Five Point Guide for Perfect Public Relations

Mike Lawson • MusicEd: Mentor Minute • January 10, 2020

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In the business world it’s “public relations,” and in music education, we call it “advocacy.” Regardless of the terminology, it’s essential to have a foundation of supportive relationships around your program.

Here are five guidelines to help you establish and grow the partnerships that will make your career.

1. Communicate thoroughly

Just as students learn in different ways, parents, teachers, and administrators get their information through a variety of outlets. These days it isn’t enough to expect one form of communication to hit every contact we need it to. By utilizing email, online calendars, social media groups, texts, verbal announcements, fliers, and newsletters, we can be assured we did all we could to cover our bases, mitigating the risk of misinformation.

2. Apologize first

Did you accidentally hurt a student’s feelings, show an inappropriate video in class, or make a mistake in a concert program? Regardless of your intentions, apologizing first can instantly disarm the situation. The other person, whether it is a student, parent, or administrator, will anticipate you getting defensive when being rebuked. By accepting blame, the other person’s response changes to empathy. Take your ego out of the equation and validate the other person’s feelings, even if you don’t agree with them. Once the situation is emotionally defused, you can work toward improving the situation in the future. You have far more to gain by being self-effacing than you do by getting defensive.

3. Leverage your captive audience

Music educators regularly get an outstanding opportunity for facetime with the important people to our programs: performances. A concert once per quarter is four times per year you have a captive audience to advocate to. Though handing out pamphlets full of statistics of the benefits of music education is a good start, it can be more simple and subtle than that. For example:

• Talk about the benefits of ensemble performance

• Share a success story your group just had

• Print your upcoming performances and activities in the program

• Remind the parents of their awesomeness for supporting their kids

• Tout financial support you’ve received, openly thank sponsors

• Thank school administrators, and invite audience members to email their gratitude to your admin as well

• When being praised for the performance acknowledge the efforts of your students and the support of your administration

• If you have a parent group, thank these volunteers and cite their recent actions

• Share successes your students have outside of music; honors or awards they have received

Finally, ask for support. People are more devoted to organizations where they give of their time, talents, or funds. Not only will they be more likely to give again, they’ll be more supportive of everything you do. People don’t want to believe they gave to something that wasn’t worthwhile, so by giving they will automatically perceive the importance of your program, regardless of the level to which they give. Follow up with abundant gratitude.

4. Support your stakeholders

We expect parents, teachers, and administrators to support us, so we should support them in return. When assigned curb duty, we should do it. If there are schedule conflicts with another teacher, we should be willing to quickly work them out. If we’re asked to cover a class during our prep, we should do so without complaint. Support others as you want to be supported, as long as you can facilitate it without being injurious to yourself. Think of it like a bank account; when you give support, it adds to the amount of goodwill in this imaginary bank account. Then when you need support, you will have goodwill available to withdraw from.

5. Stay positive

This is the by far the most powerful thing you can do when it comes to advocacy and public relations. It is also the simplest. People like to be around happy, positive people. When you’re disgruntled or complaining, that directly reflects on how you are perceived.

Learning to respond to even the most aggravating situations in an uplifting way is a skill that can do more for your own happiness and career longevity than almost any other training. Like any other skill, it is important to practice positivity daily. I recommend taking five minutes every morning to sit in a quiet space and visualize your day. Picture walking into your classroom, and imagine how good it feels. Visualize how smoothly and adeptly you respond to any student acting out with disrespect. Imagine finishing your day with a smile, filled with gratitude for each experience. Practice being positive and happy just as you would practice any other skill and you’ll find that before long it becomes second nature.

Just as you can practice being positive, it’s important to avoid being negative. It may feel good in the moment to vent your upset and frustrations in a public platform, but what good does that actually do? If anything, it tends to draw people of a similar attitude to you, which in turn surrounds you with negativity. If you do feel the need to spew out your thoughts and feelings, do so privately.

Keep a journal or an email the rant to yourself. Remember that it’s not complaints that make change, it is plans and positivity that do. By adopting these five approaches to advocacy and public relations, you’ll find yourself more supported and more adaptable than ever before.

An experienced K-8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs and have long and happy careers. She holds a bachelor of music from Brigham Young University and a master of business administration from Western Governors University. Elisa uses her vast and diverse skillset to help nonprofits, businesses, and music educators around the world. In addition to being a columnist for SBO Magazine, she serves as conductor of her local community band, and maintains a private lesson studio. Elisa is a nationally-recognized speaker, the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, founder of the International Music Education Summit, and author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive.

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