Jennifer Hines: Making the Media Work for Your Schools

Jennifer Hines spent 20 years in the media business before leading communications at Tyler ISD in Texas. Her media expertise and relationship building offers an important lesson for superintendents and communications leaders alike.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: March 31, 2023


Jennifer Hines spent 20 years in the media business before leading communications at Tyler ISD in Texas. Her media expertise and relationship building offers an important lesson for superintendents and communications leaders alike. Join this masterclass on all things school communications and media relations. You’ll learn about how communications can support departments throughout the district, how to make it easy for local news to tell the narrative you want, and ultimately how you can make the media work for your schools.


Jennifer Hines is the Chief Communications Officer for Tyler ISD. She is a communications strategist, writer, podcast host, and mentor. An award-winning journalist and news anchor, Jennifer spent 20 years in the media business, most recently at KLTV, before switching to School Public Relations in 2019. She has dealt with everything from the name change of the district’s two flagship high schools in record time and COVID-19 to, most recently, a bond election. In May 2022, Jennifer helped her district pass an $89M bond package.


Intro Quote: Jennifer Hines (Guest): I would ask others to kind of create that rapport. And it doesn't always have to be about business. How was your weekend? How are things going? And then ask about the future. What are three things that you think are going to be coming down the pipeline in the next six months that our department needs to be looking at? Where is something that you've maybe heard in the community that we could support an effort to make things a little bit smoother from a communication standpoint? So just kind of always having that ongoing conversation of the direction that you want your department to go and then the expectations of where they see your department going. Every year we have three things that we're supposed to focus on, and I literally have mine taped here to my desk so that every day on my computer screen, I can look at it and I can be like, Okay, are we doing these things? Everything that we're doing has to fall under these three things. And how do we do that? How do we do that on a large scale, not just the little bitty, check the boxes off every day? How are we doing big overarching projects??

Tyler Vawser (Host): Today on SchoolCEO Conversations, I'm joined by Jennifer Hines, the chief communications officer at Tyler ISD in Tyler, Texas. She walks us through her background in media, how that influences her work today, and how she built a proactive communications organization to support the larger district and individual departments such as HR.

Jennifer often speaks on topics such as getting the media to work for you, preparing for media interviews, crisis communications, and the magic of recruitment marketing for school districts. She won a Gold Award from the Texas School Public Relations Association, or TSPRA, for her Tyler ISD strategic communications and community engagement plan. The plan was recognized for its innovative approach to improving communication and engaging with parents, students, staff, and the community. In addition, she won two Silver Awards, one for writing and one for a published news release or feature.

I found Jennifer and her communications team at Tyler ISD to be some of the best at being creative and consistent in the work of building a strong district identity. As you listen, you'll get practical tips about managing media requests, working with reporters, and how to promote the narrative that best supports your schools. Let's join the conversation. Well, Jennifer, thanks so much for joining SchoolCEO Conversations.

Jennifer Hines (Guest): Absolutely. Glad to be here.

Tyler Vawser (Host): Jennifer, I am curious. How did you get to the place where you are today leading communications at Tyler ISD in Texas?

Jennifer Hines: Well, I started off my career as a television news reporter and anchor, and my very first job was in Abilene, Texas. My very first story was about an elementary school that had lost power during a snowstorm. So from the get-go, I was kind of tied to schools and education from there. Abilene ISD was dealing with declining enrollment, and they were looking at closing down middle elementary schools and some of their different facilities because they simply did not have the students to fill the seats. And when you talk about closing down neighborhood schools, you have a lot of parents that are not happy about that because you go from walking to school to having to drive your kid to school. And I became the lead story, and I knew that when you're in the journalism industry, you want the lead story. And that was kind of where the big story at the time was.

So I just kind of latched on to that and made that my area: education. I earned all the school board members’ names, would talk to them about different issues, got to know the superintendent really well, and even did a series where we went to Waco, where they had just, at the time, built their brand new stadium with really nice turf. At the time, Shotwell Stadium in Abilene had grass turf. And being out there in West Texas, let's just say it wasn't always the best. It was more like a dirt bowl sometimes. And I made the comparison of, Hey, if Abilene just put in turf, think about all of the playoff games and extra money that the school district could get coming in, because they are a perfect halfway point between all of your West Texas schools—your Midland, Odessa—and then your DFW schools. And made that comparison.

They actually showed my series at the school board meeting when they were pitching to the school board that they needed to go with Astroturf. And to this day, I have a pin that they engraved with my name on it from the Shotwell Stadium committee for just kind of helping them. And I didn't even know that there was a committee. It was just something that I was doing as a part of a sweeps piece for the news—which for those that don't know what sweeps pieces are, when you get your ratings, usually in February, May, November, you do bigger pieces, more in-depth pieces, so that you can get those ratings up, because that's how you make your advertising dollars.

Tyler Vawser: That's amazing. That's very cool. Very thoughtful of them to do.

Jennifer Hines: And it just went from there. From there I moved to San Antonio and then to Austin. I covered everything from how teachers were handling kids being cooped up inside because it had been raining for two weeks in San Antonio and how they were getting creative, to passing multimillion dollar school bonds. So I really, again, just everywhere I went, I latched onto that. I covered the chess team winning the national championship in Corpus, and moved more into an anchor role. So I kind of got to pick and choose the education stories that I did. So that was fun.

I spent the last ten years as a news anchor in Tyler and at KLTV, and while I was there, I became friends with the superintendent of Tyler ISD, along with his wife. We worked out together. I worked on stories with Know. I became a trusted journalist in his mind, somebody that he could talk to and know that everything that he and I discussed was not necessarily going to be on the air, and that I also was not a sensational journalist. So there was a relationship built there. And I did do a lot of stories on middle school redesign with Tyler ISD, things that have now come to fruition: creating a K-8 magnet school for the arts, creating a K-8 dual language school that is also a magnet school. So being able to cover those.

And then when the opportunity came open, he gave me a call and said, Hey, it's time to come over. I wasn't necessarily sure that I was ready to leave journalism just yet and television news, but the more I thought about it, it was the perfect timing. I've got three girls. My youngest at the time was going into kindergarten, and so we were all kind of on the same schedule. And this allowed me to take what I was doing, a small sliver of what I was doing, and really expand what all I could do. And so it was a great transition for me, not only personally, but professionally.

So it was nice to walk into this position with the fact that I already had an established relationship with the superintendent and with the school district. I was their emcee for Teacher of the Year for probably five or six years leading up to me moving over to the school district. Plus, all my kids were in the school district, so I knew a bunch of people and they knew me. So it was a good transition.

Tyler Vawser: How did your experience in TV reporting and being an anchor help you when you moved over to the school side, where you're now representing the school district? It sounds like you've been involved in education quite a bit, but I am curious—what were some of those changes, and how did your previous roles help support what you're doing now?

Jennifer Hines: So I think one thing that's really neat is not only was my professional life a good fit, but also my personal life. And I'll get into that a little bit later. But professionally, I knew what the media needed, I knew how they worked, and I knew how we could become more of a proactive communications department versus a reactive communications department.

We literally run like a newsroom, just like a news station. We have our own Twitter accounts, our own Instagram accounts, our own Facebook accounts. We have text messaging, app push, all of those communications tools. We even have a television station. That's actually one of the first things I moved over to just our students so that they can put their work on our airways. That was not a good return on investment for us in terms of where we needed to focus our skills and our energy at the time. But we have all of that.

So we put out our own stories, but then we also write our press releases as if they were going to be cut and pasted directly onto their Facebook page, their website, wherever they might have on their platforms. We send them keywords so that they can cut and paste them. And that's a win-win, because I get the keywords that I want to them, and they don't have to search for them or think about it. And then they don't have to sit there and read through the whole thing and pick out keywords that they think are relevant, when in fact, that may not be that way.

I know through my experience that you have a lot of skeleton crews. In certain times it helps to know what days to send press releases, what times to send press releases, when they meet, the kind of information that they need. They always need the meat and potatoes, they need the numbers, they need the statistics, they need the bigger story. So for example, if you want to pitch, say an elementary school is going to do a character parade—well, yeah, you can pitch that, but they're not going to pick that up.

Instead what you do is you say, Hey, and this character parade also is about Leader in Me, which is a districtwide program that we just enacted, and here's all the students that it impacts, and here is what it's going to do. Here are the seven characteristics. Oh, by the way, that's tied to Franklin Covey. You give them all of those elements. You give them stuff for their intro, you give them stuff for their package and you give them stuff for their tag. You give them links back to our website. You kind of just put it on a silver platter for them and you use maybe your event as the video and not the actual meat and potatoes of the story.

Tyler Vawser: That's really interesting. Because you brought it up, I am curious—what is the best day of the week and best time to send a press release or to notify your media contacts about something going on?

Jennifer Hines: So most newsrooms meet two times a day. They meet somewhere between 9:00 and 9:30, and then they also meet again around 1:30 to 2:30—somewhere in there. Because you've got your people that are going to be working day-side, and then you have your people that are coming in later, around 02:00, that are working night-side. Both of them need stories. The ones for earlier are going to be for your 5:00, 6:00, your 4:00 if you have a 4 o’clock newscast, and if it's later, they'll be the 6:00 and 10:00 newscasts.

So just knowing when your event is—is this something that's going to happen after school is over? Is this an evening? Okay, so maybe you send it a little bit later in the afternoon or early in the morning, like say 11:00, after that morning meeting—because that gives them an idea of what they could do that afternoon, depending on how important it is that you get them there.

Giving them a day or two notice is always great. For example, if I'm going to have something the following Monday, I would most likely send it on the Thursday before, because Fridays get crazy, especially if it's during football season. A lot of TV stations have a Friday Night Lights-type football program, and everybody is out and focused on that. So thinking about it from an assignments editor standpoint, you want to give them plenty of time—8:00 a.m. if it's day of.

And then you want to make sure that you give them two different options if you can. For example, if we have something that's going on all day, I'll give them media availability, say at 10:30 and again at 1:30. That way, depending on what they already have on their plate, they can get both of them.

But then we go one step beyond that. I offer to take the photos for them, send them video if they would like it, and we write a press release after inviting them to the event that has all of the information in it for them. So they don't even have to be there, because again, a lot of them are working on skeleton crews. A lot of these reporters are one-man bands. They're their own photographer, they're their own editor. They're also out there doing their own stand ups, they're doing their own live shots. They're doing all of it now. So anything that you can do to make it easier for them is going to make it more likely that they're going to pick up your story.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, I love it. I like this idea of frontloading the work, and it sounds like that's what you're doing, right? If you do all that for someone else, they're more likely to cover it, period, but also to cover it the way that you want. And you've built a friendship and a relationship out of it.

Jennifer Hines: Yes. And even when it comes to sports, one of the things that I did when we got here is, Yes, we're going to invite them to signing day. And this is kind of the big one, because we do have four different large media outlets right in our backyard and we're the largest. They usually cover most of our stories. And for signing day, we would go ahead and print up the press releases and have at least a paper copy for the reporters that were there, because a lot of times, even though it's a sports signing day, they'll send a photographer that knows nothing about sports.

So we'll have the student's name spelt correctly, we'll have the school where they're going, we'll have all of their stats for them. We'll have a quote from the coach. We will have all of that there for them so that they can look at it, and then they know what to ask them: Oh, hey, tell me about you being all-district this year? Or, Hey, tell me, what was it like going to State for the fourth year? Now you're going to play at the collegiate level— what do you think about what can you bring to the team? That sort of thing. And they have really been thankful for that because a lot of times they're just asking general questions. And then the sports people back at the station that might be out on another story, they will put it together later. So this gives them, I guess, a little bit more to work with. So they definitely appreciate that.

And then, of course, we send photos and we send the digital version of the press release. And then we're even going beyond that, because we have started a whole Spanish communications section of our communications department. And every press release we send out is both in English and Spanish, because we also have Spanish stations here in town. Some of them are a part of our main media groups, and some of them are radio stations or they're their own entity. So this allows them, again, not only can they cut and paste the English version of the press release, but somebody else can cut and paste the Spanish version for their Spanish section of their communications.

Tyler Vawser: I love that. That's so smart. So what was the biggest challenge coming into the district? When you think about when you started, what were some of the first steps that you took as you took on the role, shaping the team, wanting to be more proactive instead of reactive? How did you start?

Jennifer Hines: So I was very methodical when I started, and I literally just went through everything. I started with all of the contracts that we currently had. What were we doing from an advertising standpoint? What kind of campaigns had we been doing every year? I looked at kind of the overall calendar, really trying to understand what they were doing, and then really asking, Why are you doing this? A lot of times it was, Well, we've just always done it that way. I'm like, Okay, but what kind of return on investment are you getting out of this? Or what is it that you're trying to accomplish by doing it this way? And we were able to change a lot of things in a very short amount of time.

One of the big things we did was go through all of the contracts, go through the yearly calendar, what events are we having, what advertising dollars are being spent and where. And then the big question was, Why? Why are we doing this? And a lot of time the answer was, Because we've always done it this way, or, Well, we feel like we need to support them because of XYZ.

Some of the things that I cut were a two-minute radio section that had to do with sports only, and I was like, Okay, women are usually the ones that make the educational choices in the household, so why are we spending money on a sports talk show? That to me, did not make sense. Those dollars would be better spent here, where you're getting your primary female focus, and then you might also get some men as well. So being more strategic in how we were spending our dollars was a big one. Another one was outsourcing things that I knew that we could do in-house, hiring the right people that could do things in-house in terms of graphic design or advertising campaigns. We really have kind of switched.

And as people have left or as new ideas have come about, we have changed people's job descriptions and what their focus is on. So we have added a Spanish communications aspect to our communications team. We have a bilingual person now on staff, and her focus is connecting with Hispanic businesses that want to support our local schools, making sure that we have things that are translated, making sure that we have a Facebook Español page that is updated, making sure that we are getting communications out there to that population. We're 47% Hispanic, and we didn't have anybody on the communications team communicating—so we are now doing that. We are going out to the Hispanic Business Alliance functions. We are going to festivals and different kinds of picnics in the park that are specifically supported by Hispanic businesses. That way they see that we are there and we can connect with them on a face-to-face level, which has been really good. So that position was not that before, but we added the bilingual portion, and therefore we have that focus.

Something else we've done is when we decided to kind of do away with our public access channel and really make that more for our career and technology students to be able to put their work on there, and we weren't so much concerned about programming on our part, that person's role has changed, and they now support HR. So they are helping HR with all of the really cool communications tools, from creating QR codes to register for different events, whether it's a job fair event or signing up on Calendly so that you can connect. Because most of the people that are looking for a job currently have a job, and so connecting with our HR department can be difficult—but that made it streamlined, so you're not playing phone tag.

It’s also coming up with different campaign ideas, really ramping up LinkedIn and showing our culture so that those that are looking for jobs can see what we're doing. Really just any aspect that you can think of to support HR, from a flyer to onboarding, that's what that person is now doing. And we never had that before.

So that's one of the cool things. I think that people that are in school PR and that are in communications in any business—I like to think of us as the glue. We work with all of the departments to make things happen. A lot of times, different departments, they don't really need to talk together, but we're the ones that can make it happen. If we do have a larger project or strategic planning that does fall under communications, believe it or not, I know that some people don't believe that communications plays a very big role. That changed during COVID when they realized how important it was.

Tyler Vawser: Absolutely.

Jennifer Hines: I think that a lot of superintendents out there are realizing that they can do even more. So we started launching a lot of big initiatives since I came on board, where we are working with a bunch of different departments, including the launch of our literacy bus. We had to work with transportation to get the bus, we had to work with maintenance to do the inside of the bus. We worked with our current technology students on the design of the bus. We had to work with our technology department to make sure that it had WiFi and that we got some extra laptops in there, working with curriculum instruction, who was going to make sure that that bus rolled out to all the neighborhoods and the schools that we wanted it to do for our early childhood literacy programs.

Tyler Vawser: There's a couple of things I want to dig in there, but one that just stands out to me is that you and your team are very focused on relationship building. And like you said, you're the glue. But it seems like that's made possible because you're showing up to events in the community, you're reaching out to other departments, you're thinking about how you can support them. I'd love for you just to talk about that more. Like how do you build those relationships in your community, but also internally across departments?

Jennifer Hines: As the head of communications, relationships is the key to this entire department. I really guess you're right. Relationships is the key. I'm a part of the leadership team, so I would say to anybody out there that is the head of their communications team, if they're not at the table, please go advocate for yourself to be at the table. I get story ideas there, but I also get face-to-face interaction.

The way that we're set up, a lot of us are in one building, but we're also spread in different buildings throughout the district. So this leadership team comes together, and it's a time for us all to have face-to-face, and we can talk before and after the meeting. I get story ideas and then something that they say might spark, like, Oh, we could support them in this way. And then I'll go up to them after the fact, and I'll be like, Hey, you may not know this, but if you want our help, we can do X, Y, and Z for you. And a lot of times they're like, Oh, wow, I never thought of that.

And so you start creating these relationships, and then they begin to learn to trust you, that you're there to help, that you're there to make things more streamlined, to help them in crisis. We go to the principal meetings, even if it's just to go for ten minutes and say, Hey, you all are doing a great job on your LinkedIn accounts, giving out a couple of $25 gift cards to those that are doing the best. They see us, they know we're there, and they know that we have things that we can do to help them. Kicking off the school year kind as what I like to call a win-win, we did a whole packet for the principals. So it had everything from a little notepad with their name on it to a free jeans pass from that principal that they could hand out to their staff for doing a great job. And off of that, we were able to say, Hey, it doesn't have to be a jeans pass. It could be you get to leave when the kids leave or you get out of car duty this Tuesday. It's whatever works at your campus. We can create these little cards from you, the principal, and you can hand them out because that will help you to create a great culture, better morale, that sort of thing.

Tyler Vawser: That's awesome. We've talked about Tyler ISD's campaign to hire more bus drivers in the past in the magazine. We'll include that in the show notes. But those listening that haven't read that yet, or it's been a while since they've read it, I'd be curious to have you just kind of talk about that campaign, because I love how creative it is and also how simple it is. Do you want to talk about that?

Jennifer Hines: It started in a leadership meeting. Kind of like we were just talking, it's about relationships, and they were like, Oh, my gosh, we are down. I want to say it was like 14, maybe 24 bus drivers at the time. Not only is there a shortage nationwide and continues to be one, but we also have people that are usually retired that like to be bus drivers, and then they want to retire a second time from their job as a bus driver. So we do have turnover there, kind of on a consistent basis, just given the usual age of our bus drivers.

So what we did is we did a couple of things. The first was to realize that we literally have driving billboards all over town with our school buses, and we used the side of our school buses in order to advertise. So, okay, we now have the space—what are we going to put on there? Well, you’ve got to get something that's going to get somebody's attention, because maybe the person that sees it isn't the bus driver, but they may know somebody. So it's got to be something that they're going to remember and be like, Oh, hey, yeah, I saw this.

So we came up with just some funny sayings like, We want you to drive for the kids of Tyler, or, What can yellow do for you? We also wanted to make sure that they knew that we would train them. You have to have your CDL license, so we put on there, No CDL, no problem. Get hired, get trained. And then, of course, on the bottom, we have the phone number and all of that. One of my favorites was Prime shipping on Tyler's most precious cargo: children.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's the best one for sure. I love it.

Jennifer Hines: They were fun. There were some that were even more fun—like Get paid to do what parents do for free—that one didn't make the cut. Or, Be the Uber driver for Tyler ISD students. There were a bunch of funny ones. We had a blast with that one.

So what we did is we got all of those put on the sides of the buses ready to go. And then we did a big media week—again getting that meat and potatoes. We pulled the national numbers, like, Here's what we're seeing across the nation. We are no exception. We want to make sure that people know that these jobs are available that will train them. Here's what they get per hour. Oh, by the way, they just got a raise. It's a little bit more. And then we wanted to shatter their perception of what a school bus driver is. Who is a school bus driver? What is that person like? Well, we have people that are former CEOs of companies that drive some of our buses, or maybe they're the former FedEx driver and they wanted to be around kids more.

We also wanted to let them know that they really are a part of the kids’ day. They are the first person that that child sees in the morning, and they are the last person that that child sees as they get off the bus from their school day. So they really do form a relationship. So for those that are looking for something that's flexible, where they get to be around children and also have the opportunity to work more hours if they wanted to do transportation for field trips or after school hour activities, all of that—they have that flexibility. We wanted to let them know all of those things.

We did that at the beginning of the summer, and we were able to leverage that throughout the summer all the way up to the school year, where the media would come back and ask, Hey, have you filled all your spots? Well, no, we've got this many more to go. And we did, we were completely filled with those in the training pipeline by the time the first day of school started. So it was really successful to get that going.

Tyler Vawser: Congratulations.

Jennifer Hines: And we have been able to keep our numbers down since that has happened, because I think it had gotten to such a deficit and such a need that being able to fill that back up, we now have a manageable attrition rate where we can fill those as we move forward.

Tyler Vawser: So one thing I want to dig into, because I think a lot of smaller districts and even large districts struggle with this, is the creativity, originality, and being reactive. It kind of feels, if you're listening to this and you're a communications director, like, I would love to have time to come up with a really smart slogan or campaign, but I'm just trying to keep my head above water and deal with the day-to-day. So how does your team think about that? And what advice would you give to someone that feels like they're always kind of on their back foot and they can't quite catch up with everything going on?

Jennifer Hines: I would say your best friend is Google. I mean, literally, whenever I start any kind of project, I go and see what else is out there. And then you have such an amazing group of school PR people out there, whether it's in your own state or in your own town, area, region, county, whatever. The one thing that I love about this that is completely opposite of television news is that people are willing to help you. It's not a competition.

So look and see what other people are doing out there. If you see they're doing something really good, pick up the phone. I can't tell you how many times I've sent our crisis communications plan to another district, or I've sent our dynamic press release that we use so that they can start doing the same thing. I don't consider them competition. I consider them friends that are trying to get the same good work done that we are.

And so definitely look and see what else is out there, and then pick up the phone and call those people. Hey, how did you do this? How did you create this campaign? Who did you use? Did you outsource this? How big is your team? How did you break up those different job descriptions or those different focuses for this specific project? I think that you just kind of have to look outside of your team.

And then the same thing, too, is to ask your team. Have them all come together. Everybody can brainstorm, and maybe somebody has an idea, and that's not just the right idea, but it sparks something in somebody else, and then it gets rolling. It’s, Yes, but what about this? Yes, but what about this? And it keeps going until you get exactly what it is you need to make that a winning campaign.

Tyler Vawser: I love that. I do think you mentioned earlier just being present among other teams and other departments and letting them know that you're there. I've always been interested in how sometimes people that are facing a problem within their own area actually have the right idea. They just need someone from outside to say, Hey, did you hear yourself? What you just said is actually the answer. Let me give you permission and support to make that possible. So it sounds like that might be happening at Tyler ISD.

Jennifer Hines: Yes. Yes. I definitely encourage my team to come to the table with different ideas because we all have different strengths. We all have different backgrounds. I will say, from a team-building standpoint, one thing that we did was very eye-opening for our team and really brought us together—not only with myself coming back in October of 2019 as a new leader for them, but also we're in two locations. Half of my team is at the Career and Technology Center, where our TV studio is and where we do our podcasts and that sort of thing. So we have a barrier there as well for our team.

I had them all go through the CliftonStrengths process. And then once they figured ot out and I did the full blown thing so they know all of their 34 strengths in the order that they are, I had them talk with each other. And we all did it like, Your job is to go talk about your first five strengths with three other people on the team, and the feedback that they would get sometimes was eye-opening.

I even had some of my own team members, people that I coach, help me realize things that I needed to be doing in order to be more successful in my position, or they saw a trend among my strengths that I hadn't yet noticed—like three of my top ten of those strengths are mentorship. I was like, Oh, well, that makes sense because I naturally mentor others. So that was really neat.

Plus, it allowed our team to realize how other people communicate. So if you want to get a project done with other team members—with this person, you can just pick up the phone. You can cut straight to the chase. You do not have to ask them about their weekend. They are very much like, Okay, we're on it. Whereas others, you have to warm up: Hey, how was your weekend? How are you doing? You're going to have to do that. And if you know how to approach those different people, you can get the most out of them and therefore get the most out of what you're trying to do, whatever project or campaign that you're working on.

Tyler Vawser: Really interesting. I want to dig in a little bit about the relationship between you and the superintendent, right? We've talked about the leadership team, but how does a good working relationship between the chief communications officer and the superintendent develop? And what advice, again, would you give to someone that is maybe new to their role? Their superintendent has hired them, but they're trying to think through, How do we work better together?

Jennifer Hines: So for me, it was kind of a different situation, because I became friends with the superintendent while still in my other job, and we were friends outside of the workspace. We had gone to dinner as couples. We had a good, solid relationship from a working standpoint between superintendent and journalist. So it was really seamless because we already had built that relationship. Communications is about relationships, so is being a good journalist. It's about relationships. So I was intentional about creating that relationship with him.

It also turns out that the very first teacher of the year that I emceed, where he was brand new, I had emceed, I think, maybe the year before. We were sitting there talking, and it just so happens that my youngest brother was a senior in high school at the high school where my superintendent was in his first administrative role as an assistant principal. And so it kind of just created this bond of, Oh, hey, we have similar areas, similar backgrounds, and we became friends. And so I think that there was just that level of trust and respect mutually between us before I ever even came on board.

And we have a great working relationship where I can, in a nice and respectful way, say, No, I don't think that that may be the direction we need to go. We need to consider these factors before we launch this. What are your thoughts about these things over here? And kind of guide that. And then he can also say, I need you to get XYZ done, and I need it by this time and this day. And I understand the importance of that, and I can go and just get it done. And he doesn't have to go into a lot of detail. I know what he expects because we have that foundation, and I know what his expectations are. He's very clear on what he wants. And because you had that foundation, he doesn't have to explain his expectations every single time.

What I would say to somebody that maybe doesn't have that relationship in place is just to make sure that you have regular meetings with your superintendent. Maybe it's once a week, once every two weeks. Hey, what's coming down the pipeline? What do I need to know about? What can I support you in? Hey, by the way, here are some things that we're working on. Do you have any feedback on that? Do you like this? Do you not? And again, it's that relationship. It really all boils down to that relationship and making sure that you do have access to your superintendent. Some of that is not only geographical. Like, I can open up my door and he can open up his conference room door and he can scream and say, hey, get over here. Well, not scream. His voice carries: Hey, get in here. We got to talk about this. And he can also pop out or I can pop in. So we do have that level of comfort, and I would ask others to kind of create that rapport. And it doesn't always have to be about business. How was your weekend? How are things going? And then ask about the future. What are three things that you think are going to be coming down the pipeline in the next six months that our department needs to be looking at? Where's something that you've maybe heard in the community that we could support an effort to make things a little bit smoother from a communication standpoint?

So just kind of always having that ongoing conversation of the direction that you want your department to go and then the expectations of where they see your department going. We just did our evaluations here the last couple of weeks. And every year, we have three things that we're supposed to focus on, and that's given to anybody in their role, and you always have your three or four goals. And I literally have mine taped here to my desk so that every day on my computer screen, I can look at it and I can be like, Okay, are we doing these things? Everything that we're doing has to fall under these three things. How do we do that, and how do we do that on a large scale, not just the little bitty, check the boxes off every day? How are we doing big overarching projects?

Tyler Vawser: I like that question about what are you thinking about in the next six months. Just to get, Where is your head at other than the day to day things? What are you thinking about for the future?

Jennifer Hines: Absolutely. You can definitely get down in the weeds in this role every single day, and if you don't look up and look at the big picture, you're going to have missed really big opportunities out there. So that's one thing that I would always relay to someone else is, think about the big picture. Always go back out to that 30,000 degree view, and then you can go back down in the weeds if you need to.

Tyler Vawser: So what is that for you and your team as the communications department? What do you see the big picture being? What is the 30,000 foot view? Longterm—a year from now, five years, ten years—what is it that you're all trying to achieve?

Jennifer Hines: So for the past year, and it's going to continue into this next year, the overarching goal and theme of our communications department is the recruitment and retention of students and teachers. We have a huge issue with the number of teachers that are retiring versus the number of teachers coming into the profession. So that for sure is one of our main focuses.

That's why I was so proactive in turning one of our positions into one that is a direct liaison to our HR department and how we can help them with recruitment marketing. They need to be able to have that support, whether it's graphic support, whether it is going and creating Facebook events, being able to support them in the ways that we best can, creating those pieces of literature to pass out, creating different things. One of the things that we did is we created a bunch of different stickers that they could pass out that people would put on their computers or put on their Yeti cups and their water bottles and that sort of thing—things that can help people remember Tyler ISD when it comes to the job search and where they're going to go work and what they want to do.

Tyler Vawser: Very cool. Well, in the time we have left, I'd like to get really practical. And you've mentioned some of these as we've been talking, but before we started recording, you've mentioned things like the Quick Fact Bank or the Evergreen Stories. So I'd love for you to dig into that, and for those superintendents and communication directors listening, we'll try to make this really practical and applicable so you can take these ideas and implement them within your own district.

Jennifer Hines: Absolutely. So one of the things that we did—and this is something that I do share with a lot of other departments that just call and ask me—is we created a New Reporter packet, is what I kind of call it. Whether you're new to the area or whether you're new to the business, there are a lot of acronyms in education. Let's just throw every one out there and you're like, What are they talking about? I have no idea. We get in the habit of talking in acronyms, so it kind of started off of that.

So we have an entire dictionary, so to speak, of educational acronyms. But we start with the mission of the school district. One thing I always like to say is that it's “Tyler ISD,” it's not “TISD.” There are 35 other TISDs in the state of Texas, and if we want to set ourselves apart, we have to make sure that people get in the habit of saying “Tyler ISD.” So that's one of the things I put in there. First we have a list of all of our schools, a map of where those schools are. We have just basic quick fact information—how many students we have, how many square miles, how many facilities, different programs—just something that they can look at really quickly and just get a good feel of what we got going on. And then we have all of our logos on there, so they know what logos go where, where they can find information, who they should call for, what, what our media procedures are. Yes, you're going to have to go through communications. No, you can't just show up at one of our campuses or facilities and expect to talk to somebody. And so we put all of that in this packet and we send it out to them. We have printed versions that we send out every year as things get updated and then we have a digital version that we send out so that they also have that quick reference guide.

The other thing that I always tell others that is a good idea to have, whether you're a superintendent and you don't have a communications person, or you're a communications team, is to have those five evergreen stories, whether it's about a program you have or it's about something really cool that you're doing for that year that you can give them. Because they may call you about a story that either you don't want to do or you can't speak on, but they still have a story that they need to get on the air that day. And so if you have these five evergreen stories, you've got something to offer them right there. So you're going to have these stories, and you're going to know ahead of time who they need to interview, when those people are usually available according to their schedule on a daily and weekly basis—you're going to have all of the facts pulled for them. So you're basically going to hand them this on a silver platter.

I can't tell you how many times at 1:30 I will have a story fall through and I have to have something for that 6 o’clock newscast. It is a crisis when you are working in television news knowing that that ticking time bomb goes off at 5:00 and 6:00 every day. So being able to have somebody, a communications and a PR person, that I could call as a reporter and say, Hey, do you have anything? And then for me to be able to say, Yes, I do. Here you go—you're going to get in their good graces, and you're going to get more of your stories told because you have those and they know you have those. So when they do get in those binds, they know they can call you and you're going to have something ready to go for them on any given day.

Tyler Vawser: We talk in K-12 about shifting the narrative or controlling the narrative. And I think what you just said is a perfect example of literally doing that, which is, Oh, that story doesn't work, or, Let's change it. Here's an alternative and it's packaged, got a bow on top. And being able to hand that over. That’s fantastic.

Jennifer Hines: Absolutely. I think too, it's important when you're dealing with the media: Don't be afraid to tell them no. So maybe they call and it's a story that you either don't want to talk on or maybe somebody's not available. Referring them to another district is also helpful because again, we're all in the same boat together. So what could be a win for that district is a win for your district. One, you're not having to jump through hoops when you don't have the time to do so. And they're getting coverage and they're happy that you referred them. So again, everybody's winning, everybody's getting their story done. It's relationships with the other school districts, it's relationships with the media, that sort of thing.

Tyler Vawser: You mentioned earlier the dynamic press release, and I wonder if you could just dig into that a little bit more and what you mean by “dynamic.”

Jennifer Hines: So by dynamic, I mean so many different parts. For example, the very first thing is you're going to write it as if it was a web story, a blog, a news article, verbatim. You're going to have multiple sources, you're going to have a lot of facts in there. You're going to write it as a story with that catching headline. You're going to have backlinks. You're going to backlink to your high schools, to your foundation, but you're also going to backlink to the city of Tyler or know if it has something to do with a known company—like Nike, for example. Let's say that the football team got new uniforms, and they're Nike. You can backlink to Nike. You can help drive that information from an SEO standpoint. So backlinks is one of the things that we like to do. Plus, again, if they're copy and pasting it, those backlinks are already in there for them. That's one less step they have to do. Therefore, they're more likely to just copy and paste. Again, making it super easy, lifting all of the barriers.

And then after the press release is over, we kind of have a separate section after that. And one, the very first thing is that we have all of our social media handles on there so that they can just copy and paste whatever platform they're putting it on. They already have our handle that they can tag us in. Then we also do keywords, making sure that we have already pulled out all the keywords that we want to have in their keyword section. We also create a description. So when you're going to post a story online, you always have your headline, but then you have that two sentence description that you have to put in there. So if you're doing a search, that's the part that you see right under the headline. We go ahead and we provide that for them. Again, cut and paste, making their job super easy. Then we even do a social headline. We come up with something kind of catchy or fun that we'll put in there, so that if they want to use that for their Facebook headline, they can do that in the section where you actually have the verbiage.

And we just kind of continue to think of, What is it that we can do to make their jobs easier? If it's a press release, give them four or five photos. That way they have choices, but they can also do a Facebook photo album with those or they can create a slideshow on Instagram. It's however they want to use it, but we give them all the tools to do that. If they need video, we send them video. Whatever they need, we can get it done.

Tyler Vawser: What feedback have you gotten from journalists and from TV reporters and anchors about that part? Because it seems very thoughtful, and you're going the extra mile and then some.

Jennifer Hines: A lot of times you're not going to get feedback because they're just going to do it and move on. What I did is I did the legwork ahead of time, talking to the news directors, talking to the reporters that we work with: Hey, what is it that we can do that can make your life easier? Because again, a lot of times these reporters, they're one-man bands. So not only are they finding their story, pitching their story, going out and shooting it, doing the interviews, doing the editing, doing the voiceover when they're all done—they're also posting all of their stuff on the web or sending ideas to the web team on what the social headline should be. This just makes it easy for them because they are doing so much.

Tyler Vawser: Maybe my final question for you is, how do you think about preparing for talking with the media? So you've invited journalists to an upcoming event, or you've been reached out to—maybe that's a better example. A journalist has reached out to you or to your superintendent. How do you prepare for an interview with the media?

Jennifer Hines: Well, there are several things that you can do. My first thing that I always encourage people to do is to remember what the story is about. So before you even have them in front of you, don't be afraid to ask them, What's the angle of your story? What are you trying to tie into this? Who all do you need? I might be able to have more than one person for you. Go at it from a helpful standpoint, even though you are doing some crisis communication, kind of feeling that out there as well.

You’re always wanting to make sure where they're going with the story, because that will also help you be able to pick out a background if needed, and then making sure that whoever it is they're interviewing is dressed for the part. For example, you don't want your superintendent in a coat and tie on a football field. You want them in a polo. You want to make sure that they have on bright colors; jewel tone colors always look best. You don't want to have on white or black or gray—it'll make you look really washed out. Green is never really a good color on camera for anybody. So just those little things. And then even making sure that your microphone is run up the shirt or the coat or behind the tie so that people aren't looking at the hanging wire from a microphone. So there's all these things before you even get to the speaking part that you should be thinking about. Knowing what the camera positioning is, for example, like, Are my hands in the shot? Are my feet in the shot? Or is it just shoulders up? What is my framing? That is always helpful.

And then when you get to the actual interview, I always tell people to have their three things. Remember that you drive the interview. Think of the three things that you want to get across to them on this topic, because again, you've already pre -interviewed them. You know what they're going to be asking you. And then stick to those three things. They may ask you the same question three different ways, and you can just answer it right back to them. Don't memorize your answers. It will sound forced. You know this. You are the expert. That's why they're interviewing you. So just know what your three things are, like bullet points. Don't write it out and just speak on that.

And then don't be afraid to say, Let me check into that and I'll get back to you —even if you know you're never going to get back to them on it. Don't be afraid to say, You know what, I need to go check on that, or, Let me go look those numbers up. I'll get that information for you. There's nothing wrong with that. I always tell people, don't say, No comment. Say, Let me look into that and I'll get back to you, because then they can't say that you said, No comment.

Tyler Vawser: Well, Jennifer, that's a great place to end it. Thank you so much for joining SchoolCEO Conversations. I really love how you're thinking about media, being proactive, and appreciate the specific tips as well. I think a lot of times we kind of fall on one side or the other. It's either too high level or too detailed, but I really appreciate you walking us through both sides of that.

Jennifer Hines: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on, Tyler.

Tyler Vawser: SchoolCEO Magazine publishes original research, interviews, and more in our quarterly magazine that's read by more than 15,000 school leaders. If you work in K-12 leadership, administration, or in communications, we'd love to start mailing the magazine to you. Go to, click “Subscribe Now,” and check the box to receive the print edition of the magazine.

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Read about Tyler ISD’s bus driver campaign in Vehicles for Change in SchoolCEO magazine

Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jennifer_hines and Tyler ISD @TylerISD

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More about Jennifer Hines:

Jennifer recently received a gold award from the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) for her Tyler ISD Strategic Communications and Community Engagement Plan. It was recognized for its innovative approach to engaging with the community and improving communication with parents, students, staff, and the community. In addition, she won two silver awards, one for writing and one for a published news release or feature.

Jennifer has been recognized by the Texas AP Broadcaster's Association for her spot news, features, and health stories. In 2007, Jennifer's story on Central Catholic Elementary's chess team in Corpus Christi won an award for Best Feature. While working in Austin, she was part of a team selected by the USC Annenberg School of Communication as winners of a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for Best Continuing Coverage and a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism. The University of Texas in Austin is Jennifer's alma mater, where she majored in Broadcast Journalism and minored in Business. The College of Communication's Journalism program is among the country's most highly respected journalism programs.