Re-energized after week at NSPRA

 [To comment: larry at larry litwin dot com]

          It never gets old. I just returned from the 61st annual National School Public Relations Association Seminar. It may have been the best ever – if not the best – certainly among the top few. How the NSPRA staff outdoes itself each year is a tribute to Rich Bagin and his staff. Below is a summary from my plethora of notes. One does not need to be a school public relations communicator to take advantage of NSPRA. Its strategies and tactics may be applied to many strategic communication disciplines.

          On a personal note, I remain amazed and gratified by the number of colleagues who compliment me on my two books (available from NSPRA and on my website). I remind them it may be my name on the books’ covers, but many former students contributed their time and sweat to the research and editing. 

          OK, here goes my recollections of our nearly a week in the Charm City of Baltimore. Next year, NSPRA returns to Nashville for No. 62.

Before you read another word, view this video: For me as a college professor, it says all I need to know…(later from John Draper)…

           The first keynoter was Jonah Berger, University of Pennsylvania assistant professor ( He opened with this rhetorical question: Which is tastier?

          Broccoli or a cheeseburger. That question led to this one: How tasty are our (strategic) messages?

          Berger says, “We build the right messages but people don’t (necessarily) want to taste them. We have to make them tastier in their minds. We have to take the broccoli and make it tastier.” 

  • Disney
  • Cheerios
  • Scrubbing Bubbles

          Which gets talked about the most? It’s Cheerios. Check out Berger’s book Contagious – Why things catch on. He explains why.

          Says Berger: “Stories are the currency of conversations.Word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of (traditional) advertising. 

          This should come as no surprise. How do we reach the right person? We target to find the people most interested in what we are selling. Berger says, “Word of mouth targets for you.” He offered this example: “When a professor asks for a copy of my book, I send two. That professor turns into an advocate when I suggest he/she give the second book to a colleague who would be interested. He/she targets for me.”

          Word of mouth has the same effect. We tell friends – especially if they are active or interested in what we have to say.

          Here is a question:  What percent of word of mouth is spread online via social media, blogs, email and chat rooms? Hope you are sitting down. It is on seven percent. 

          Strategic communicators must understand face-to-face and word of mouth and the psychology behind those channels.

          Berger reminded his audience that what we wear, what we drive and talk about are a signal of what and who we are.

He offers this advice:

1. Make people feel like insiders. Make people feel special. When they are in the know they are more likely to share.

2.  Find the inner re-marketability. It should be surprising, novel and interesting. 

          Show people re-marketability…don’t just tell them. Show rather than tell. 

          An excellent website is check it out. 

          Berger discussed “triggers.” A recent popular ad is Geico’s Hump Day Camel TV ad. It runs on Wednesdays. 

          More advice: Top of mind means tip of tongue. It’s not whether “they” like your message. It is whether “they” remember it. 

People talk about ideas when they are using the products. How about these tie-ins: 
Peanut butter and ???
Rum and ???
Weekends are made for (Michelob)
He challenged school communicators to come up with their own peanut butter and…(tie in). In other words, what ties into your school?

          One of the new commercial tie-ins is: Kit Kat and coffee. 

          You don’t want people thinking about your message after it’s too late

          He says EMOTION is when we care and when we share. 

          An example is Google – the world’s most functional company. Google shows people through emotion. Schools must do the same through a story.

          The word WHY:
          Do you use it to your advantage?
          The more you ask why the more you get to an emotional core. 

          Did you know that when people are angry they share things?

          Do all emotions increase sharing?


          Anger – evokes highest anxiety. Emotion – when we care we share.           Sadness – when you are sad you don’t want to do much. 

          Positive is: excitement humor awe contentment

          Negative is:
          Positive evokes high arousal 
          Negative low arousal

Here is something interesting and psychological about numbers:

Look at 20: numbers are more than just numbers…5 of 20 is 25 percent.

Rule of 100…5 of 20 doesn’t sound like much but 25 percent does. When you hit 25 percent of 2,000, 500 sounds like more. 

Share stories rather than numbers. Don’t just say someone lost 50 pounds show it and tell your story through words and pictures.

How about the Subway guy Jared. Show that 5 grams less by showing how big Jared’s old pants were before he lost all that weight, presumably eating at Subway. It is not just a story, it is a Trojan horse story. The message comes along for the ride. 

That’s why lying is a bad idea. Lying usually comes with a story.

Panda cheese…
Company named panda makes cheese. Panda has succeeded in getting its audiences to make Panda a brand champion when people think shop for cheese.

How about when you picture Corona – you picture a beach.

Berger’s Six Principles of Contagiousness

  1. Social currency
  2. Triggers
  3. Emotion
  4. Public
  5. Practical value
  6. Stories

    Two key next steps

    1) Find your message – Get your message and build on it.

2) Apply the Steps – There is a science on why people share things.

Visit Berger’s website for free stuff. Check out STEPPS and other “stuff.”

John Draper was day two keynoter. He was outstanding. Draper’s PowerPoint is online and anyone may use it. He suggests giving NSPRA the credit. Here goes:

Says Draper: Political skill, no matter how effective, will eventually succumb to public will.

We cannot declare a war. We must keep people together. Change the way people feel about their schools.

There are 8-million public school employees. 

The myth…our schools are good, but the others are lousy. 

Draper focused on the “Seven habits of highly effective school leaders” on and “Public Schools That Work” 
. His site is a gold mine.

If you haven’t linked to this video yet, do it now:

Seven Habits of Highly Effective School Leaders

Dr. John Draper

  1. Avoid public comparisons of schools or districts—particularly economically unequal ones
  2. Don’t allow test scores to define your school—fully embrace Every Child a Graduate
  3. Inspire teachers with a “Successory” program—if you don’t feed the teachers . . .
  4. Plan celebrations of success—using technology to connect and inspire
  5. Use stories to overcome the Villains of Communication
  6. Put a face on children of poverty—tell the stories of individual students
  7. Intentionally build connections with faith organizations, first-responders, and veterans to retool our image

So you know, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective School Leaders” is part of the presentation Paddling Upstream in a Public School Canoe by Dr. Draper. 

          Here are some random notes:

 Every school is a reflection of its community. 

Don’t put test scores out no matter whether they are good or bad. 

As stated in Number 3: Inspire teachers with a “Successory” program—if you don’t feed the teachers . . .

If you don’t feed the teachers they will eat the kids. Look at successory. Think about having students write Thank You Notes from them to teachers or maybe others…custodian, bus driver or someone else who has impacted them. They should be written in duplicate: Two copies…white and yellow. The recipient gets white. Yellow goes to the principal who selects some and the students get a prize…gift card, etc. Some get published in a newspaper, newsletter, online, etc. Some districts have created television features shown locally. 
          By sharing these Thank You Notes, it returns focus to kids.
No. 4 is Plan celebrations of success—using technology to connect and inspire.
Plan celebrations. Keep in mind, the superintendent should be the district’s chief morale officer. 
Draper says, “Successory programs are a no brainer.”
          Draper talked about districtwide celebration days. Those videos, too, are available on his site. He is so committed to students he stressed, “Give me no credit for what you use. You take the credit. Just spread the word.”

          A celebration day was about the good things happening in Waterloo schools. Each employee was asked to bring a friend. Such events help spread the word.
          Waterloo Schools’ slogan: “Engaged in learning…prepared for success.”

Once a month, Waterloo holds a celebration of student success. Its staff pulls together like family. Miracles happen every day in the Waterloo schools and in all schools. Waterloo schools succeed. Draper says the videos must be inspiring or uplifting or both. 
          Draper’s No. 5 was no different from Jonah Berger, the CBS “60 Minutes” philosophy and even my approach: spread the strategic messages by telling stories.
          He advises avoid information overload.

More advice: The most charismatic speakers are not the most remembered. It’s the worst speaker who tells good stories who is remembered – at least the stories are.

     No. 6 is about stories. It’s about students. Put a face on students – whether poverty students or otherwise. 
     A message: Education cuts never heal. You can make a difference. Poor children are not lazy or stupid. They are just poor.
     No. 7 is about building connections. Intentionally build connections with faith organizations, first-responders and veterans to retool our image.

More advice: There is a declining trust in government. Schools must

disassociate with congress. Says Draper: Public schools are the nation’s foundation. Keep in mind that what we do is a good deed. 
          He suggests, no matter, put a face on students – even those from poverty and special needs. Visit public schools that ( launches this fall.)
          How do we make paddling up stream easier? Reverse the flow. 

          Help your staff realize the difference they make.
          Inspire them and lead them.
          Remind them that miracles happen every day in all public schools.
          Tell parents “We need you!!!”
Not only are your schools good, but so are the others. 

  • Here, from Draper are Three Fundamental Messages of Public Schools That Work:
    Good things are happening in public schools everywhere—even in our most challenged districts
  • Public schools must change to better serve today’s students
  • Employees are essential to spread the good news and lead the change

The Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communication Award went to April Domine, superintendent of New Albany, Ohio Public schools. In her remarks, she asked:

  • “Is everyone as safe as can be?
  • Are students learning?
  • Do people know about it?
    Dr. Domine is now doing online chats, town meetings and  open office hours. She says a district’s communication person must be part of the leadership team. 

The Barry Gaskins Mentor Legacy Award went to Annette Eyman, APR, director, communications, Papillion-LaVista (Neb.) School District.
          Eyman offered these thoughts:

5. Everyone can do your job. Accept it. But they can’t do it with precision.

4. Know who the boss is. But do not hesitate to question him/her behind closed doors. However, praise and support your “boss” in public.

3. Remember to laugh even with stress and press. Love what you do. Knowing the MIT (most important task) is key.
2. Be a story teller but don’t be star struck. You are not getting the spotlight. Staff should get the spotlight shined on them. You are behind the scenes. 
1. Remember why we do what we do. When you are having one of those days, think of your students. The American dream is alive and well in our schools. 

NSPRA offered so much more, but that would be information overload.

 [To comment: larry at larry litwin dot com]