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School Reform Presents New PR Challenges

Schools of all kinds (public, private, charter, online) face increasing competition for students, faculty and resources
September 14, 2015
This, in turn, puts more pressure on these institutions to develop and implement effective communications strategies.
Gone are the days when a public school could rely solely on the neighborhood and the established feeder pattern to keep the desks occupied, the classrooms staffed, and the coffers full. Now, in an era of increasing choice, competition and scrutiny, schools must work much harder to attract families, teachers, administrators, resources and supporters.
Schools’ response must include a strategic communications plan that takes into account the key audiences and the best messages, tactics and channels to reach them. And fundamental to any communications plan is a solid and proactive public relations strategy.
PR is particularly important for schools given the diverse audiences (think parents, teachers, business leaders, journalists, etc.) and the urgent need schools have to cultivate a better understanding of the schools’ role, goals, accomplishments and challenges.
The National School Public Relations Association has a page dedicated to making a case for PR professionals within schools and school districts. The NSPRA cites three reasons why districts must build their PR capacity:
  1. Media love to scrutinize schools: Communicating on behalf of a school is a high-pressure, high-stress job. Journalists contact schools and districts frequently and offer no end of troubling story angles that cast doubt and negativity on the performance of educational institutions.
  2. Education is under attack: With fire coming from all sides — taxpayers, business groups, education activists — a strategy to communicate positive news and success stories about students and staff has never been more important.
  3. School PR has changed: There are simply many more audiences to engage. In addition to families and teachers, schools now need strategies to build positive relationships with business leaders, policymakers and the media.
Many schools and districts, particularly small, rural ones, are under-resourced, which makes prioritizing PR difficult. Often, PR efforts don’t rise to the top of the to-do list until a crisis forces immediate attention.
However, the NSPRA lays out a strong case for why educational groups should integrate public relations professionals within their ranks. After all, a proactive strategy to share good news and build relationship capital with important stakeholders will undoubtedly contribute to the goals of student enrollment, parent engagement, and community support.
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