Do’s and Don’ts of CTO Communications with Local Media

Charlene Blohm and Dennis Pierce led our first CETL Summit at the 2015 Annual Conference. This is the last post in a four-part series reviewing communications strategies discussed during the Summit.

School district CTOs can leverage local media to build support for their ed tech initiatives by being responsive and transparent and by knowing how to pitch stories about their successes. During the CETL Summit in Atlanta on March 19, we co-presented on how to maximize your value as a school district CTO by communicating more effectively with both internal and external stakeholder groups. We also invited a special guest speaker to the summit: Jaime Sarrio, an education editor with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who presented some do’s and don’ts for communicating with the local media.

Do…

  • Learn which reporters cover your district, and routinely pitch ideas for stories to them. “New programs and initiatives are of interest to us,” Sarrio said, “especially if you can explain how they are geared toward student improvement.” 
  • Speak in basic terms. “Some of us are familiar with education, while some are new to the beat,” she said. “The best reporters are able to boil things down to a very basic level for readers. Help us make things simple.”
  • Write brief pitches with basic information included: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Pitches might be rewritten for digital news items or developed into deeper stories, Sarrio said.
  • Include contact information and be ready to respond quickly. “We’re on tight deadlines,” she explained.
  • Provide supporting information such as documents, RFPs and expense details. “We’ll often gather more information than we need, but showing you’re transparent goes a long way to build trust,” she noted.

Don’t…

  • Provide inaccurate information or try to hide information. “Try your best to make sure names, figures, and details are accurate,” Sarrio added. “Everyone makes mistakes, but sources that prove to be unreliable will have trouble getting attention from the media.”
  • Do nothing. “There are great stories in your school and district,” she said. “How will we know about them if you don’t tell us?”
  • Try to control the story. “Trust is a two-way street,” she noted. “Not all reporters can or should be trusted. But if you find someone who is professional and credible, help him or her get the information they need to tell a great story.”
  • Take it personally. If there’s a negative story about you or the district that makes you angry, “express your opinion to the journalist,” she recommended, “and then be ready to move on.”

The Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) program is a CoSN-led initiative to certify the skills and qualifications of school district CTOs. There are 135 CETLs from 22 states. To learn more about this designation or to register for the exam, go to http://www.cosn.org/certification.

Charlene Blohm is President and CEO of C. Blohm & Associates, a public relations firm specializing in the education and special needs industries. The former Editor in Chief of eSchool Media, Dennis Pierce is now the owner and Chief Content Officer of Pierce Publishing, a freelance writing and content marketing consulting firm.

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