Friday Night Lights.

A new school year often brings about new level of excitement and energy. No where is this more evident than on the school’s athletic fields for Friday Night Football where the community can come together to celebrate the hard work of student athletes.

Recently, our school system experienced a panic at a high school football game which put our communication protocols to the test. The result was reviewing our process, gathering input, and announcing new procedures to better ensure the safety of our student athletes and spectators who are there are watch the game:

One week after the events outlined above, another school system in Alabama was in the news for an incident with a different outcome.

It is expected that your school/district have a crisis plan and one that guides your communication responses in the ensuing aftermath.

But what about real-time communication during an athletic event crisis?

As the a school PR practitioner, have you ever seen the plan for an athletic event crisis? Is it as strong it could be from your professional opinion? Being at the table as part of a leadership team tasked with addressing these challenges has been a thought-provoking experience:

  • What role/responsibility does the public address announcer in providing directions in real-time?
  • How would your PA announcer get the information to communicate possible life-saving instructions in real-time?
  • If your PA announcer is not a school/district employee, what is your process for looping them into that aspect of the crisis plan?
  • What does your visiting team know about your crisis protocols (e.g. would they know where to shelter if there is severe weather?)

These days, safety is a key concern for every school/district. The time to consider the answer to these questions is long before you turn on the Friday Night Lights.

Reflections of Reality

You know the good work being done inside the walls of your school, but do your stakeholders know it? Better yet, how would they know it? As a building leader, spend a few moments in the coming days to review your school’s website, social media profile (if applicable) and even your school marquee to see if the story it’s telling is reflective of the reality you see daily? (This is a great practice to start as you begin a new school year.)

As you spend time clicking around, consider how those who are prospective families would interpret what they see in this digital reality. Is it accurate? Can you get a vibe that your school is an engaging place for students to learn? Is the information up-to-date? 

Confirm this for yourself and put structures in place that not only set high expectations from building leadership, but follow up to see that it’s happening and thank those responsible for it. This feedback is vital to those doing the work that you are interested in the story your school is telling and that it is a reflection of reality.

Growth & Gratitude

How is it possible to grow so much in the course of one week? That’s the lesson I learned at spending time at the 2019 National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) annual seminar.

The content learned in the sessions I attended is as important and invaluable as connecting with old friends and making new ones in pursuit of advancing the profession.

That’s why I spent the morning penning a stack of thank you notes.

The most important lesson I learned was one of gratitude:

  • For a husband who handled things at home while I was away investing in my professional self;
  • For the investment my district made in me as a School PR practitioner;
  • For a superintendent who is not only supportive, but truly understands the value of strategic communication;
  • For a talented staff who was more than capable of handling things at work while I disconnected to learn;
  • For the wise counsel offered by mentors in NSPRA;
  • For the time to mentor others at NSPRA;
  • For the learning gained from colleagues;
  • For the opportunity to share what I have learned with others;
  • For applauding the success of others;
  • For friendships fostered and forged;
  • For memories made;
  • For hospitality shown;
  • And for the chance to serve.

Leadership is a humbling experience–one that requires you to ask others to follow you. One cannot do it alone and certainly, no one stays there without others standing behind you.

Leadership isn’t about who’s out front; it’s about who’s got your back.

This past week, I was proud and excited to be affirmed as the president-elect of this organization, with a term that starts October 1.

The author speaking at the 2019 NSPRA seminar.

It’s a concept I will hold onto this year as I serve with a very talented NSPRA board, under the leadership of incoming president Kelly Avants, APR.

But most of all, I’m grateful to be home having grown so much and ready to take on a brand new school year.

When Worlds Collide

Much of my life revolves around sporting events. My earliest memories include going to basketball games at the high school where my dad coached. Most of the males in my immediate family have a connection to sports as either a coach or an athlete, including my son.

I went to college to become a television journalist. I always considered it to be a “for now” job vs. a “forever” job. At the time, I just didn’t know how long “now” would last. Working my way through my journalism career included a sports stint where I served as the weekend sports anchor. My responsibilities would include covering collegiate student athletes, including my own brother.

The author with her younger brother as a collegiate student athlete at a D-I school.

As a school PR practitioner I can still draw on those skills, but this summer, I have found myself doing so in new ways. As the mom of a youth baseball player, I have somehow managed to parlay these diverse skills to help tell the story of his All-Star baseball team in a social media age.

Because families are spread out, I volunteered to set up a closed Facebook group page for the team so that grandparents, aunts, and uncles could participate in the fun. Little did I know that this would become an incubator for me professionally.

What started out as a lark, provided me a professional spark. It was an opportunity to use the platform to test out ideas I could use in my school PR world. Most notably, with video.

Strategy can be applied to something as innocuous as your child’s ball program. For our little group, we wanted to communicate to out-of-town friends and family through social media our game dates, behind-the-scene photos, and highlight videos.

I must confess: I am a broadcast journalism purist. I believe camera shots should be steady and video must be quality high. The era of user-generated content makes me queasy. That why I have shunned cellphone footage in favor of professional-quality videography and editing.

However, as the post season has gone on, members of the Facebook group shared their appreciation for my skill as evidenced by the analytics of their engagement with the multimedia posts created. As a result, I looked for ways to be more inclusive with the work: I asked them to send me their videos and pictures.

How do you tell a story with video over which you had no control and make it cohesive?

This was a huge risk for me professionally! Using this content was more of a challenge that I would have ever imagined, but the payoff was much sweeter, too. It was a challenge I was excited to take on, too, as I can see the implications of using crowd-sourced video in school PR to tell a story from multiple perspectives. As a result, my kid and his friends have series of highlight videos, edited with free cell phone apps and uploaded to Facebook where music was added.

Made by Mom

It was interesting to see that a youth baseball team was capable of pulling the type of analytics one might when posting a video for your school or school system. Even more impressive is that this was primarily shared with only about 65 people!

This post has more than 1,000 views!?!

I think we hit this one out of the park…and will head to the World Series soon! Clearly, my worlds collided.

Who’s Got Next?

Last week, the school PR family lost a stalwart in Gary Marx, the former long-time associate executive director for communications for AASA, the School Superintendents Association. As we consider the legacy he left for our profession, I am left wondering who’s got next?

As a profession, we must encourage folks to make their mark in this era. School PR needs more than just tweeters: we need more thought leaders.

Increasingly, more school leaders are turning to social media to communicate with their stakeholders. Social media is a great avenue for connection, but it is not the only way.

A strategic approach to public relations incorporates multiple channels of communication in order to reach key audiences. It is no longer enough to raise awareness about our schools; we must seek engagement on behalf of positive outcomes for students. For me, that’s what gets missed in the advice to “tweet more.”

There are some concerned with the outputs of social success: followers, clicks, and likes. I am, too: I wonder if they are pursuing outcomes like building relationships in order to make a difference for students. If so, tweet that! Show the connection between your social activity and the substantive impact it had for students in your community.

Others are watching your example; use your platform as a school communicator to demonstrate this key leadership skill.

Tweets are fleeting. We need people challenging us to stay true to our strategic roots in a digital age.

So, I’ll ask it again: who’s got next?

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.

 

Measuring the Call to Service

By now, you have probably figured out something about me: I like learning about history. I’ve always enjoyed looking back in time to better understand the context surrounding events. The Bible states that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version). That’s true in public relations, too. For as much as we communicators believe we are doing something no one has ever seen or done before, history tells us that’s not true. We can be inspired by examples from the past! That’s why Modern Retro PR has been such a treasure to me over the first few entries.

As I think about my profession, I believe school public relations is a way for me to serve my community. There are never enough people who serve. From teachers to nurses to those in the military, many times those working to serve others have to take the time to find the next generation of public servants.

The test of the work in these instances is drawing others into service. That’s where evaluation comes in. There is a difference between outputs and outcomes, both of which can be measured. Outputs are the tactics taken to achieve a campaign’s goal, i.e. number of posters printed or clicks to a website. Outcomes should be our bread and butter as public relations practitioners–did we motivate someone to take action? In this week’s Modern Retro PR, find out why measuring your work can help you determine what’s a win.

Retro: Creel Commission

You’ve seen the “I Want YOU” poster many times in your life, but chances are, you may not know how it came to exist. Uncle Sam’s piercing blue eyes, his stern look, and pointed finger called a nation to action in a time of war.

James Montgomery Flagg's illustration

James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration Source: Library of Congress

James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration first appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1916 as cover art above the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”.  A year later, it was the centerpiece of a United States Army recruitment poster–the image you’ve seen time and time again.

Flagg’s artwork, along with that of other noted artists of the day, was part of George Creel’s Commission on Public Information (CPI). The sole charge of the CPI was to gain public support for World War I, work that incorporated the use of speechmakers, known as the Four Minute Men, and an  “army of artists” (Creel, 1972, p. 134).  From a public relations standpoint, this marked an early moment in the history of the profession where the trends of the day used patriotism as part of its publicity efforts.

According to Christopher Capozzola’s Uncle Sam Wants You World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, more than four million posters were printed (2008, p. 4). A huge output considering the era and available technologies!

Even Creel noted the success of an overall strategy featuring posters, such as the iconic one with Uncle Sam in his autobiography, How We Advertised America: “Posters were effective and we used them freely. Care was taken to phrase them tersely and simply” (1972, p. 312).

This is significant when you consider that in this era, not all people could read English. A key factor in developing an effective campaign: know your audience!

Modern: Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a 22-page report outlining a projected shortage of nurses that would only grow in the following two decades. One line stood out:

“If not addressed, and if current trends continue, the shortage is projected to grow to 29 percent by 2020.”

Shortly afterward Johnson & Johnson, maker of first aid products like Band-Aids, launched the Campaign for Nursing’s Future. In the company’s campaign highlights, Johnson & Johnson noted its “leadership position” in addressing the issue:

The Campaign is a multi-year, $50 million national initiative designed to enhance the image of the nursing profession, recruit new nurses and nurse faculty, and help retain nurses currently in the profession.

Using a multi-faceted approach, the health and beauty aid giant implemented strategies jnjto connect with audiences largely grouped as prospective nurses, current nurses, and customers to rebrand a profession . Further, a comprehensive website was developed encouraging each of these audiences to Discover Nursing.

As the campaign evolved and new technologies emerged, the company branched out into social media. The Campaign for Nursing’s Future has a Facebook page, Twitter account,  Pinterest account and a YouTube Channel.

More than five years after this video was first uploaded to YouTube, it has racked up more than a half million views–and that doesn’t begin to count the number of times it’s aired on television.

It’s not enough to simply produce a large number of outputs, especially when clear goals have been established. Converting people to action is what was necessary here to address the deficit of nurses. With videos like this, it’s easy to see why the campaign could be successful. Johnson & Johnson claims:

“Campaign television commercials have successfully motivated more young people to think about nursing as a career option, including 24 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds (Source: 2002 Harris poll).”

Final Thoughts.

In school administration circles, there is the saying: what gets measured, gets treasured. That’s true in PR, too.  In short, how do you know if your work, worked? Rice & Atkin detailed three functions of evaluation in Public Communication Campaigns (2013):

  1. Determine expected impacts and outcomes of a program
  2. Determine why a particular program did or didn’t work
  3. Provide information for planning of future activities

Something that stood out to me as I studied for the Accreditation in Public Relations was the idea that “behavior change is usually considered the ultimate sign of public relations effectiveness” (Study Guide, 2016, p. 24).

In both cases, the behavior sought was a call to service. Regardless of the era in which a campaign was produced, the evidence of a solid and effective campaign should still be visible to this day. Those of us who work in governmental public relations understand the accountability required as part of our work. Creel detailed all of the committee’s work in the Complete report of the chairman of the Committee on public information:

creel

As a for the outcomes of  CPI’s work? “More than 1.3 million men and more than twenty thousand women volunteered to serve in the armed forces abroad.” (Capozzola, 2008, p. 7).

That work shaped the future of America and the outcome of the war. However, the effort to draft enough nurses to care for the nation’s citizens continues today.

A campaign overview published by Johnson & Johnson highlighted the successes of the campaign’s efforts since 2002, including outputs and outcomes. Despite the 32 million pieces of recruitment/retention materials in both English and Spanish and other outputs, the company cites the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in saying the campaign has led “more than 750,000 people into the profession.”

Ensuring the strength and the health of our nation is certainly something to treasure.

References

Capozzola, C. J. N. (2008). Uncle Sam wants you : World War I and the making of the modern American citizen. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Creel, G. (1972). How we advertised America (International propaganda and communications; International propaganda and communications). New York: Arno Press.

Rice, Ronald E., and Charles K. Atkin, eds. Public Communication Campaigns. 4th ed. N.p.: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.

Study Guide for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations.  (2016). http://new.praccreditation.org/resources/documents/apr-study-guide.pdf

Sounding the Alarm

Crisis planning in the middle of a crisis is not a plan. As strategic communicators, we have not only the opportunity but the obligation, to be prepared in the event of a crisis. But that’s the amazing thing about a crisis: you never know where or when it will hit and if your plan is sufficient until you need it.

In the past week, my community experienced a tornado watch. I live in a community where a deadly tornado touched down more than five years ago, but the concerns are still real for residents here, especially children, like my own.

I remember when the tornado hit in 2011, I was nine months pregnant with my second child. That afternoon, I gave instructions to my then-three-year-old that if something were to happen to us and ended up outside, to call my name loudly, instead of calling for “Mommy.”

Whew. She still remembers that (and I do too).

The experience with my child tells me that it isn’t just what you tell your audience after the crisis that counts when it comes to strategic communication, it’s the messages you communicate beforehand. While it may be tempting to examine just the crisis response, in this week’s Modern Retro PR we’ll explore systems enacted by leaders as part of their crisis communication response in the event of an emergency and why it is important.

Retro: CONELRAD

In 1951, the United States government established (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation), known as CONELRAD. The purpose of this initiative was to warn the American public of an impending Cold War enemy attack via the nation’s radio and television stations as part of a civil defense response.

conelrad

Poster telling citizens how to find information in the event of an emergency.

Upon activation of CONELRAD, all radio and television stations would cease broadcast save for two designated radio frequencies, 640 or 1240 kHz. Those two frequencies would provide instructions to citizens during the crisis. CONELRAD’s implementation requested that the broadcasts would be operated by a succession of radio stations for a set amount of time in an effort to confuse the enemy regarding the broadcast’s origin. Think of it as a radio daisy chain.

In fact, radios were manufactured with small triangles marking the location of the two frequencies on the dial.

However, the plan was not without its detractors. In a 1960 article published in Time, the author argued that “a civil-defense warning system should be capable of warning 90% of the population within 30 seconds.” That would be difficult for CONELRAD to do considering that citizens had to have their radios or televisions “on” to hear these messages.

Additionally, the article cited “weak reception” and switching delays among the stations as reasons to abandon the system (Time, 1960).

Thankfully, CONELRAD was never officially activated, only tested, before the government transitioned to the Emergency Broadcast System in 1961 and later the Emergency Alert System in 1997.

Modern: Education Organizational Use of Automated Messaging Systems

In recent years, the trend has been for schools and school systems to provide alerts via automated messaging systems which utilize phone calls, text messages, emails and social media. In its early adoption, educational organizations would use these features to communicate emergency and non-emergency information alike.

Remember that tornado I was telling you about earlier in this blog? My school system used an automatic messaging system to cancel school on that fateful day in 2011.

The evolutionary use of this technology has seen recent regulatory updates as some alleged this was a form of telemarketing, especially when people did not provide “express consent” (Federal Communications Commission, 2016). This summer, the Federal Communications Commission issued a declaratory statement indicating such automated messaging systems could be used for both emergency and non-emergency purposes.

As someone who works in educational public relations, I find this to be a good thing. In fact, just last week a series of text alerts warned students on The Ohio State University (OSU) campus of eminent danger.  The information was also communicated through social media by the university’s emergency management and fire prevention department:

During the crisis, an 18-year old student drove his car into a crowd and began to attack 11 people with a knife before being killed by authorities.

In this day and age, when school campuses can be accessed by anyone at any given time, it can be a communications challenge ensure students, parents,  and staff members have the information they need to stay safe.

According to Pew Research, 72% of adults own a smartphone; but among the demographic most frequently found on college campuses (18-35), that number is 20 points higher (2016). This statistic underscores the adoption of automated messaging system as part of a larger strategic decision to communicate crisis events at schools.

Final Thoughts.

The first of five phases of crisis identified by crisis management researchers signal detection.  It is in this phase that leaders “sense early warning signals that announce the possibility of a crisis” (Wooten & James, 2008, p. 5).

It is not enough to just sound the alarm, the key messages must be clearly communicated.

“The role of any communicator in any crisis is to provide good information accurately, and in a timely fashion,” said Neil Chapman in a British cable broadcast now available online. Chapman was BP crisis communication director during the Deepwater Horizon crisis in 2010 who has since left the company.

Both CONELRAD and automated messaging system had the same intended result: to alert people of a crisis event and provide emergency instructions. The ambiguity in the CONELRAD system could lead to confusion if one couldn’t access the information in a timely fashion. Further, the delays in the system could lead to not everyone getting the same information at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the example from OSU, all stakeholders received the same clear and specific instructions at the same time–even people far from the campus in Columbus, Ohio. A quick analysis of new coverage of this event doesn’t yield questions about the timeliness of the message from university officials, but rather many serve as a primer to explaining what “Run. Hide. Fight.” means.  The speed with which OSU communicated and their transparency play to their favor.  Because the university worked to meet stakeholder’s expectations during the crisis event, they will likely maintain trust(Kim, 2015, p. 69).

The latter is clearly more effective than the former.

Effective, ethical implementation of strategic communication systems can benefit organizations not only during the crisis event but also in the aftermath. As part of W. Timothy Coombs Situational Crisis Communication Theory, crisis managers can “benefit from understanding how crisis communication can be used to protect reputational assets during a crisis” (Kim, 2015, p. 63).  However, it should be noted that organization’s reputation is not the priority. Priority one remains those directly impacted by the crisis.

By ensuring organizations have strong, effective and redundant communication systems in times of crisis means that amid the chaos, communication professionals and crisis managers may have a better chance of message penetration.

Finally, it would be a missed opportunity for me to say as communicators we cannot just be satisfied that the crisis is over; however, we must find time in the aftermath to reflect on our actions, determine how we could have responded differently, incorporate those findings into our crisis plan and improve it.

References

Buzzers Mean Bombs.(National Affairs; CIVIL DEFENSE). (1960). Time, 76(20), 26.

[CIPRtv] (2011, March 3). Crisis communication in conversation with Neil Chapman. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yjb196dB0VY

Federal Communications Commission. (2016). Declaratory Ruling FCC 16-88.  Washington, D.C.: Marlene H. Dortch.

Kim, Y. (2015). Toward an Ethical Model of Effective Crisis Communication. Business & Society Review (00453609), 120(1).

“Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2016). http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/smartphone-ownership-and-internet-usage-continues-to-climb-in-emerging-economies/