller, the first to thing to go are the table manners
Education’s Perfect StormThe collision of these strong forces threatens to sink your boat THIS IS YOU!
Perception is everything • Your vantage point affects how you see things • How many see an old woman? • How many see a young woman? • Can you see both?
Perception is everything • Sometimes you have to look at things from a different perspective • The old woman’s head fills the frame; she’s looking down • The young woman has on a really large hat and is looking away
Perception is everything What part of the pie do you see first? The Slice or the Circle? Employees, parents, reporters, critics, advocates, citizen journalists and bloggers only see the slice. It’s up to us to get them to see the bigger picture. Give them the context not just the facts. This is a “teachable moment”! Remember: when the pie gets smaller or larger the first to go are the table manners!
People value local schools Schools today are judged against a rhetoric of failure. People used to say “How good is my neighborhood school.” Now it’s “How bad is it?” Surveys show people like local schools more than the district, state, or federal levels. A majority give A’s and B’s to their local schools. 79% of parents give an A or B to the school their oldest child attends; the highest rating in 17 years! GradeNation Local A & B 1751 A 114B 1637C 5132D 2311FAIL 75No Opinion 32 Source: September 2011 Kappan/Gallup Poll
Get people inside our apple! • From the outside you often can’t tell how good an apple is. You need to get inside before you can truly judge its quality. This holds true for schools! • The “moments of truth” when our customers come into contact with us is our chance to get them inside our apple.
Building a public image PR = PERFORMANCE (Doing a good job) + RECOGNITION (Getting credit for it)
Good School PR Is Not — • Crisis communication or damage control • It must be preventative and proactive • Geared to an impersonal, general public • We don’t have one! We must reach diverse stakeholders • An add-on to somebody’s job • Everyone is engaged in PR whether they know it or not • Something you only do once • More than a project, it is a systemic communicating culture • A publication or a website
Good School PR is: • Structured approach to getting messages out • Key messages in sound bites not megabytes • Not just programs & process, but results • Framing issues and putting them in context • Targeting messages to specific audiences • Communicating from the inside out • Growing your grassroots support through public engagement and relationship marketing
The loudest voice in the room • If you don’t want to hear a bad soloist, get a bigger choir! • Engage more people in the debate, step up outreach & communication to inoculate and immunize • Use letters to the editor and public comment at meetings to get third-party endorsement to counter weight critics • Create Key Communicator Network and District Advisory Committees
Be accountable on three fronts • Are my kids in a safe, secure learning environment? • Free from gangs, drugs and violence • Healthy physical environment and classrooms • Culture free from bullying, intolerance, isolation, indifference, racism, harassment, etc. • Are they getting a good education? • To higher standards • Does it meet my child’s unique needs • Is it competitive and comparable • Do you spend my tax dollars wisely? • Exercising your fiduciary responsibility • Putting resources toward results • Showing efficiency and effectiveness • Facilities and technology management Communicating to convince me that you’re achieving goals in these three areas is critical
Your Image is Your Brand “People don’t care about your grass seed, they care about their lawn!” Tell them what you do, how you do it and what effect it will have on them
Communication: The X Factor NSPRA’s Communication Accountability Project validated two essential “truths” in public education: Communication is the key to leadership Communication promotes student achievement
Who’s the #1 customer? • When Steve Jobs came back as Apple Computer CEO he had to re-convince Apple’s #1 customer • #1 customers are the people who make, sell and administer Apple products • If they aren’t sold, they can’t sell anybody else!
GENERAL PUBLIC OPINION LEADERS & GROUPS PARENTS & STAFF YOUR PLAN Communicate from Inside Out • Customers rely on school employees to shape opinions, validate messages, and give answers • So market your own folks first before you attempt to market strangers
School Credibility Index Who are the most credible people in public schools? (not including students & parents) • #1 Custodians, landscapers, maintenance • #2 Food service workers and bus drivers • #3 Secretaries What do they all three have in common? They are support staff and tend to live in the community • #4 Teachers and Principals What do they all four groups have in common? They are site based in close contact with customers Source: National School Public Relations Association, Pat Jackson
School Credibility Index Who has the highest credibility hurdle to overcome? • Second highest hurdle Superintendent • because he/she represents the “system” • Highest hurdle School Board Members • because they also represent “politics” Source: National School Public Relations Association, Pat Jackson
Demonstrate responsiveness • Maintain responsive two-way communication channels • Survey stakeholders periodically • Coordinate advisory networks • Create a clearinghouse, database for input received • Close the loop with a “bounce-back” system to let people know how input was used Practice Strategic Listening
Key Communicator Network • Can you identify all of the groups in your community that potentially impact your district? Can you name the key influentials, leaders and opinion makers that shape attitudes? • Once you do, create a database with their names, addresses, phones, e-mails, and connection to you! • Obtain third party endorsements. You’re known by the company you keep! • Their first impulse should be to connect you with what they do • Ride circuit twice a year through the animal clubs (Moose, Elks, Lions, Kiwanis, Rotarians, etc.) with a Speakers Bureau • Have leave behind information kits, Power Point or DVD shows, and response cards • Be a joiner yourself
It’s all in how you say it Understanding of what you’ve said comes from – Words you use How you say it The way you come across
Digital Communications • Auto dialers reach broad audiences fast • In emergencies • Routine issues • Diverse languages • Upgrade your voice mail system • Try navigating it yourself • E-Mail systems • E-newsletters, group lists, surveys
Key things to consider • You’re in a high profile job, so incidents happen • Some incidents are natural, but some are man-made • Some are unplanned emergencies, but others are preventable through effective communication and procedures • They are “teachable moments” for stakeholders and the public • They are the “moments of truth” for you and the district. How you handle them leaves a lasting impression. • Chance to be a shooting star or to shoot yourself in the foot • Crises make or break superintendents
Two Inseparable Aspects Crisis Management Crisis Communication • How you handle communication during the crisis is just as important as how you actually handle the crisis. • You can do a great job of managing the situation but if no one knows about it so what? • People will look to you as the chief communications officer to explain your district’s response • This is your opportunity to be indispensable!!
Your object is to control & contain The public is looking for three things: Leadership Are you in charge or is the situation out of control? Definition How big and severe is the problem? Frame the issue! Accountability What happened? How? Who’s at fault?
Be proactive; don’t delay! • The first 30-60 minutes are crucial to your reputation • It’s hard to un-ring the bell! • The story and situation are defined during this initial window • Most of what is reported turns out to be wrong! • Denial or delay are not options • Waiting to respond or to meet is the worst thing to do! • The public watches for to se if you care • Events move so fast in an emergency the best you can hope for is to stay even • You can only do that if you are prepared!
Some thoughts on media relations • Maintain a rolling press statement or news release • Update it hourly or as needed • Have talking points, FAQs, fact sheets as back-up • When to use a news conference? • When there are too many to deal with or you need mass, universal consistency and speed • Otherwise, make it personal and keep reporters in close • Practice “Message Discipline” • A designated spokesperson and enforce contact protocols • Watch for end runs by board members and other staff • Don’t try to respond to every inquiry • Most phone calls and e-mail will be from outside of your area • Be accessible to the news media 24/7 • If they can’t reach you they’ll go elsewhere • Local media have priority
Be Fast, Be First! • Your web page is your wire service • “If I can’t get facts from you, I’ll go somewhere else fast!” • Make web sites clear on where “latest” stuff is • Have a “Breaking News” page to track issues • “Setting The Record Straight” pages
The Modern Day Side Arm • Smart phones are the “weapon of choice” to contend with a hectic life • Seniors are the fastest growing users of cell phones because Boomers equip their parents • The phone is the one common denominator in a mixed media world to reach all stakeholders • Phones bridge the digital, generational and language divides
Where people get their news? Regularly watch, read or listen to … 19962008 Local TV news 65% 52% Network evening news 42% 29% Network morning news 23% 22% Cable TV news --- 39% Daily newspaper (includes online versions) 50% 34% Network TV magazines 36% 22% Time/Newsweek/US News 15% 12% National Public Radio 13% 16% Online news (> 3 days a week) 2% 37% Radio news 44% 35% Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 2008
Blogging • 70 million blogs exist on the Net • 60 times more blogs than in 2004 • Growing in popularity (10,000 blogs per day) • One million posts a day • Totally unregulated, unaccountable, unbalanced • Some blogs are interactive; others are unidirectional • 27% of U.S. on-line adults read blogs, 62% don’t know what they are, 8 million have posted to a blog • They always have the last word!
Proactive or Reactive? • Do you just define yourself well and let the Internet chatter happen? • It is very time consuming to “engage” the new media • These are loud voices with marginal impact unless the traditional media picks them up to amplify their voice • Foray out to set the record straight in key teachable moments. You can’t let lies or errors stand! • Correct them on your turf, not theirs!
Develop Key Messages Big school or little discipline! • Tie messages to your strategic plans • “Why should I put my kids in your schools?” • Back up what you say with evidence and examples • Define what people should know and think about your schools • Avoid educationese and jargon • Think like your audience • Create media campaigns & initiatives
Everything’s on the record • Never say “no comment” • Tape is always running • Be precise on giving background • It is a verbal contract if you have a witness, but so what once the damage is done! • Defend your leadership, fairness, process, and reputation • What you say becomes “public record”
Final Thoughts Big school or little • Tell a story about your schools • Engage everyone in doing their part • You’re known by the company you keep • You’re a lot better then people give you credit for so go out and get that credit! • Make me want to enroll my kid, not have to • Poor communication is the number one reason superintendents fail to get or to keep their jobs
The star in our apple is you! Cut an apple across the middle and you see a star filled with seeds. Inside our apple are stars and within each one there are seeds of doubt or seeds of support for your school district.