Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

All good things must come to an end. And Great Things must begin!

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
Sean's career in summary

What a long, strange, wonderful PR trip it has been!

For eight wonderful years, I rode the wave of the entrepreneur. Communication AMMO is my second-longest tenure of employment in my near 30-year career in Public Relations and communications. Beginning next week, CommAMMO becomes part of True Digital Communications, a Greater Cleveland-based communication agency, that focuses on the digital world, including advertising, marketing, PR and content.

In my new role, I will lead the education practice that Communication AMMO and True Digital have partnered on for several years, and will also establish a new internal communications practice, which will include the Face2Face Communication Learning Program that CommAMMO acquired two years ago.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to cross-train people on conducting both the Face2Face and AMMO programs. As part of the firm’s leadership team, I’ll also have an operational role for True. As an educator, helping others learn is a critical part of who I am.

This is a terrific opportunity — only such a great one could get me to move on from CommAMMO — and I’m looking forward to working even more closely with True’s principal, Chris Baldwin, and being part of the True team!

This post also appears on LinkedIn. 

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Latest PR Research sheds light

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Research is ImportantThe International PR Research Conference is a boon to public relations people like me, because it enables us to dig deeply into the state of the profession as researched by the academy, often in partnership with the practice. I wrote an appreciation of the conference over on LinkedIn, and this new post on my blog is the first of several going into some detail on what I found most useful.

Dr. Denise Bortree of Penn State examined 194 video sustainability reports from a variety of organizations, seeking trends. Her findings? Building legitimacy is the main goal — it’s less about the actual documentation of activity and more about the result of that documentation. Classic outcome measurement, as these organizations obviously see benefit in being perceived as sensitive to their non-financial obligations.  The UK and Europe are using video more frequently than do other regions of the world. These types of reports are seeing a recent rise in popularity.

Radford University’s Dr. Lynn Zoch and Dr. John Brummette looked into the connection between personal and organizational values, examining 10 annual reports from Fortune 500 companies and a series of depth interviews with PR professionals and organizational leaders to evaluate the link. This is the first step in a wider study, but the initial findings are that values do matter quite a lot on both sides of the equation. This supports the concept that several organizations have expanded lately — EY for one, focusing on purpose and hiring only people whose personal purpose aligns with the firm’s.

Several researchers from Purdue University, led by Dr. Alessandra Mazzei of Universita IULM, Italy, evaluate the role that organizational authenticity and employee empowerment have on the practice of employee endorsement of their organizations.  This “megaphoning” depends a lot on the quality of relationship between organization and employee (no surprise there). Particularly during a crisis, having employees who trust their organization and who feel motivated as a result to take action in support of their organization leads to positive behavior.  Marketers trying to make people into “brand ambassadors” through some sort of training or indoctrination should take heed — build great relationships internally and people will be ambassadors without any such program.

More to follow – This post is already kind of long, so part two coming soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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Proctor Academy Comms head nails marketing advice

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

GirlHandUpAs I’ve written before, the main issue with independent school marketing is their belief that they don’t need it. Second — once they realize they DO need marketing — is that they lack proper planning and strategy. You can’t know how to get where you want to be without a map.

In a recent podcast interview, Blackbaud K-12’s Peter Baron and Proctor Academy’s Scott Allenby discuss the latter’s excellent case study on how independent schools can use inbound marketing.  Aside from spot-on comments on the requirements to develop and maintain the website content needed to help tell your school’s story effectively, Scott avers that schools must start with understanding the distinctiveness of their offerings.

This sort of soul-searching (Who are we as a school?) is much more common in the business world, particularly in the service industries like banks and retailers.  The products most often are the same, and many are commodities. The “secret sauce” needs clear definition in order for the marketing and communications folks to do their thing.

In our work with schools (and other types of organizations), we start with the research and planning needed to set a proper course for the future. We want to know what makes you, you! Why families choose you, and why they take a pass. What truly is unique — which should be something other than selective admission, smart children and great history. If a school isn’t really distinctive, no amount of marketing magic is going to change that!

Take the 25 minutes or so and listen to the interview — it’s well worth your time.

 

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3 reasons why independent schools must market

Friday, January 9th, 2015

CityOfLondonSchoolAn axiom in independent schools has been that marketing is unnecessary. Reputation, history and narrowness of market obviate the need to invest very much in the marketing effort, so the meme goes, especially in boarding schools. After all, when Presidents, Senators, and Captains of Industry graduated from your esteemed institution, why sell your school like soap?

Schools are finding, however, that a number of factors now are putting paid to the past preferences. It’s no longer nearly enough to buy a few ads in the local newspaper, and any effort to buy advertising in national publications carries a much bigger price tag than most schools are prepared to pay. But that’s a tactical problem, and the big issue is strategic; it’s the plans and thinking that most need to change, and here are three reasons why strategic and sophisticated marketing and communications are crucial for independent schools, especially boarding schools.

  1. Your alumni’s kids don’t live near you anymore. The demographic shift south and west has resulted in Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas as places your alums now live instead of New England, Pennsylvania and New York. While boarders might “come back,” they’re not doing so at the same rate as prior years. For independent day schools, it’s much the same story: there are fewer families to draw from locally, and many schools are located in older neighborhoods no longer favored by full pay families.
  1. There is competition never before seen. Charter schools. Parochial. Magnet schools. Independent day and boarding. Home schooling. There are many outstanding public schools. This places parents in the catbird seat for choice. Add to that a fountain of data, information and wisdom about education, educators and schools, and you’re just one piece of the puzzle.
  1. Changing trends in news are challenging communication strategies. Let’s not belabor the point, but suffice to say that people get their news and information differently today than just 10 years ago. TV ratings, terrestrial radio and newspapers have lost market share. People don’t have to rely on curators like editors to get access to crucial information, and that means your school’s story should be told in multiple ways in multiple channels. It’s more than just a website, because the story is told by more people than just you. That was the case before, too, but now social media has made it easier than ever. Mind you, this doesn’t mean eliminating other media — it just means being strategic and data-driven in your paid media mix, your public relations, your community relations and your admission contact strategy.

There’s no doubt that the independent school world is being tilted on its axis by these relatively recent developments. In many schools, there still is a sense of denial — but this is a world where even the top, elite boarding schools are banding together to share techniques, tips and strategy.

What is your school doing to prepare for the next disruption?

 

{Note: This post also appeared on LinkedIn.}

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5 facts that independent schools should take to heart about marketing

Monday, October 27th, 2014

462996881Independent schools (boarding and private schools) are bastions of wealth and privilege, packed to the ancient rafters with the sons and daughters of titans of industry, government and commerce, with long waiting lists of the 1 percent clamoring for entry. And the admission directors’ main job is to say, “no.”  Well, not exactly. This is 2014, and even alumni (many of whom have moved away from the old school) no longer “always” send their kids back. It’s a new world, and independent schools need to wake up about marketing.

What’s happened now is a massive demographic shift, from north and east to south and west, mirroring the wider trends in societies. For example, the state of Ohio, home to four boarding schools and countless private day schools, lost 150,000 households with children under 18 between 2001 and 2010. Who were those people? Young families from the state’s main metro areas, Toledo, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Youngstown and Cincinnati.

In Massachusetts, nearly 31 percent of households had children under 18 in 2000. That figure dropped to 28 percent in 2010, and just 8.6 percent had children under 14… Connecticut:  20 percent of households had children under 14 in 2000. 17.7 percent in 2010. On the surface, these are changes of just a few percentage points, but given the continued trends, and the lower birth rates associated with modern American life, they’re sobering. SSATB’s recent survey noted a 33% decline in domestic boarding students since 2001, and a precipitous decline in inquiries.

How do independent schools need to respond to the shift?

1. Realize you are battling with your peers over a declining market. Differentiating your product is essential — the traditional New England boarding school experience can be had many places, and the cost to value calculation is being conducted more often than you think.  Your brand must differentiate you.

2.  People outside of the I-95 corridor don’t understand boarding schools. That’s why the highest proportion of boarding school attendees come from just six states, according to The Association of Boarding Schools.  Creating new boarding school families is critical, but it’s an expensive proposition that independent schools haven’t budgeted for. By one calculus, a prospect needs to be exposed to messaging 30 times before the product or service has a shot at entering the consideration set, and that’s assuming your targeting is precise enough to find the most likely people to be prospects.

3.  People have good choices other than independent schools. Many cities with challenging public schools not only have great private options, they have charter schools and parochial schools that compete with your school. Even in cities that are struggling, there are people who believe in public schools and want to support them, or who want a religious education, (or who just want to be five minutes closer to school), rather than send their kids to yours.

4.  For boarding schools and private high schools, the kids are driving the decision process, and they aren’t reading your viewbooks and brochures, or your letters. They’re using Instagram and Facebook to find your current students and evaluate your school from that angle. They hit your website looking for multimedia content that’s real, open, honest and focused on them. They find your followers on Twitter and engage on Snapchat. They don’t care about your marketing messages, they care about discovering the real story of your school.  They don’t read long articles. They are harsh judges.

5. Digital marketing is more targeted, more effective and more measurable than analog marketing. It can be efficient, too (ask me for details), but it still takes budget and expertise. It’s more than search engine optimization or buying Google Adwords (which can get spendy very quickly), it’s managing your digital strategy from objectives to creative in concert with your other communications. Public relations, social media, internal communication, parent communications and alumni communications all play crucial roles in the marketing mix. You need experience and talent to manage all of that.

It’s doable. But your school has to let go of the ego-centric conceit that it doesn’t NEED marketing because of its history, its venerable buildings, its location or its alumni base. The world is changing fast, and only the adaptable will survive.

Data retrieved from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml , 2013 State of the Independent School Admission Industry (SSATB)  This post also appeared on LinkedIn. 

 

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Many conferences, many objectives

Monday, October 20th, 2014
PRSA's big dance kicks off

PRSA’s big dance kicks off

During the past 12 months, I’ve spoken at six conferences and attended three others. That’s a lot, no? Yes, a lot. Several were communication conferences, Ragan’s measurement conference, IABC’s 2013 Heritage Region and their International Conference, PRSA’s Connect ’14 employee comms conference and just a week ago, it’s big shebang, the International (#PRSAICON).

Plus, I went to Fusion 13, an IT service management conference; the National Association of Independent Schools conference, the SSATB conference for independent schools admission officers and (my favorite) the International PR Research Conference.

For the most part, all of these were, at least, good. I confess that at this time in my career, the comms related conferences are a mixed bag. That’s not a dig at the dais or planners; it’s hard to put these things together. I’ve done it for Heritage Region and for Connect, and you’re serving five different masters. You need content and speakers who will drive registration (the famous or nearly famous, the veteran speakers who have their fans, the striking, surprising people who will make people say, “OK, her I have to see!”)

You also need content for different levels of experience, from newbies to crusty old coots (present company excepted…) That can mean that at any one time, 80 percent of your audience won’t be happy. “Why is HE here again. She’s an idiot! He’s a moron!”  So I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him!

IPRRC is all academic research that boggles my mind in the best way. The Schools and IT conferences are business development opportunities. The Connect conference is my responsibility as Chair of PRSA Employee Communication professional interest section, and the Heritage conference is my comfortable IABC slippers. The internationals are another thing entirely. In some ways, they are merely about being seen among the crowds, though Twitter (and conference apps) give opportunities to stand out (I still didn’t make the top 20 posters in the conference app. Blame my lousy battery!).

IABC was in Toronto, one of my favorite places, and it had been since it was last there that I had been there. With all that has transpired to damage IABC’s brand over the past few years, I felt invested in the organization enough to go.  PRSA I had attended only once before, and as my Section leadership position requires a level of visibility and participation, it was a good thing to be there for Saturday’s general assembly and the many leadership-related meetings that the international conference includes.

Another reason to go is the need to identify speakers who’ll fit in other conferences. Let’s face it, you can’t be a good speaker without seeing good speakers anyway, and since we’ve got PRSA Connect ’15 in May upcoming, why not go see a few and have some firsthand experience of their abilities to go along with the cold paper of their proposals?

Sooooo…. what about the PRSA conference? Hey. 500 words of preamble – it’s a CommAMMO post. Wait for part two.

 

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Indep Schools face challenge of trends

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

186140619Independent schools have nearly always been a world apart from the scruffy marketing-essential business world, but a series of trends from SSATB Exec Director Heather Hoerle show how the economic pressures are changing how these elite private schools need to market.

First — Pricing negotiations are here. Full-pay families with the ability to pay are demanding discounts. Some schools are even eliminating the “this is the price” from their websites in favor of a scale of discount available by family income.

Second — Markets, after years of fragmentation, are coelescing around two profiles: Value-oriented families who demand discounts and are constantly seeking validation for their thriftiness, and those seeking a new economic order based on authenticity. The latter care deeply about a customized experience, which complicates a marketing process traditionally based on unified messaging.

Third — Demographics. It’s not our imagination. There are fewer full-pay families in our traditional markets, and we need to be aware of that.

Finally — choices! There is unprecedented growth in charter schools, many public schools have significantly improved their offerings, and private and parochial schools continue to compete.

More to follow, no doubt.

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Skills for PR need revision, research finds

Friday, March 28th, 2014
Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) listen.

Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) and others listen.

Public relations educators might need to re-examine the core curriculum to keep newly minuted pros relevant in the current market, according to research by Kent State University’s Prof. Michele Ewing.  A qualitative study of the required skills and knowledge for entry-level advertising and PR majors finds that planning, writing, multimedia and business knowledge are among the most urgently needed competencies.

Professor Ewing conducted interviews with 31 pros ranging from CEOs to mid-level professionals across agency, corporate and not-for-profit organizations, and the results were presented at the 17th International PR Research Conference, March 6-10, 2014.

The findings:

Strategic communications planning: Understanding of research and comms strategy is the foundation of PR education. Students must have critical thinking skills and grasp the basics of planning and measurement.

Writing across multiple platforms: Telling stories appropriately for the medium, including content intended to go directly from organization to stakeholder. Yes, we do need people who know the difference between writing a post-length piece versus a feature versus an objective piece.

Multimedia storytelling: Social, mobile, online — they all depend on imagery, audio, video, text, infographics… Visual storytelling is a great phrase, and knowing the power of graphics and imagery and how to lever them appropriately is essential. So is knowing your Adobe suite.

Interpersonal communication: You’ve got to be able to speak, present, engage, persuade, face to face, online and in print.

Digital: Social media and data analytics, including the strategic understanding of engaging audiences through these new tools, but that engagement is only the beginning. Community management, multimedia for social, online and mobile, and the ability to use data analytics to both develop strategy and measure its effect.  More important, it’s the ability to make sense of the data as applied to business issues and problems to facilitate decision-making.

Converged media: Owned, earned and paid work together, and pros need to know how to apply each in service to wider goals. Paid or sponsored social content was an area of emphasis noted.

Business knowledge: Understanding how businesses work, including entrepreneurship, business development, profit margin and bottom line, distribution and purchasing, basic economics… Yes, we still need to address our aversion to numbers as a profession and be business people who happen to lever communication skills.

Exposure to key practice areas: Internal communications, media relations, public affairs, issues and reputation management — but also industry sectors, B2B, healthcare, crisis, energy and technology communications are growth areas in our practice.  But, specializing as an expert in one or more of these is seen as preferable to the generalist approach.

Congrats to Michele on a terrific presentation of a very important topic.  What would you add in the way of advice to improve the curriculum?

 

 

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To German CEOs, PR heads still not ‘equals’

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Ansgar ZerfaßIt was disappointing to learn that public relations people, even at the topmost level in an organization, are not seen as the go-to person on communication topics among senior leaders, according to a study involving more than 600 German executives.

In research presented at the International PR Research Conference this year, Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig and newly minted M.A. Muschda Sherzada surveyed CEOs, managing directors and executive board members of German corporations in ten industries. They discovered several interesting findings, including:

  • Mass media is more influential on corporate reputation than social media — 96% to 71%
  • Personal communication by leaders is more impactful than that of professional communicators — 87% to 65%
  • When exchanging views on building public opinion or communication strategies, peers on the board or in functional divisions are most important, versus the contribution of the communicators or communication departments — 87% to 64%
  • CEOs and other top execs say motivating employees, fostering corporate trust and supporting a positive image are the most important objectives of corporate communications, more than fostering dialogue with stakeholders and gaining trust among journalists.
  • Marketing communications and financial communications are rated the most effective sub-disciplines in corporate comms, but internal communication is seen as most relevant.

That comms pros aren’t seen as the first choice when it’s time to talk communication strategy is telling. Many of my colleagues say that they are business people who use communication skills in service of company objectives. But clearly in Germany, our function is tactical, not strategic, and communicators focus too little on internal communications and effective counsel.

What is it like in your organization?

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Feeding mind & soul at PR research conference

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Many of my colleagues in public relations quail when I tell them I make a habit of attending the International PR Research Conference.  It’s an academic conference that features scholars presenting papers they have written (or soon will write) in 15 minute blocks. Half the time they explain the main points of the research, and the other half we listeners get to ask questions and make suggestions. That works great for me, and beginning in 2014, I’m now a member of the IPRRC Research Advisory Board, so will have a chance to be more involved.

For a lot of these papers/presentations — which are requirements for Ph.D.s and doctoral students — there isn’t a direct connection to practice. That doesn’t mean discussing them is not useful, and I admit readily to being enough of a geek that I appreciate the deep mental stretching that the more esoteric topics bring forth. Among the more usual questions I ask: “So what?” Most of the time not quite so bluntly (though one longtime friend of the conference, a practitioner who passed away last year, Jack Felton, felt no such reticence), and always with the desire only to understand the research’s impact on our practice.  We need more of the usual PRs to delve into this stuff, because the academics need our feedback, and we need to be there to give it!

One of my favorites was among the most academic. Denmark-based professors Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen of Aarhus University are exploring a general theory of intermediaries in PR. That’s trade unions, trade associations, the news media and others as stakeholders on their own account. Finn and Winni pose that there’s a trifecta of reputations at stake — the industry represented, the members of the intermediary organization, and the organization itself might be sharing reputation in a commons of sorts. Made my head hurt a little, but in a good way.

There were several other presentations that made a strong impression. Here’s the first few I took note of. 

Place

Dr. Shannon Bowen listens to Dr. Katie Place

Dr. Katie Place of Saint Louis University, presented on ethical decision-making in public relations. She is seeking to understand how professionals evaluate or reflect on their decisions. Dr. Place has started a qualitative study on the topic, and finds that there are few constants in process, with relying on one’s “gut” one of the few.  It’s a highly personal and rather eclectic mix, she finds, and that matches with much I’ve read on the topic.  We need more research on this, especially as PR Ethics is so often considered an oxymoron.

Doctoral student Arunima Krishna of Purdue University explored a “big 4” accounting firm’s unauthorized Facebook “Confessions” page, exploring whether the passion, vigor and dedication associated with highly engaged publics (groups of people) who are negative toward their organizations present particular challenges to our practice.  She posits that engagement — frequently assumed to be positive and desirable — might have a dark side. Stay tuned, and look for your organization’s Facebook Confessions page ASAP.

 

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, a doc student at University of Georgia, looked at corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as contributors to organization public relations activities. She conducted interviews with PR pros to determine what they thought of their org’s CSR, and sought to determine whether the CSR was primarily used to accomplish PR goals. It’s early, but the preliminary findings are encouraging for those who a) believe CSR is the right thing to do regardless of its business or PR value, and b) that CSR is no replacement for confronting and solving organizational problems and issues. 

There are more to review — look for another 3-4 in the next post, including the offering from my Kent State University colleague, Prof. Michele Ewing!

 

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