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4 Tips for Surviving The Pandemic in School PR

As the months of this crisis drag on, surviving from one day to the next can be considered a large accomplishment. NSPRA President-Elect Nicole Kirby joined MinnSPRA members in December to share tips for school communicators on getting through this pandemic. Here are four key takeaways from the session to sustain your school PR practices during this COVID-19 crisis.  

1. Always come back to strategy.

  • Create a strategy even in crisis mode. We are in an adrenaline-fueled crisis mode. With pressure to make quick decisions in an inconsistent environment, strategy can easily be forgotten. Establish a communication process to ensure your team creates a strategy before creating a message. As Nicole Kirby said, “Strategy is all about meeting your goals.” 
  • Adapt your plans. Joe Ferdani, APR explains the relationship between the pandemic and communication goals with the following statement, “Continue to find ways to live out and celebrate your district’s strengths and core values in the midst of a pandemic. This is where the strategic plan comes into play. That’s your roadmap, and those things still remain true.” You can still achieve your pre-COVID-19 school PR goals. Tap into your team’s creativity to find new ways to support those goals. 

“Continue to find ways to live out and celebrate your district’s strengths and core values in the midst of a pandemic.” Joe Ferdani, APR 

  • Be deliberate about the climate of your social media channels. In a time of uncertainty, create stability for your audience by regularly sharing the positive. You can give them — and yourself — something to look forward to. Consider a weekly positivity post to showcase an outstanding staff member, a student who is excelling despite the current challenges or a motivational message for anyone who needs one. Joy still exists during this crisis, and it’s important to spread that throughout your district. 

2. Clarity is key. 

  • Make your messages the rock in this storm. In this time of uncertainty, your stakeholders can easily feel lost in a sea of constantly changing information. Establish a deeper level of trust with stakeholders by practicing clear communication. If you don’t have enough information to make a decision, be clear about that. If your stakeholders can rely on your messages to be honest about the situation, their needs will be better met. 
  • Partner your communication needs. Your school leaders and stakeholders have communication needs that overlap, but they are likely to have some different ones too. Try to recognize what those different needs are and strategize a communication plan that will meet both. 
  • Everyone needs this information. A message is only efficient if the audience can receive it and process it. When crafting quick communications, be mindful about who your audience is. Translate your messages for all of your families to be informed. 

3. Recognize the role of emotions.

  • Think like your stakeholders. When creating messages, it’s important to listen to stakeholders’ needs. Consider taking your listening one step further, and think like your stakeholders. If you were a parent, what information would you want to know? While you may not have answers to all of their questions, you can still address a topic to show your stakeholders you understand their needs. 
  • Remember what you’ve built. Before this crisis began, communicators worked hard to build trust within their district. Be conscious of your emotions in a high-stress crisis situation. Think about the long-term effects even when you are pressured to make decisions quickly. There was a time before COVID-19, and there will be a time after—long-term trust matters. You can still make decisions quickly as new information surfaces but try to gather reasoning behind your choice. Don’t let rushed decisions ruin what you built pre-pandemic. 
  • Practice confidence. It’s hard to feel confident when you feel out of control, and this crisis is full of uncontrollable situations. Despite her lack of control in this pandemic, Public Information Officer Angela Marshall reminds herself regularly, “I am standing in my expertise. I know how to do my job. I’m worthy of this challenge. You have to believe in yourself because so many others won’t. And that can undermine your work if you let it.” 

“I am standing in my expertise. I know how to do my job. I’m worthy of this challenge.” –Angela Marshall 

4. Remember school PR self-care

  • This is a trauma that is not ending. Nicole Kirby explains, “We are being subject to chronic stress, and it is impacting all of your body systems.” Everyone reacts to stress differently, but common experiences currently are weakened immune systems, difficulty sleeping and increased stress on your nervous system. Prioritize your physical health and well-being.
  • Be mindful about your “calm.” Well-being expert Brené Brown reminds us, “Calm is perspective, mindfulness and the ability to manage emotional reactivity.” When a challenging situation arises, ask yourself if a quick reaction is necessary. Calm and anxiety are contagious. Which one would you like your team to adopt? 

“Calm is perspective, mindfulness and the ability to manage emotional reactivity.” Brené Brown

  • Set boundaries. With living rooms being turned into offices and kitchens becoming conference rooms, the boundaries of work and personal life can easily blur. It may be tempting for school PR pros to check email before going to sleep or finish that newsletter after dinner.  But to perform at your best, you must rest and recharge during your personal time. Simple ways to reinforce your boundaries might include setting up automatic email responses when your workday ends and physically moving your work computer away from your rest spaces.
  • Use your connections. Unfortunately, we don’t have a blueprint for surviving this pandemic in school PR. However, we do have connections throughout the country. Ping your connections to get tips from other communicators on pandemic messaging. In return, share a few tips of your own. By sharing practices that are working  and recognizing those that aren’t , we can get through this crisis together.

Published on: January 6, 2021