Category Archives for "Topics"

Guest post by Karen McPhee

By Guest Author | Topics

Shhh…the product is talking now!

In his book Design Like Apple, corporate design guru John Edson lays out seven principles he believes led Apple to greatness and cemented Steve Jobs’ destiny as a messianic genius. While the book is certainly worth reading, its third chapter is particularly enlightening for school communications leaders.

Guest Author Karen McPhee

Guest Author Karen McPhee

The title of that chapter wraps up current marketing theory in five simple words: the product is the marketing. My colleague Julie Gillespie, a marketing maverick in her own right, has always preached it this way: you can’t hang it in the window if it’s not for sale in the store.

Edson offers compelling evidence that the customer has become sophisticated (and perhaps cynical) enough to see through any false promises made in advertising.

The near demise of the domestic auto industry supports Edson’s point. In the 1980’s, the Big Three believed their loyal customers would overlook their declining quality and the increasingly fuel efficient foreign cars. Their advertising boasted great rides: fast, stylish, and economical. But in reality, the cars were falling apart as they were driven off the showroom floors. (I know what I’m talking about here. I bought a K-car in 1982. How fast can you say “please pass me the lemon law?”)

The folks in Detroit were hanging a lot of stuff in the window…but it certainly wasn’t reflective of what the customer found in the store.  An entire industry almost tanked because it didn’t understand this shift in marketing nuance. Celebrity testimonials, slick ads, and hollow promises were no match for the customer’s actual experience with the product.

Fast forward 30 years and not only are customers now willing to ignore a company’s claims in deference to their own experience, but they can spread “the truth” like wild fire in our viral, Twitter-fed world.

Own it. Say it. Have the courage to put it out there.

So what does that mean for school communicators?  Simply this: you can’t claim you’re doing right by every student because you know you’re not. The temptation is there. As our critics illuminate our failures, we want desperately to fight back and claim our success. Of course, the reality is somewhere in the middle. And that’s where the marketing must start.
Say what?  Acknowledge our short comings? Well, we’re not fooling anyone anyhow. People’s experience with our schools (rather directly with their children or through the latest ranking of test scores in the local paper) is tempered with a reality that is not always to our liking…and certainly not always positive. So we have to own it. Yes, OWN it. SAY it. Have the courage to put it out there.

There’s power in stating your challenges before someone else does. As a superintendent, I almost always open with a disclaimer now: “Well, you know, like every industry, we have to lot to work on. While it’s true that most students are doing really, really well in our system, we won’t be happy until we can say that for every student. So let me share some ways that we’re tackling that challenge….”jamesnash2

I don’t argue about the validity of high stakes tests. I don’t argue that most of our children can read. I don’t argue about the impact of poverty and our sometimes futile attempt to overcome a glaring lack of resources. What I “hang in the window” are the efforts, large and small, that are designed to improve our students’ success…no matter what.

That relentless effort to improve is “for sale” in my store. What’s for sale in yours?

Photos by the author & James Nash

Guest post by Karen McPhee

By Guest Author | Topics

A New Year’s resolution: wipe away sticky negative residue

So if you’ve been following this blog, by now you’ve culled a list of community leaders, have personally invited them to tour your schools, and are ready to conduct your first tour.  Remember: the goal of the tour is to tackle the sticky negative residue left behind from the endless media barrage of “failing schools” stories. Your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to scrub away that negative residue with a powerful antidote: positive stories and personal relationships.

Guest Author Karen McPhee

Guest Author Karen McPhee

You probably won’t want to conduct more than one tour per week and, depending on the size of your community, that means you might be hosting a new community leader every week for several years.  That’s OK…Rome wasn’t built in a day and great school-community relations aren’t either.

You’ll also want to make sure that your schools are ready for the tour. Building principals and teachers should know the purpose of the tours: to engage community leaders, give them a first-hand look at education, ask them for ideas, and leave them with positive sticky residue. While you certainly don’t want to suggest that teachers “up their game” for the tour, you do want the building and staff to be “company ready.”

Don’t forget these savvy steps 

Since you probably won’t be able to schedule more than an hour or two with any community leader, you’ll want to be savvy about the time. Here are a few strongly suggested suggestions for the tour:

Meet at your office.  From there you can walk or ride to your first stop, providing valuable conversation time.

When you arrive at your first school, meet up with the principal, who should conduct the tour. As the principal enters classrooms and walks down the hall, he or she will be greeting all those adorable munchkins by name. (OK, if you’re in a middle or high school, they’re less munchkiny!) This is important!  The relationship our principals and teachers have with our students is a story.  When visitors witness this personal interaction, they are usually impressed. Suddenly “school” feels warm and homey.

As you enter a classroom, if it is not disruptive to the instruction, introduce your guest to the students. Younger students might want to ask a question or two.  Older students will ignore you.  Both responses are expected. Again, if not a disruption, introduce your guest to the teacher and this is beyond important, this is mission critical: have the teacher explain what’s happening in the classroom. Teachers just drip positive emotional residue…they’re downright gooey. The public has forgotten that. Your community leaders need to see it; experience it.

After you visit a few classrooms you can travel to another building or call it a day.  On the way back to your office, make sure to ask three questions:

  • Did you see anything that surprised you?
  • What ideas do you have for us to consider?
  • Can I add you to my list of community leaders who receive regular email updates from me?

Your sticky residue: positive or negative?

Leave a trail of sticky, positive residue

Let the “experience” of seeing all those happy, smiling, learning faces be the residue you leave behind. Statistics and test scores can’t compare with witnessing teachers perform the daily miracles we take for granted: teaching a 5-year-old how to read, guiding 30 high school students through the dissection of a fetal pig, leading a middle school chorus in perfect harmony.

Follow with a written thank you note. Include another business card and an invitation to visit the school or call you anytime. Add the name to your new School Information Network email list (Yes, I know the acronym is SIN!) Use the email network to send positive sticky story after positive sticky story and as a “first alert” to share important news about your district.

Before you know it, your community leaders will become powerful allies in the war against negative sticky residue!

With Mark de Roo

By Mark deRoo | Topics

Just three words
You’re undoubtedly heard the expression, Good things come in 3’s. OK, maybe there’s absolutely no scientific data to back this up, but it just seems that way, doesn’t it?  Whether it’s three consecutive days of sunshine or a terrific trilogy of books you’ve read, there’s sweet power in the number “3.”blackplastic
I appreciated this concept even more when reading a blog by Chris Brogan.  For the past seven years, he begins each year by identifying three words that serve as guideposts for the following 12 months.  He’s not a fan of resolutions.  Just words.  Here’s his explanation:
Every year since around 2006, I’ve been challenging people to forego the idea of a resolution, and instead, to come up with 3 words that will help you define your goals and experiences for the coming year. Resolutions are often too vague, or too directed towards one goal. It might be “quit smoking” or “lose 20 pounds” or “get hired.” These are all fine aspirations, but I challenge you to dig deeper, to find three words that could be used as lighthouses to guide you through stormy seas, that can be used as flags on the battlefield of your challenges, words that will bolster you and give you a direction that goes beyond the goals you might attach as a result of these words.

Thoughtful thorough trio

Here are examples from some of his readers:
Lean. Zoom. Excel.
Focus. Create. Smile.
Authenticity. Action. Amore.

I really like that last one!  A little “amore” is good for just about anything!
Of course, Chris got me thinking about what three words that will serve me during ’13.  After a few days of reflection and better yet, anticipation for this next chapter, I came up with these three words:
Grace. Balance. Mindful.

If you’re a purist about these words, you’d label these as two nouns and an adjective.  I’m going to take some literary license and make them all verbs—well, at least, metaphorically.
In terms of “grace,” I’ve been granted it by the good Lord with the expectation that I’ll extend that to others. The “balance” thing has always been a struggle for me. This year, I want to be all-the-more intentional about getting off the treadmill of work a bit more, watch more Seinfeld re-runs, and go on more date nights with my wife. “Mindfulness” has a slow-it-down-and-focus dimension to it that I’d like to leverage more within myself and for my clients.tillwe
So—and you knew this was coming—what are your three words for 2013?  What will serve as your targets—or rumble strips—as you engage the next year?
Think about it and let me know your thoughts, or more precisely your words.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

photos by tillwe & black plastic

with Professor Pocock

By Rob Pocock | Topics

4th in a series about customer service . . . Topic: Think Win Win

The two axes of win-win

When I first heard people use the term “win-win” I thought it rather meaningless.  I was pretty sure they meant, “I win, you lose” but with the sugar coating of a nice sounding buzz phrase.

It was when I started studying the writings of Stephen R. Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) that my thinking turned around.  The way Dr. Covey explained it made so much sense. But it also outlined how much hard work truly getting to win-win takes.  Because it takes people who are both courageous and considerate at the same time.

Draw box with four quadrants. The x-axis is labeled “courage.” The y-axis is labeled “consideration.” The scale goes from low to high (left to right and bottom to top).  Here’s how each quadrant is labeled:

The bottom left-hand quadrant is Lose-Lose.  That’s because the organization is low on courage. It won’t stand up for what is right for the organization so the organization loses.  And because the organization is low on consideration as well, the customer is offended or treated poorly. Yes, lose-lose.  That organization isn’t going to be around for long.

The quadrant directly above (upper left) is Lose-Win.  The organization is low on courage (so the organization loses) but the customer wins because the organization is so overly considerate.  In this quadrant, the organization simply becomes a door mat for others to walk on.  Why do you think this organization won’t stand the test of time?

The bottom, right hand quadrant is the Win-Lose quadrant.   The organization is low on consideration (so the customer loses) but the organization wins because the organization is so very courageous.  In this quadrant, the organization treats customers poorly and while it may make a profit in the short-term, that certainly won’t last long.

Getting to the upper right is the challenge

The final quadrant is in the upper right.  This is the Win-Win quadrant because the organization has had the courage to do what’s right for the organization and it has had enough consideration to do what’s right for the customer.  This is the only quadrant in which successful organizations live.

Getting to the upper right hand quadrant is hard work. Period. But it’s the only quadrant your organization can choose. Make it a habit to practice being a win-win organization starting today!

with Mark de Roo

By Mark deRoo | Topics

Location, Location, Location!
Drenthe. Borculo. Overisel.
You’re probably wondering what those three words are. Are they things? People?  Fictional places? No, they’re actually little “bergs” around Holland, Michigan. While Holland isn’t Chicago, it probably feels like Chicago to know residents from those tiny villages.

Well, one of those hamlets is called Graafschap. It doesn’t get much more Dutch than this. Within that little town are a church, a firehouse, a pretty good sized hardware store, and a handful of houses.  Oh yeah, there’s one more place….a bike shop. Yeah, a rather high-end bike shop.
You gotta wonder.  Why would anyone want to have a bike shop off the beaten path?  Besides, the history of that particular location is pretty revealing.  Prior to it housing a bike shop, it was a used car lot, then a coffee shop.  Both of them were short-lived.  I hope the bike guys makes it, but I have my doubts.  And there are three reasons for my skepticism:  location, location, location.   If you have any experience in retail, you know these are the cardinal rules for success.

In the words of a trucker, “What’s your 20?

Let’s take that premise beyond the retail arena. As school communicators, I wonder what your “location” might be.  Allow me a few questions:

  • How visible are you?  What’s your “location?”  To what degree, do you attend various school functions to monitor the pulse of the teachers, the administrators, musical events within the organization, and certainly at athletic events?  And when you’re there, do people notice you?
  • How visible are you within the community?  Sure, your plate is full with school events, but how obvious are you within other community activities?
  • How “visible” is your workspace or office?  Are you at the organization’s “water cooler” or crossroads where you can both listen and share?

    Not OK.

  • When it comes to attending various functions, do you tend to migrate to the back of the room or off to the side?  Or, are you fairly apparent?  How would it feel if you took a center seat at a meeting versus sitting at the end or the outside of the circle?  Sure, you don’t want to upstage key people.  At the same time, you are one of those key persons with something to contribute.

So, here’s your challenge:  Get yourself a prime “location.” Make yourself visible. Grab some attention. But, just don’t take my word for it. Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”  I think the other 20 percent is location, location, location!

Photos by c.j. sorg & anemoneprojectors

with Mark de Roo

By Mark deRoo | Topics

Are you as memorable as this troupe of trick-or-treaters?

November 1 in the office. What’s the Number One topic for discussion around the water cooler? It’s all about what happened at your house and in your neighborhood on Halloween. This topic arose with a group of fellow caffeine addicts at JP’s, our local coffee shop in Holland. Within no time, one of my coffee cohorts shared one cool tale. He told us about a group of six women (he guessed that they were college age) who came to the door all dressed in Raggedy Ann costumes.

Your brand: Raggedy or ragged?

OK, this doesn’t project the fear of the devil in you on Halloween night. But what really made the difference was the standard pronouncement of “Trick or Treat.” This ensemble conveyed their desire in song. And not just with one voice but in harmony.  My friend said they were so terrific, he wished they would have stayed till Christmas.

So much for those other tricksters.  Their Superman or President Obama costumes didn’t hold a candle to this entourage.

This begs the question:  how do YOU stand out? 

Lately, the concept of “personal branding” has become popular.  On one hand, one’s “brand” can be so distinctive that it’s almost kind of weird. Too extreme. On the other hand, it can be something highly regarded and consistently appreciated.
Martin Lindstrom, a PR expert, offers this prescription for personal branding:

  • Define who you are and who you aren’t, such as on-time, fun, resourceful
  • Be known for one thing
  • Create an air of mystery
  • Create a signature look
  • Leave a personal mark behind, such as a unique business card

So, how would you respond to these five items?  How do you feel about your current “brand?” Are you intentional about it. Do you create an “air of mystery?”  Where or what is your true area of expertise? If you haven’t ever thought about your personal brand, there’s nothing like the group of six co-eds at Halloween to cause you to stop and take notice.

Who knows? By following Lindstrom’s prescription, you just might end up with the really “good candy.”

photo by eschipul

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