Image isn't everything, but it can't be ignored

Steve Hirano, Editor
Posted on November 1, 2001

Bad news travels fast. It overstays its welcome, too. For example, when someone gets fired, how long does it take for the news of the event - and gleeful speculation about its grounds - to make its way to the farthest corner of your place of employment? Not long, I’m sure. The speedy arrival of bad news is exceeded only by its reluctance to depart, not unlike a hawk streaking down to snare a pigeon - and snacking interminably on the unfortunate prey. That’s why it’s important to be pre-emptive: Put out good news about what you do before bad news leaves a stain that won’t wash away. Image is important. Take the initiative to develop a solid reputation both within the school district and in the community. When bad news finds its way to your doorstep, your solid standing may help to deflect the impact of the blow. Learn from the pros
To provide you with some incentive to burnish your department’s reputation, SBF’s three editors - Sandra Matke, Joey Campbell and I - compiled more than two dozen tips from transportation managers, public relations specialists and journalists from around the country. The article, “28 Ways to Spread Good News About Your Program,” takes a look at print and broadcast media as well as other outlets for positive spin, such as parades, open houses and other community events. (The article begins on pg. 20.) As school transportation professionals, the good things you do are many. You’re probably not even aware of most of them. The task of transporting students to and from school each day is fraught with potential for disaster, much more than teaching these same students in the classroom. Safety is a key issue, and one that is handled expertly by the school transportation community, judging from the dearth of fatalities inside the bus and outside as well. But safety is only one factor. Most communities expect more than a safe ride to and from school. If possible, focus your PR machine on quality of service, equipment and personnel. Buses arriving and departing on time, in good condition, with professional drivers at the wheel, are the best protection against the occasional glitch that makes the local headlines. And we all know that glitches happen, even to the best operations. What did he say?
When there is a glitch, whether it was preventable or not, be careful how you respond to media inquiries. Although we advise in the aforementioned article that you should be honest and open with the media, you need to exercise caution just the same. Even the most innocent comments can be taken out of context. For example, a newspaper discovered that a school bus driver had been arrested for selling drugs to some of his passengers. As you might expect, the reporter assigned to the story called the driver’s employer for a comment. The employer checked the driver’s record, found it to be spotless and, in so many words, informed the reporter of this fact. When the article appeared in the newspaper, the employer was quoted as describing the suspect as “one of our best drivers.” If one of the company’s best drivers has been arrested for selling drugs to passengers, what kind of mischief are the other drivers up to? Perhaps a better answer would have been: “He has a clean driving record and no criminal convictions.” Period. End of quote. In any case, keep spreading good news about your program. It will help you in ways that you probably couldn’t anticipate.

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