The Shift.

As a school public relations practitioner who entered the field through television journalism, I faced an uphill challenge. It started with my own sister, a public relations practitioner through her undergraduate work, who is Accredited in Public Relations.

She famously told me over and over again: “It’s not all about media relations.” As much as I hate to admit it, she was right. That’s been an evolutionary lesson for me–from bosses who wanted news coverage to my reliance on media contacts to draw out reporters.

Ten years later, I now sound like my sister: “It’s not all about social media.”

The longer I stayed in the field, the more I determined that my work could be more than just Facebook, fancy parties and fliers. I begin preparing to earn my APR and in 2013, I did.

One of my APR panelists made a comment that she appreciated how I was able to learn and understand the profession instead of viewing it through the lens of a former TV journalist.

That one statement means so much to me now.

The effective practice of strategic communication is what drives my work and the standard I set for myself. That’s why I have been disheartened to see others emulate the strategic work of the profession through the use of tactics as opposed to strategy.

The difference is task vs. tool.

Whereas a decade ago, it was news coverage some relied upon to get the message out, now it’s social media. Increasingly, we are seeing those use social media to communicate and mark their engagement as “done”.  Social media is a powerful tool, but chances are for school systems it is not the only avenue to connect with school stakeholders. It can; however, be a tool in your toolbox.

True engagement is the hard, messy work of relationship building on behalf of students in your community. That’s the work of the profession.

Early in my school PR career, I focused on the tool of media relations–getting coverage in and of itself. What I found was that even the best-placed story didn’t overcome root issues that led me to seek coverage in the first place. Once I made the shift, I started asking a different set of questions:

  • What goals do we need to advance?
  • What messages do we need to communicate?
  • What data are we using to base our decisions?
  • What specific group do we need to communicate?
  • What is the best channel of communication that we should use?

The biggest question of all, with a H/T to my colleague Kristin Magette, APR, is: “What motivates these people to change perspective and/or act?” The answer to that question should guide your work.

For as much as content matters in strategic communication, so does context. As a school leader, I challenge you to think beyond a tweet or video post and consider how will this particular tweet or video be part of advancing a larger goal. Strategic communication is as much about the receiver as it is the sender.

That’s when you know you’ve made the shift.