Internet skills rank low in NSPRA survey

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Being able to communicate via the net is nowhere near the top of qualities superintendents most expect from their communications staff, nor are these skills rated highly by school public relations practitioners, according to the newly released report, “Communications Needs of School Superintendents: Related Perceptions of School Communications Staff. A 2006 survey listing 31 communication skills and attributes was completed by a panel of 35 school PR practitioners and 13 superintendents.
Topping the superintendents’ want list for communicators were important qualities, no doubt, including “ability to mitigate a crisis and perfom well under pressure,” “ability to relay information clearly to a variety of audiences,” and “ability to communicate a postive image for the school district.”
Topping the practitioners’ priority list were equally important skills: “willingness to communicate honestly and fully even if the information is not flattering to the school district,” “ability to offer strategic counsel to school leaders,” and “ability to assess and address issues before they become crises.”
All are certainly crucial attributes for communicators. But given the realities of 21st century media, I’d put technological savvy up there at least somewhere in the Top Ten.
But consider: “Excellent computer skills including internet capabilities” appeared as tied for #14 on the superintendents’ rankings, but because of a number of ties, its actual place position was #22 out of 31. Computer and internet skills ranked even lower on the practitioners’ list, appearing as #26, but again, because of a number of ties, its actual place on the list was #30 out of 31 attributes.
I don’t think this bodes very well for school communications in the near future, especially in an environment of funding cuts, increased media scrutiny, pressures from NCLB, and international competition.

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5 Responses to Internet skills rank low in NSPRA survey

  1. Delaina says:

    Wow, this is very strange. I was looking at that same NSPRA email literally 30 seconds ago. I saw the same list of “qualities” desired by Superintendents in their PR professional.

    My reaction was exactly the same as yours. Why is NSPRA not realizing that maybe superintendent’s are total dimwits when it comes to marketing & PR? Why don’t they ask the marketing experts, webmasters, and graphic designers, not just the superintendents? They might as well have asked the janitor or the cafeteria workers.

    As a graphic designer/marketing specialist/webmaster for a school district, I am dumbfounded by the lack of interest and knowledge of marketing in districts. They’re OK with PR, and great with dealing with the media, but when it comes to creating great websites, branding, and marketing (ala Trout and Ries Positioning-style), they’re hopeless.

    My belief is that the people doing the hiring aren’t looking for the right people who are tech-savvy, and from there the problem perpetuates year after year.

  2. paul says:

    I can understand why superintendents might not have the time to stay up to speed on the latest communication technology, given their many responsibilities and the pressures of their jobs. But what amazes me is that the practitioners themselves (according to this survey) don’t seem to pay much attention to the value of online communication. Printed district newsletters are great. Press releases still have some value. But why not take advantage of the fact that most families have computers with internet access, they read blogs, listen to podcasts, consult Wikipedia, and subscribe to RSS news feeds (whether they realize it or not)? There’s a lot of competition for their attention, and it’s a shame to think that most people still rely almost exclusively on the local newspaper for school information.

  3. Delaina says:

    It’s not necessarily the superintendent’s job to keep up with the latest communication technology, but it is their job to find a PR person who will take up that task on behalf of the school district.

    Unfortunately, very few districts seem to put enough resources behind their websites, let alone podcasting and blogs. In addition, teachers have to learn about this stuff on their own because their in-house technology workshops are all still teaching how to build websites in FrontPage and Publisher and (unfortunately) Microsoft Word. You know there is a problem when the 6th-grade students know more about RSS and HTML than the staff person giving technology training to the teachers.

    Going back to marketing in general, it irks me that NSPRA asks only superintendents what they want in their PR person. Its nearly the same as asking the superintendent what he or she wants in their district plumber. Don’t get me wrong, I know of superintendents who have very good marketing sense. But I’ll assume that for most superintendents, both plumbing and marketing are not their expertise. NSPRA should also be asking people who know about the marketing side, not just the education side.

  4. Delaina says:

    Oh, and by the way, for the many school districts that use Websense filtering, any site deemed as a “MP3 and Audio Downloading” site is blocked by default. This includes many popular podcast-hosting sites like Liberated Syndication (www.libsyn.com).

    So the podcast website I created for the NSPRA 2007 seminar was blocked by Websense because it was hosted by LibSyn. That shows you how knowledgeable and interested school districts are about podcasting.

  5. paul says:

    I posted today about Jennifer McClure’s insistence that PR practitioners need to be on top of this stuff. She directs the Society for New Communications Research and was interviewed by Bulldog Reporter. And it’s true: kids walk into the classroom already knowing more about these technologies than most of us. They should be tapped as a resource.

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