February 15, 2009

Ode to APS

APS-Apple-logo_2Those of you who have known me for a while are aware that I took a leave of absence from my public relations practice several years ago to help lead the Albuquerque Public Schools as Chief of Staff/Superintendent of Advancement.
At the time, APS was 87,000 students and 14,700 employees strong. A revolving door of superintendents was documented through seven leadership transitions in 12 years. Lack of trust was reflected through the first defeat of a capital funding election in recent history.
After helping APS reconnect with the community, despite controversial leadership, we saw the passage of a needed capital funding election and the highest approval rating for the school district in recent memory.
But the time to celebrate the success was short lived. Five months after the successful election, the superintendent was killed in a motor vehicle accident. The person who was driving the superintendent’s car was drunk those who were not killed in the crash were all dead within three weeks… which coincidently, was the amount of time before the school year started.
The situation was a classic crisis communications case study. I’ve had a chance to share the 48 hours of the crisis response to the National School Public Relations Association, Council of Great City Schools and, tomorrow, the Texas School Public Relations Association. Lest anyone think I am making money off of this tragedy, I cover all of my expenses and never charge for this talk. In fact, I never do a soft sell for services.
I do this as my community service. Using the approach of “one beggar showing another beggar where to get food”, the talk is designed to refresh communicators minds, encouraging them to look into all aspects of building community trust before and during a crisis. Incidentally, tomorrow will be the last time that I’ll give the presentation. It is emotionally draining and, after five years, it is time to move on and let others share their examples.
So, why the blog post? I guess in part to encourage communicators to share their success stories. I saw in the newspaper today that colleague Joann Killeen provided pro bono services to the mother of the very controversial mother of the octuplets. While I have mixed feelings on the client and situation, I look forward to hearing from her about the unique challenges. If you have a success story, send it to me and I’ll post it up here… changing the names to protect the innocent!

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