Yolanda King Stephen
School Public Relations is Like Petting a Baby Lamb
When networking with colleagues in the profession, we often trade stories about the insane amount of work that goes into managing the reputation of a business or school system. Olivia Pope, the fictional presidential ‘fixer’ provided only a fictional glimpse into the day-to-day directing of a public relations or communications department. Believe me, there is more to it than meets the eye. Sometimes, you deal with a crisis, sometimes your ideas are dismissed, sometimes you miss the mark, and sometimes you may have the pleasure of petting a baby lamb.
In school systems you may see titles ranging from Community Relations Specialists to Chief Communications Officer. The office may be a one-stop-shop, or there could be 10-15 employees that specialize in a marketing mix of duties like graphic design, advertising, public relations, social media, or digital media. Hopefully, there is one person who reports directly to the Superintendent and sits on Cabinet so you can be on the front-end of any communication elements that are needed to move the organization forward - or recognize when a crisis is steeping.
How Can We Spin This?
Some think we are ‘spin’ doctors because those in the profession often hear, ‘I am calling because I am wondering how we can ‘spin’ this. Contrary to popular belief, PR professionals don’t spin. So what exactly do I do? I manage the reputation of my school district. That’s it. Period. Now hooooow I do this is where the fun begins.
How I Do What I Do
Managing the reputation of my district requires a defined set of knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired through on-the-job training, professional learning, mentorship, education, and good old trial-and-error. All of those skills lead me to the tactical part that people see me doing when I go to visit school locations or share final products of projects. This includes, but is not limited to, writing, researching, speaking in public, asking tough questions, building relationships in and outside of the organization, promoting positive stories, staying late, getting in early, tactfully saying no, examining the analysis of public sentiments, reading newspapers, combing through social media, and on, and on, and on.
A Day in the Life
My day looks different every day. Some weeks there are national or state wide celebrations that can sometimes dictate activities on my calendar. I love planning in advance because there will be an unplanned crisis that needs immediate attention. This helps my office stay proactive instead of always feeling as if we are reacting to requests. We keep a Google Calendar, we meet at least once every two weeks as a team, we maintain a monthly ‘happenings’ calendar, and I keep a list of activities on a white board in my office where we can quickly add and remove items. This also helps us share information in quick time. And then there are times when I have to console a first grader at an outdoor petting zoo because she is a bit frightened of a baby lamb. Those are definitely the fun-est of times.
Here is a glimpse into one of my work days:
6:30 am – Alarm rings; wake children up and get ready for work
7:15 am – Look through daily news, check calendar, check text messages, and check email messages to mentally prepare for the day
7:30 am – Leave for work and drop kids off at school
8:00 am – Arrive at work
8:10 am – Respond to most urgent messages and prepare for meeting
8:30 am – Cabinet meeting with district leaders
10:30 am – Return to desk to check messages and return phone calls
11:00 am – Recruitment video shoot and interview with teacher in her classroom. The kids think I work for the news station so I get to share a bit about what I do. Then they want to see the pictures, because, ya know, they are used to cell phones and cameras.
11:45 am – Wrap up video shoot; head to lunch meeting with a partner in education to discuss annual partner breakfast
1:15 pm – Return to office; check messages and respond to most urgent messages
1:30 pm – Write a story release about a weekend school service project that went exceptionally well
2:20 pm – Check social media sites to see if there are any comments and respond if needed; check future posts to ensure there is a week’s worth of posts
3:15 pm – Read through monthly media update and calculate numbers for evaluation purposes; prepare draft to send to board, cabinet, senior leaders, principals, and media specialists
4:20 pm – Meet with team to see if there is anything I am missing, need to sign-off on, or just general conversation/keeping them in the loop.
4:40 pm – Check emails; respond to urgent messages and file them as needed
5:15 pm – Add items to monthly newsletter as needed
5:45 pm – Review story release written earlier for any edits and/or revisions; prepare email to send with story, photos and video to local media, board, cabinet, senior leaders, principals, and media specialists
Early Evening (Nope - the day doesn't end at 5:00!)
6:00 pm - Take one last look at story release; press send. Post snippet of release to website, social media channels, add to monthly newsletter
6:20 pm – Check work calendar for following day and monthly department calendar for upcoming events and recognition's that I need to keep on the radar
6:35 pm – Pick kids up and head home
***Randomly throughout the evening – check emails and texts to ensure no major updates or inclement weather messages are needed.