Lessons from #NSPRASeminar14

The Baltimore edition of the National School Public Relations Association’s National Seminar wrapped up tonight and with it the post-conference reflections begin. This time, as opposed to Charlotte in 2010 and Chicago in 2012, where I attended before, I set the goal to be fully engaged in as many professional opportunities as possible and it made such a difference as I was able to connect with more people, learn so much more and walk away with tangible ideas that I can go back and implement.

With that, here are the lessons I learned at this year’s NSPRA conference:

Be Fully Present

I am not embarrassed to say that I meditate. It is a practice I took up back in April, after hearing so much about it from my friend and colleague Heather Whaling. One of the key ideas around meditation (which isn’t as ethereal as you imagine) is to be fully present and more aware. This philosophy also applies to this year’s conference, where I attended 90% of the learning opportunities made available and felt I hit the jackpot with most of my selections. There is some amazing marketing and PR work being done in the education sector. I was truly blown away at what is happening from the brand standards guide of Des Moines Public Schools and the social media and content efforts of Lee County Public Schools in Florida, where they’ve trained over one hundred principal’s on Twitter, to the strategic brand rollout executed by Mobile County Public Schools and the intelligent way Houston Independent School District effectively communicated and marketed their extensive laptop 1:1 program. Being fully present allowed me to see more, learn more and connect more, and that is what professional development truly is.

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Get Outside Of Your “Circles”

While it’s nice to hang with those people you already know, you can learn even more by being open to meeting new folks. With more school PR professionals finally utilizing Twitter, this conference offered the chance to meet many Twitter connections in real life. Around 10 of us held an impromptu “tweetup” in the hotel and several of my attendees from my pre-seminar workshop joined a happy hour after our six hours together Saturday. I also enjoyed lunch with a contingent of Canadian professionals (and learned about their universally funded school systems). While I was able to enjoy dinner and lunch and brief meetings with many of my Ohio colleagues, I am grateful for the dozens of new connections I’ve made with others from other states and Canada.

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The Battle For Public Education Is Real

There isn’t anyone who works in public schools that isn’t aware of the challenges we face and the political football education has become. In Ohio, we are fully aware of the desire in some circles for more privatization and to further stifle learning by forcing more testing on our students. But oftentimes, we see only what is happening at the state level. Sitting in a panel aptly titled “Winning the Battle for Public Education,” my eyes were opened to the fact that it is not only Ohio undergoing these challenges, but it is nationwide. And it isn’t just random, but instead a full-scale strategic assault on public education as we know it. Two national campaigns were featured. I encourage you to learn more about Stand Up 4 Public Schools and Rise Above The Mark. Corporations and politicians have our schools in their sights with no signs of stopping their movement to monetize learning.


Share Your Knowledge

I had the honor of being asked by NSPRA’s staff to lead a pre-seminar workshop and also was selected to present a skills session. I was also fortunate to be asked to contribute to the project team that help research and write NSPRA’s newest rubric, this one on marketing and branding. I led a roundtable over the rubric on the final day of the conference. While presenting at the national level can be intimidating, I encourage you to do it at some point. This wasn’t my first time, but it certainly was my best, simply because I always end up learning as much from the participants than what they likely learn from me.

Here’s the Tumblr we used to share information ahead of the conference for my pre-seminar workshop on strategic social media.

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School Marketing + PR Is More Critical Than Ever

Education is facing so many changes, so much conflict, so much misperception and misinformation and such an uncertain future that there has never been a more critical time to have full-time, skilled professionals leading the charge of facing down these challenges head on. Call it the “campfire experience” coming off a conference where, for the one time each year, we are surrounded by those who “get it”, but I am certainly proud to work for a district that values what I do and I am happy to see so many districts from around the country and Canada do as well.

#NSPRASeminar14: From scattered to strategic with social media

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Talking about social media policy and guidelines with communication leaders at Tulsa Tech.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of facilitating a pre-seminar workshop at the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) National Seminar for 25 school marketing and communications professionals from 13 states and Canada. As much as I hope they walked away with, I certainly learned a lot from this group as well.

I was most excited to see more schools wanting to be more strategic, to be smarter and to be more effective with utilizing social media. In order for that to happen, we had to throw out the idea that social media exists in a vacuum. Instead, we focused on content strategy before social strategy.

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For five hours we worked on building up to them working in groups to create six practical content strategies that could be employed within their districts, which ranged from a few thousand students to over 100,000 students!

Here are some of the key points we covered in this workshop:

An emphasis on best practices from around the country:

  • Leaders as storytellers-in-chief (Superintendents and principals should be using tools like Twitter to communicate in real time and make the daily activities in schools transparent.)
  • Using Pinterest with a purpose (Before the workshop, a seminar of attendees showed that they were least interested in learning about Pinterest, but after seeing districts like Dallas Independent School District and Notre Dame High School, as well as seeing data about Pinterest usage, I think this changed.)
  • Leverage constituents to create content (A school PR person should not try to control everything in this day and age. Allow students, parents, teachers and the community to build your arsenal of content using hashtags.)
  • Hashtags matter (Understanding how to utilize hashtags is imperative in any strategy. Hashtags can be temporary for mini-campaigns or special events or permanent for district-wide communications. Either way, use them wisely and with purpose.)
  • Twitter for real-time communication (Whether it’s for crisis communication or visual storytelling, Twitter has proven an invaluable tool in the school communicators toolbox.)
  • Instagram for brand building (Instagram is where your students are and young adult constituents, but they don’t just want to see photos of check presentations or athletic events or kids with books. Instead, Instagram is an opportunity to let creativity and an artistic eye build your district’s brand with purpose.)

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A focus on measurement

We focused on setting up measurement benchmarks based on a philosophy that celebrates more than just how many followers there are. Instead, focus on measuring these six areas:

  • Conversions
  • Demographics
  • Reach
  • Influencers
  • Sentiment
  • Engagement

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Advanced learning on content marketing

We worked up to learning about content marketing and embracing an understanding that social media are tools and technology; content is what engages people and leads them to a desired action.

Content marketing provides valuable information or resources to current or potential customers to build awareness of an issue, trust, brand and positive sentiment. It also allows you to be established as an expert, something all public schools need to do.

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We broke up into six groups and worked on developing content strategies for various issues/problems/campaigns that could be implemented in schools. I will share those in a future blog post.

The learning will continue with this group with our private Tumblr and Google resource room! If you are interested in these resources, shoot me an email at shane@publicassemblypr.com and I’ll be happy to give you access.


A Look Back: The Best Of Public Assembly

I launched this blog back in August. It was my first blog since 2011, and it has been a great professional development tool for me and hopefully a resource for many of you working in education, education marketing, education technology and more. As the year closes out, I wanted to take a look at the best of this blog by rounding up the five most “popular” posts by the numbers and then sharing my five favorite posts–the ones that may not have gotten the big numbers of readers, but I learned the most from writing or reading.

Five Most Popular Posts On Public Assembly in 2013

#1: The Student Athlete & Social Media (Sept. 3, 2013)

This post was widely shared and by far the most read blog post featured on here. While social media has become more accepted and embraced within school districts, there seems to be a gap in educating students on digital citizenship. Add to the mix student athletes and how it can ruin future college careers and this is a hot topic in schools.

#2: Five Apps To Try For School Communications (Sept. 7, 2013)

As mobile technology takes over our lives, so do the apps on our phones and tablets. For time-starved school communicators, these featured apps can help save time and resources.

#3: Public Assembly Session Series: Franklin Community Schools’ Innovations Class (Nov. 5, 2013)

I was inspired by this student, this teacher and this class. I held a Google Plus Hangout On Air with them and learned quite a bit. More schools should have classes like this.

#4: Instagram & Five Districts Putting It To Use (Sept. 19, 2013)

It is no surprise that this post was so popular. Instagram is one of the most popular apps out there and its uses in marketing really came to light in 2013.

#5: Guest Post: Five Ways Schools Can Utilize Influencer Marketing ( Nov. 15, 2013)

My media relations and special projects director, Becky Verner, wrote this blog post about one of the biggest trends in marketing.

My Five Favorite Posts On Public Assembly in 2013

#1: ‘Tis The Season: 6 Ways To Give Back To Education (Dec. 10, 2013)

While Christmas is over, the need to give back to education will never be. In researching for this article, I found a number of ways we can give back to this important cause that impacts ALL of us.

#2: Five Examples of Students Doing Good (Dec. 20, 2013)

I loved researching this blog post. I love seeing students take initiative and doing amazing things for each other, for their teachers, for their communities. This is inspiring.

#3: What School Districts Can Learn From CBS This Morning (Nov. 20, 2013)

Probably not as popular because this morning show isn’t Good Morning America, but I love this show, and I love the lessons we can learn from what they did at CBS This Morning. Yes, it can relate to education marketing and communication.

#4: Big Data & Little Data in Education Marketing ( Sept. 12, 2013)

This is an important post because data can transform so many things in education, including how we market it and personalize the experience for our constituents. Many verticals are already ahead of the curve on this; hopefully education won’t lag behind as it often does.

#5: Guest Post: 3 Ways Schools Can Use Collaborative Pinterest Boards (Dec. 19, 2013)

Again, Becky Verner contributed this post. I love it because I think Pinterest has such potential for school marketing. And, the idea of collaborative boards lends itself to influencer marketing.

5 Examples Of Students Doing Good

What often gets lost in the conversations about how schools are failing our students or how our society is “lost”, and in all the stories about bullying and more, is the fact that so many students do good every single day.

So while the media and social media blow up in conversations worried about the status of Duck Dynasty this week, I have pooled together five great examples of students doing good. This is what it’s all about, and we should focus more on stories like these.

Cincinnati McNicholas students buy new wheelchair for beloved teacher

Journalism students at McNicholas (Ohio) High School  saw how beloved history and social teacher Mr. Kirchner is by a survey they did of the student body. Soon after, hearing about how his motorized wheelchair had broken down, the students took the initiative to raise $800 to buy him a new one. Read the full story here.

Rivalries put aside as area schools rally around student with cancer

The hashtag #BLUE4BURKE took off on Twitter in honor of Marysville (Ohio) high school sudent Devon Burke, who had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer. His classmates and others raised money for him and now local rivals at bordering school districts are rallying behind him, as well. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Bobby Smith, a wrestler at Hilliard Davison High School, one of Marysville’s rivals, started a campaign there. Students at Olentangy-Liberty and Thomas Worthington high schools also started wearing blue and collecting money. And there’s more. Read the full story here.

Fifth grade football team rallies behind bullied classmate

A waterboy being picked on for how he dresses and because of a speech impediment. His teammates who stepped up to support him and make him “feel very loved”. Watch the video and try not to be touched by students so young having such strong emotional intelligence already. Read more here.

Student starts program at school to focus on self-worth in girls

After seeing someone post a negative comment about themselves on a social media site, one Pickerington Central (Ohio) High School students decided she had seen enough and decided to do more than just talk about change. Instead, she started The Butterfly Project, something you may have seen featured when students at the school got selected for Katy Perry’s “Roar” video contest on Good Morning America. Learn more about The Butterfly Project here.

Students raise awareness, get the attention of Ellen DeGeneres…all for a good cause

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Lakota East (Ohio) National Honor Society had “a unique plan to raise awareness and funds for the Center for Spina Bifida Care at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.” While lip dubs have been done by many schools, I haven’t seen one done with so much passion by an entire school community and one made with a strategic goal to get the attention of a popular daytime talk show host! The whole video is good, but my favorite part is from about 9:10 until about 11 minutes. Learn more about the project here.

‘Tis The Season: 6 Ways To Give Back To Education

Last week, we decided at Public Assembly to make a holiday donation. While there are so many worthy causes all year round, and especially over the holiday season, one cause stood out to me. We opted to back a crowdsourcing campaign being run by the Innovations Class at Franklin Community High School. I had the pleasure of interviewing the teacher and one of his students in my Session Series earlier this fall, and I truly believe in what they are doing.

>Read my guest post on EDBACKER as to why Public Assembly chose to give to this project

My decision to give to education rather than some other cause really came down to something my business mentor said during lunch one day. He said “There is so much good to do in the world. How do you decide?” While I don’t think giving should be an either/or proposition, I do think that each of us should develop our life’s great passion or the cause of our lifetime. For me, without a doubt, it is education. I could go into a whole post just on this, but instead, in honor of the holiday season, I thought I would highlight 6 great ways that you could give back to education this holiday season (and beyond!):

EdBacker Campaigns

EdBacker is the crowdsourcing site I went through to donate to Franklin High School’s Innovations project. While I would encourage you to give to this project, there are plenty of other campaigns running on the site that might touch your heart. Check out the campaigns currently seeking support (donations can be as little as $10) and see a collection of successful EdBacker Campaigns.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Sometimes mentorship and friendship is the most important education of all. We all know the value of what this organization does, but like many great charities, they begin to fade from our mind from time to time. Because every child needs someone they can look up to and have around for support, consider making a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters this holiday season either locally or possibly to a national campaign they are seeking to earn fund from through your votes.

Donors Choose

Like EdBacker, Donors Choose puts the power of funding important education projects, field trips, and more. While the two sites have some differences between them, all the projects on either site are worthwhile to check out and consider giving to. You might even get an idea to run your own crowdsourcing campaign.

Email or Tweet Your Representative

Sometimes you can give back without giving money. You want to have a big impact on public education this holiday season? Make sure your state and national representatives elected to represent you know that you support public schools, which continue to be under attack from budget cuts, opposition groups, political theatre and misrepresented test scores and ever-changing standards brought about by political ping-pong. You can easily find their emails to send them a message of support, but if you want to do it right, tweet it out or post it on their Facebook page!

Find your U.S. Senators here

Find you U.S. Representatives here

Random Acts of Kindness Project

There are many ways to do a random acts of kindness project for students and teachers. Many times, teachers are putting together service learning projects dedicated to this idea around the holiday season. Wouldn’t it be nice if you performed a random act of kindness for teachers, students and administrators this holiday season?

Don’t have the time to pull off such a grand gesture? I encourage you to remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy from one year ago, honor their memory, and check out Newton Kindness, a charity and random acts of kindness resource site, in honor of one of the shooting victims, Charlotte Bacon. You can donate to their cause or get some ideas for how you can pay it forward through your own efforts.

The Bully Project

There have been wonderful efforts made towards fighting bullying, but sadly this is a problem that continues to need attention and the help of everyone to make sure the emotional needs of every child aren’t crushed through the words and actions of others. The Bully Project is a movement created after the release of the documentary Bully. They now have a website where you can send notes of encouragement to kids who are struggling, where you can donate to the cause or where you can get resources to help you take action.

What School Districts Can Learn From CBS This Morning

Yes, this is a serious post. I am a huge fan CBS This Morning. Actually, as a self-professed geek of all media, I have been a news junkie most of my life. I wanted to be the next Peter Jennings early on in high school until I realized I didn’t have the “look” of a news anchor. Regardless, I am one of those people who follows the behind-the-scenes shifts and happenings in entertainment and news. So, when CBS did something drastic with their morning show, I was intrigued.

Now, two years after they revamped, or more appropriately, re-imagined their horribly rated clone of a morning show, which was the laughing stock of morning shows for decades, CBS finally has a winner. Sure, they are still in last place in the ratings, but the show has achieved an incredible increase in ratings and more important than that, it has become the place where real, credible newsmakers go when they want to break real, credible news. As Charlie Rose announces proudly every morning now, “The News Is Back In The Morning”.

So what does a morning news show’s reversal of fortune have to do with education, and what lessons can we possibly learn from the turnaround of a morning show? Humor me and follow along.


The News Is Back

Morning news has become a place for celebrity gossip, sensationalism, concerts in the park, cooking segments, news about the Royal family and basic “fluff” after the first half hour. CBS This Morning proudly states “The News Is Back In The Mornings” each and every day because that is what they want to be known for. They want to be the place real news is being reported and they want to be seen as the only credible, meaningful conversation happening in the mornings.

What is your district known for and are you consistently showing and telling your constituents that?


Do What You Do Best

Along those lines, your school district shouldn’t be trying to be everything to everyone (although I know that is sometimes the unrealistic expectation). When re-imagining a morning show that could be competitive and relevant, CBS needed to create a niche to set itself apart from its competitors instead of trying to be just like them. According to a Daily Beast article written about the show’s revival, “There is a morning-show formula that is very successful. It is basically the format of the Today show,” Chris Licht, the show’s executive producer added, referring to the NBC program that had dominated the morning until some recent slippage. “The game plan everywhere was ‘Why not copy something that is successful? But just as people tried to copy Morning Joe and failed miserably, I think when you are basing your product 100 percent on trying to be somebody else, you fail miserably. Why would anyone see a copy when they can see the original?”

Education is a competitive landscape now with so many options and choices. The landscape is only set to get even more competitive. Your district must figure out what it does best and set yourself apart from the competition. For CBS This Morning, according to Licht in the Daily Beast article, “CBS This Morning would find out what is going on in the world.”


Great Chemistry Is Everything

One of the most successful parts of CBS This Morning is the great team they have now assembled. Charlie Rose is a stalwart in the new industry and one of the most respected journalists around. Gayle King brings her celebrity and lighthearted side to the broadcast. Norah O’Donnell is the young gun, a political journalist with the right balance of hard-hitting journalism and fun-loving charisma. It’s become a winning team for the first time ever on CBS in the mornings.

This is a perfect example of why team chemistry is important. That really is in any work environment. It is especially important, though, and often ignored within school districts. It starts with the superintendent and goes all the way throughout the organizational chart. What efforts are you making to develop a staff that collaborates and believes in the vision and mission of the district. Every staff member is a brand ambassador, spreading the stories and messages within your community. What are they saying?


Blow Up The Status Quo

The task Licht was given, according to The Daily Beast, was simply to “blow up the morning. Not to tinker around the edges but to do something completely different.” In morning television, weather reports are vital, but CBS This Morning doesn’t have a weather guy. On Good Morning America and The Today Show, they are hosting concerts every week. CBS This Morning doesn’t do musical acts. When a baby is born in the Royal family, that leads the morning shows. On CBS This Morning, meaningful news leads. These were all risks that they took because they wanted to challenge the status quo. It worked.

School districts, too, should challenge the status quo. In San Antonio, 15 county school districts have gotten together to launch a new campaign to take on their growing charter school competition. In Erie, Pennsylvania, the school district has re-branded itself as Erie’s Public Schools to combat the growing movement of privatization. Nashville’s Metropolitan School District renamed its middle schools as “Middle Preps of Nashville” in an effort to retain students to the district. These are all strong examples of challenging convention, and that is something that can happen in the classroom, in organizational management, in marketing.


Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

If the leaders at CBS News didn’t do something disruptive, nothing would have changed their morning show fortunes. Make no mistake, morning shows are lucrative business to each network. By shaking things up, ratings are up and a swagger has replaced being a doormat.

In my personal opinion, we are seeing the impact of staying stagnant for too long in public education. Over the past five years, public education and teachers have been under attack from various political factions, from community opposition groups, from the media, and from their own team members. It has damaged the brand of education. If the past five years has not given your district’s leadership rise to change something now, I would never expect anything to change.

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Be Competitive

There seems to be this notion in education that competition is a bad thing. There are certainly arguments for and against the growing number of charter schools and online schools and private schools, but instead of worrying and waiting for that argument to be decided (which it never will be), do what every private business owner, every college and every hospital has been doing for years. Compete. Market. Sell.

According to King, she has heard of other morning shows being jealous of the types of stories and the type of overall show that they are able to do at CBS This Morning. And according to Licht in The Daily Beast, “There has traditionally been a culture of trying to be competitive in the sense of being the same, and we are trying to be competitive in the sense of being unique and original and on brand at CBS, and that is it.”

Figure out what your school district is going to be and go be it. Quit being afraid of competition. It is here to stay.

So, do you want your school district to be fluffy, mindless clones like Good Morning America and The Today Show or do you want your district to stand out, be credible and add something to society like CBS This Morning?