Getting Better Media Coverage for Your Schools

By Nora Carr

Despite the ongoing bloodletting in America’s newsrooms, news coverage still has an outsized impact on public opinion regarding public schools.

Although the news media’s ability to focus public attention on important issues and policy decisions is nothing new, demographic shifts are adding some new twists that make proactive media relations programs even more important.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 71 percent of U.S. households in 2012 did not include any children younger than 18. This means that the vast majority of American adults lack the close connections to public schools that having school-aged children brings.

This lack of current experience creates a communication gap between the general public and the public schools. Often, the void is filled by neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, ministers, bloggers, reporters, and other trusted information sources.

To cut through the clutter and make their voices heard, schools officials need to offer a compelling counternarrative, one designed to win a greater share of the shrinking local news hole while making emotional connections with the public.

Part of this overarching strategy needs to include a smarter and more persistent approach to media relations that generates more positive press while limiting the damage from the crisis du jour.

To help school officials tell the public education story more effectively and make the shift from reactive to proactive media relations, ASBJ spoke with Terry Abbott, president and chief executive officer of Drive West Communications.

As the former chief of staff for former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Abbot now urges public school officials to start thinking about public relations as a perpetual political campaign. Here’s what he had to say.

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