Public Relations 101

Public Relations--The Basic Concepts
Public relations happens!
While some NCSS members may not believe they practice public relations, as long as there are students in their classrooms, messages will be delivered. Communication cannot be turned on and off like a hot water faucet. However, there is one clear choice--whether the majority of the messages are going to be positive or negative.
In this Toolkit, there is not space to provide a complete understanding of effective school public relations, but there are some key concepts that must be remembered and implemented if this campaign is to be successful. The first is that messages about social studies are being delivered all the time--at youth sporting events, in the barber shop, at the bridge club, in the supermarket checkout line, and many more places. Students, teachers in oth In this Toolkit, there is not space to provide a complete understanding of effective school public relations, but there are some key concepts that must be remembered and implemented if this campaign is to be successful. The first is that messages about social studies are being delivered all the time--at youth sporting events, in the barber shop, at the bridge club, in the supermarket checkout line, and many more places. Students, teachers in other subject areas, school board members, school volunteers, parents, classified employees and others are all potential sources of information. They are likely to talk about their perceptions of social studies in their daily lives. The only question is whether they have accurate information. And who knows whether one of those people is the next door neighbor of a state legislator or may be interviewed by a reporter?
The point of this campaign, and your everyday communication efforts, is to deliver accurate, positive messages about social studies so when people are asked questions, they will respond accurately.
Public relations also happens every day. This campaign is designed to deliver an important message about social studies education--that Today's Social Studies Creates Effective Citizens. However, outside of the campaign, messages are being communicated each day by social studies educators. The campaign will not be successful if individual NCSS members are not paying attention to their every day public relations responsibilities. Ideas will be suggested in this kit on ways to promote social studies on a daily basis.

In addition to the NCSS web site, those who want to learn more about school public relations can contact the National School Public Relations Association, the nation's leader in education communication. NSPRA's web address is www.nspra.org. NSPRA also has state chapters that could provide local assistance and information for NCSS members and state councils.

Shaping Attitudes
The point of any public relations effort is to shape someone's or some group's attitudes regarding your organization or project.
Pat Jackson, a highly-respected PR counselor in New Hampshire, defines public relations as building relationships that change attitudes to bring about desired behaviors. That is a bottom-line measurement to any public relations activity. PR is not just about getting a positive article in the newspaper or publishing an annual report. PR is a compilation of activities designed to shape attitudes. The result should be public support.
In some communities today, people may have the attitude that social studies is merely memorizing dates and locations. Or it's not as important as other subjects. Some government leaders may think that social studies doesn't need much financial support because it's not one of the "important subjects." These attitudes can impact what occurs in every social studies classroom.
Our task in this campaign and in your daily public relations activities is to create an accurate understanding of the value of social studies education and what people can do to help social studies educators teach students.
Research tells us that people go through five mental steps in developing their attitudes: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. This is called the Diffusion Process.
Let's look at how the Diffusion Process might work in shaping attitudes about social studies education:
AWARENESS--Obviously, people must become aware of a concept before they can support it. Too many people today do not understand the important role social studies plays in creating the well-rounded person who will function in today's society. From a public relations standpoint, mass communications--newsletters, the news media, bulletins, websites--work very effectively in building awareness.
INTEREST--Once people become aware of an idea, they are not ready to support it. First, interest must be built. They want to know more about what "today's social studies" is and how does it contribute to an effective citizen. Again, in this step mass communication is effective.
EVALUATION-- Throughout the rest of the Diffusion Process, mass communication is almost totally ineffective. Now interpersonal communication--speeches, phone calls, conversations at the grocery store--are necessary to move people toward adoption. In this step, a legislator or school board member might ask someone who works in a school or a parent about the importance of social studies. Here it's especially important that people close to the school family understand the value of social studies education so they can be ambassadors when asked questions.
TRIAL--This is the step where people need to see things for themselves. When purchasing a car, it's the test drive. In a campaign for social studies, it might be an organized event where opinion leaders attend a social studies class.
ADOPTION--If you have been successful in the four previous steps, now is the time people will say they understand that Today's Social Studies Creates Effective Citizens. Hopefully, they also will ask how they can help.


Targeting Audiences
There's only so much time any of us has to complete any task, including public relations. Thus, it's important to determine which audiences are the most important to social studies education. For the purpose of this campaign, we have identified NCSS members, state legislators, and the news media.
Selecting a few groups for your communication effort is called targeting. Targeting audiences does not mean that you will stop communicating with everyone else. It means that special attention will be given to the targeted audience.
There's a tactic that brings even greater focus to communication called super targeting. Sometimes a target audience will be very large, and you may not have the resources to communicate efficiently with all parties in that audience. So you look for segments of that audience that influence the attitudes of others.
For example, if social studies educators want to eliminate a burdensome state requirement that is actually harming education, the State Legislature is likely to be a target audience. You would also communicate with parents, the news media, school board members, etc. since they may communicate with legislators. However, you might super target the Education Committee in the State Legislature since that group is likely to make recommendations on the requirement.

In addition to the three audiences for this PR campaign, think about whether there are additional audiences in your community or state that need a better understanding of social studies education. Bring together a small group of colleagues and simply brainstorm a list of key audiences. Divide that list into internal audiences--those closest to the school--and external audiences. Prioritize this list so that you have only a few that can receive adequate attention.

Keep in mind that there are two categories of audiences to consider in a public relations campaign--primary and secondary. Primary audiences are those you hope will take the action. Secondary audiences are those that can influence the primary audience. For example, if you hope the school board will take an action, the school board members compose the primary audience. The superintendent and key advisers compose the secondary audiences.


Public Relations Planning
To begin a PR campaign without a plan is like starting your car's engine to go on vacation without knowing where you plan to spend your vacation. There are many approaches to public relations planning, but here is a 10-step process that will help assure success. A council or group of local teachers who want to move forward on this campaign should take the time to develop a plan. It will save time and resources in the long run.
Note that in this 10-step plan, the first two and the sixth steps have already been completed.

10 Steps to Your PR Plan

1. Identify a PR Challenge or Opportunity.
Convince people that social studies education has changed and is essential in creating effective citizens.

2. Determine the Key Audiences.

    • NCSS members
    • State legislators
    • News media

3. Find Out What Those Audiences Currently Know or Perceive.

4. Determine How Each Audience Receives Its Information.

5. Establish Measurable Objectives for Each Audience.

6. Define Message Points for Each Audience.

NCSS Members

    • Social studies is the thread that holds our democracy together.
    • Too many influential people do not understand the importance of social studies education and social studies teachers.
    • You are essential to a campaign to create greater support for social studies education. You can achieve much with a small investment of time.
    • What you do every day as an educator helps develop social studies' reputation.

News Media

    • Social studies is the thread that holds our democracy together.
    • There is a strong connection between social studies education and effective citizenship.
    • Social studies education is relevant and very much alive in today's classrooms.

State Legislators

    • Social studies is the thread that holds our democracy together.
    • Social studies education results in people understanding and participating in the democratic process.
    • Social studies education provides a framework for lifelong participation in building engaged and effective communities.

7. Determine the Communication Activities To Deliver Those Messages.

8. Decide What Resources Are Necessary To Complete Each Activity.

9. Establish a Timeline and Responsible Party for Each Activity.

10. Evaluate Whether You Have Reached Your Objectives.

The sample plan which follows this section will guide you through completing the remainder of this 10-step process. Perhaps the most important step will be number six, where you determine specific messages for each audience, i.e. what you want them to read or hear so they will develop a better understanding of social studies education. Message points should be clear and few.


Sample Public Relations Plan
PR Challenge: To convince the school board to provide adequate funding for social studies education.

Key Audiences

  • School Board Members (primary)
  • People who support the school board members (secondary)
  • Other elected leaders (secondary)
  • School staff (secondary)

Determine What They Know

  • Read past Board meeting minutes
  • Review past election materials for comments on social studies
  • Read newspaper coverage of Board meetings
  • Hold individual interviews with Board members

Determine How They Receive Their Information

  • Interviews (based on what is discovered, new audiences may be added. For example, if members of the Board indicate that they only listen to recommendations from the superintendent then he/she is added to your audience list.)

Measurable Objectives

  • Each Board member will be given a copy of NCSS's curriculum standards
  • An article on the value of social studies will be published in the state school board association journal
  • Eighty percent of the Board will attend a seminar conducted by local social studies educators
  • Eighty percent of the Board will attend a social studies class in a local school

Message Points

  • Social studies education is more important than ever
  • Social studies education creates effective citizens
  • Social studies is the thread that holds our society together

Communication Activities

  • Prepare a cover letter and send a copy of the NCSS curriculum standards
  • Make a follow up phone call to assure it was received
  • Submit an article to the state school boards association
  • Deliver an invitation (written or verbal) to the conference
  • Develop a plan with the schools to have board members observe a social studies classroom
  • Deliver an invitation (written or oral) to participate in the observation

Resources

  • Time to compose and disseminate the letters
  • Postage

Timeline

  • Indicate completion time for each activity

Evaluation

  • Is article published?
  • Do they express an interest in the NCSS curriculum standards?
  • Do they go on the observation?
  • The vote


Writing Your Messages
One essential component of any effective public relations campaign is to focus on specific messages for each of the targeted audiences. These messages should be based on attitudes that you hope to shape.
For this campaign, NCSS has developed three messages for both state legislators and the news media:

State legislators

  • Social studies is the thread that holds our democracy together.
  • Social studies education results in people understanding and participating in the democratic process.
  • Social studies education provides a framework for lifelong participation in building engaged and effective communities.

News Media

  • Social studies is the thread that holds our democracy together.
  • There is a strong connection between social studies education and effective citizenship.
  • Social studies education is relevant and very much alive in today's classrooms.

It's important to include these messages as frequently as possible in communicating to the targeted audiences and to others that might influence state legislators and the news media. In a campaign of this nature, you can never communicate a message too often. Remember what Nike tells us ("Just Do It") and how frequently we hear that message.
In implementing activities for this campaign, members and councils should look for ways to include these messages in their communications. For example, if you have the chance to meet with a state legislator, make sure those three messages are shared along with anything else you may have on your agenda.