When we think about public relations, our mind usually pictures a corner office in a big-city agency or corporation. The first image is definitely not of a high school or elementary school. However, with budget cuts and rising operating expenses, public school systems have found it imperative to use public relations to keep students and their parents in the tax base to support the school.
Schools are traditionally the cornerstone for any community, and a strong school system usually translates into a strong community in terms of its economic stability. Generally, a school is a reflection of its community, and schools influence everything from residential real estate to the businesses that set up in the town. Therefore, schools must effectively utilize public relations to boost their image within the community.
A recent article for The Principal’s Partnership, an organization dedicated to helping principals in Union Pacific communities lead their schools and students, details the importance for public relations in school systems. A school system must use public relations tactics to garner support from its community. The article quotes James Tolley, former vice president of public affairs for Chrysler, as saying, “All institutions live or die by public opinion.” This also applies to education and its institutions, as public opinion is one of the determining factors when parents decide where to place their children in school.
Positive public opinion requires a positive public relations attitude and a strategy in reaching a school’s target publics. School systems must take several steps to ensure the support of their community. First, schools must establish and maintain relationships with the members of their communities. The core of public relations is the ability to build and sustain relationships with the public, and this is the most important factor in improving a school’s public opinion within the community.
Relationships with the community can help build either a negative or positive reputation for the school. Positive reputations can only be found through open and honest communication with the public, highlighting the strong points and benefits of the school. Communication includes everything from an effective, organized Web site to community outreach events to positive word-of-mouth from the school’s staff, students and parents. Successful PR does not have to be expensive; it just has to be effective in reaching the community.
Once a school has developed a good reputation within the community, it must maintain that reputation by continuing to update its public on upcoming events, changes and successes within the school. While a school must be honest and open about negative situations involving the school, it must highlight the successes of the school to bring a positive light to its public image. This includes recognizing sports achievements, improved test scores, wins for the debate team and anything else that could improve the school’s reputation. These successes can bring positive attention to the school and, in turn, positive attention to the community and its economic growth.
The public often assumes PR is reserved only for corporations and agencies selling an image. Similarly, schools must also sell their image of present students and future generations to their public. The community surrounding the school depends on this future image to grow and prosper, and the success of the community is reflected in the successful image of its schools.
by Jessica Boyd