Dissemination and Public Relations
What is PR?
Much like marketing, public relations is a way for an organization to connect with interested parties not directly involved with the project to gather support.
Why do it?
Public relations to interested parties and stakeholders can make or break any project. Unless you somehow have infinite resources, your project will be competing with others for monetary and staffing resources. The key to continuing your project is to keep the interested parties interested by telling them how the project is progressing at various intervals, by showing them why is it important, by motivating them to speak up about what you are doing.
Who to PR to
All generations in every venue for public relations should be contacted. In today's educational world parents age can range from their 20s to 50s, depending on when they have their children. Also politicians, sponsors, funders, school boards, colleges and students may be able to help your message reach the community.
The extensiveness of the Public Relations plan will be determined by the budget given by the school district or the ability for one to reach out to the community for support and available free dissemination channels.
What to report
A well planned project is divided into phases, each of which will have its own traceable milestones. Since it's critical to give the appearance of success, be sure to include any foreseeable obstacles in the projected progress at the beginning of the PR campaign. For example, switching from a Mac to a PC based system will undoubtedly involve some sort of learning curve for learners and teachers alike. If this was anticipated in the plan, then it's perfectly reasonable to report success at meeting expectations even when progress is slow in the beginning.
Elements of Good Public Relations:
1. A mission statement that expresses the purpose of the project, the goals and the projected timeline in accomplishing those goals and objectives.
2. At the beginning of the implementation, emphasizing the goals and objectives, announcing the potential completion of the project.
3. Continuous stream of communication to all parties involved, as appropriate for the timeline of the project. Monthly communication for longer projects is recommended.
4. Incorporation of the potential students who will benefit from the project will not only create excitement from the student body, it will also convey a sense of importance to them and their parents, who are the ultimate support in the economic phase of the project.
5. Once a certain point of development and certain milestones have been reached, a special communication or event should be planned. Milestones are a measurable way to announce any advancements and changes to the project and their effect on the timeline.
6. A grand opening or a completion announcement is important for the overall success. It will boost morale and encourage continued support from the community for future projects.
Using diverse methods to reach the public is critical. One must search many different vehicles of communication in order to reach multiple level of audiences, starting from the most traditional, such as press releases to local papers, articles to interested magazines, public service announcements for radio stations, local community programming on television, newsletters (hard copy and via e-mails), blogs, email or YouTube videos.
According to Personal Relations expert, Peter Smith, "the growing influence of consumer-generated media (CGM), including blogs, online forums, podcasts, and other social media tools, has changed the environment in which public relations practitioners conduct campaigns for their clients and connect with their stakeholders. Rather than working solely with journalists to reach publics—practitioners are now becoming “part of the quirky blogging community [to be] aware of how their organization or client is being discussed”  (Porter, et. al, 2007, p. 94).
Blogs, such as the One Laptop Per Child project's blog: http://www.olpcnews.com/
Tours. such as those given by Philadelphia's school of the future http://www.microsoft.com/education/schoolofthefuture/
YouTube videos, such as this one from a program in Maryland, operated by United Cerebral Palsy of Prince George's and Montgomery Counties with funding from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "The program encourages high school students with disabilities to pursue careers in science, engineering and high technology." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_0XlWoMOE8