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Feature                                  Page 52

Publications and Communications:

Delivering Member Services to Match Changing Needs

Visible member services like the magazine you are reading now have always been important to associations. And AASA is no exception.
 Official Report 1945
In 1945, AASA canceled its national convention at the request of the U.S. government to preserve war-related resources, so the association conducted a series of regional events. 

Throughout its history, AASA has placed a premium on the publications it produces, from yearbooks that were mailed annually from 1923 to 1960, to specialty titles serving school leadership that focus on topics ranging from school facilities to the art of the superintendency.

“Publications, in whatever format you choose to produce them, give your organization a voice,” says Gary Marx, who is credited with ramping up AASA’s communications and publishing efforts from the late 1970s through the 1990s. “They provide information and stir debate while serving as a way to communicate what is important.”

Today, AASA’s communications efforts go far beyond the printed materials that land in your mailbox. The organization has a strong presence as an information source on school district issues and as a public education advocate with local, state and national news media. Association members benefit from electronic newsletters, legislative e-updates, practical toolkits and, increasingly, videos and webinars. You can purchase books, co-published by AASA with longtime partner Rowman & Littlefield, in print, PDF or e-book format.

“The one thing we can do that no one else can do is be the voice for the superintendent at the national level,” says Executive Director Daniel Domenech. “We represent everybody.”

Annual Curriculum Books

Prior to 1920, AASA’s publications consisted largely of national convention records, but as the organization started charging dues, it decided to publish a yearbook as a member service. The first, published in 1923, contained 56 charts about the superintendency, including each superintendent’s authority, experience, income, preparation and tenure. Before long, the yearbooks focused on improving curriculum, and an AASA Yearbook Commission consisting of superintendents, principals, classroom teachers and college professors was formed.

“The great contribution of the curriculum yearbooks was the idea that developing curriculum should be a cooperative process, and that unless teachers are involved in it, you don’t do much to the curriculum,” said Hazel Davis, AASA’s assistant director of research and coordinator of the project in the 1950s and early ’60s in an interview published in “AASA: A Centennial Story.” “These yearbooks were textbooks for a lot of these early administrators who became superintendents right out of the principalship.”

During the post-World War II baby boom and the massive jump in school construction, AASA published books on building new facilities that served as guides for planning, selecting architects and explaining the role of consultants. In the mid-1970s, the association’s Federal Relations Department added an “Urban Desk,” and AASA started publishing the Job Bulletin newsletter, The AASA Professor focusing on research, and a series of critical issues reports on the school energy crisis.

The first Conference Daily, a tabloid newspaper, was published in 1977 and has since remained a staple of reporting on conference proceedings. It’s now an online product, replete with blog postings, video and audio clips and a Twitter feed. In its earlier days, the convention-based publication was so well-received that AASA hired a separate team of editors, reporters and writers to cover sessions for the Convention Reporter, a 32-page publication that was sent free to all members after each national conference for a decade starting in 1978.

‘Next Step Forward’

Catalog Cover
AASA's annual publications catalog promoted the wide array of topical reports and books in the 1990s on issues relating to public school leadership, instruction, governance and legal topics. 

 

It was Marx’s arrival as the association’s director of communications, however, that saw the organization’s publishing and external publicity efforts take flight in the 1980s and ’90s. Marx says AASA was “ready for the next step forward” in terms of its publications and communications efforts.

“In associations, a lot of people want to do a lot of wonderful things, but the association also has to produce enough revenue to support them,” he says. “Many of the publications that were being produced were sort of driven by a grant or a joint project of some type. They weren’t necessarily motivated by a hard look at the needs of the people in the field, and that’s one of the things I tried to do.”

The School Administrator, which debuted as a one-page newsletter in 1943, was expanded into a monthly magazine format in January 1981 when it featured a cover story with public opinion pollster George Gallup at Princeton.

“Paul Salmon was there at the time, and it was his unstated dream to have a magazine,” Marx says. “When we produced the first School Administrator, he patted that magazine and said, ‘This is just great. Everybody is going to love it. But I want you to be prepared because you’ve created new expectations.’”

Member-Influenced Products

Marx took an integrated approach to publications, communications and member services. He used the feedback from extensive member surveys to develop AASA’s products. Materials produced by AASA ranged from filmstrips with accompanying guidebooks to books and videos. The most successful publication, Parents: Partners in Education, was translated into five languages and sold almost one million copies.

 

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“Looking at member surveys, if you’re thinking creatively, it’s not just what you have in front of you, but what the results tell you about the needs that you haven’t necessarily identified,” Marx says. “We were always looking in the white space, always looking to figure out what else is there that we don’t have written down in front of us.”

Using the survey data, critical issues reports were created and later used as background documents in pitches to news media. Marx says he believed that AASA should take on the role of a “good adviser and counselor” when working with members of the media, which led to more phone calls — and quotes in the press — for AASA.

“Digging up information and putting it together with familiar information creates new knowledge, and that’s what we need to do to legitimately communicate with all of the broader publics,” Marx says. “My attitude was and is that education is important to everyone, but we often don’t make that connection to them.”

When Paul Houston took over as executive director in 1994, AASA saw its fortunes in media relations rise more. Houston, who had written Exploding the Myths the year before he took the AASA post, wanted to take on education critics who said K-12 schools were doing a poor job.

“I thought the attacks on education were misplaced and wrong,” says Houston, who went on a 17-day media tour after being hired. “It was pretty clear when I went to AASA that superintendents needed a stronger national voice than they were having. Superintendents were being attacked and there wasn’t enough pushback taking place, so I used this as an opportunity to say the things I wanted about education and hopefully revitalize the organization at the same time.”

Messages in Varied Platforms

 smartphone
Through the AASA mobile app, which was introduced in 2014, readers can access an electronic version of the flagship publication, School Administrator

 

Since Domenech became excecutive director in 2008, the momentum to connect with AASA’s various audiences through strategic media relations and robust social and digital media platforms has reached new levels. AASA is quoted in top-tier news media outlets regularly, the number of visitors to AASA.org has increased sharply, and the organization’s Twitter account has surpassed 12,000 followers.

In addition, AASA has developed a webinar series, leveraging the expertise of AASA staff, organizational partners, key stakeholders and members, and launched a mobile app to deliver event agendas, leadership news and updates to members as well as nonmembers from its headquarters in Alexandria, Va. In addition, AASA’s public policy department developed materials that explained how members could market their school districts and public education. Using polls and focus groups, the association provided in-depth information about where people get their news, how the news is viewed and which messages about public education are best understood.

Meanwhile, in 2000, AASA and Rowman & Littlefield entered into a book publishing agreement that has resulted in 10 to 12 co-branded titles annually. Tom Koerner, the company’s vice president and publisher, says the most popular titles — Rowman & Littlefield also fulfills all books published before 2000 — are about working with school boards.

“It’s been an excellent partnership. Their mix of books and everything is outstanding,” Koerner says. “Superintendents and other administrators can find some help and good advice in all of these books. They have some really excellent tools for their members.”

In today’s communications world, there are ever-increasing ways to publish and promote an organization’s content through words and visuals. But, as Marx notes, don’t let your message get lost in multiple platforms.

“The challenge for AASA, and any association really, is having products that you can sell and that become valuable go-to tools for your members,” he says. “It will always be important for members to know what their association is doing with them and for them.”

Glenn Cook is a freelance education writer in Lorton, Va. E-mail: glenncook117@gmail.com Twitter: @ourrealityshow

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