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Fresh-Brewed Strategies: Your Guide to the 2024 NSPRA Seminar in Seattle
Elishia Seals

Whether you are attending NSPRA for the first time or returning for another exciting seminar, Finalsite has all the tips and tricks you need to brew success at NSPRA 2024. We leaned on the experts, school public relations professionals like you, and a few of our team members to give you the best grind and make the most of your experience.

Tips from a Local

Curtis Campbell, Communications Manager, Puyallup School District, WA

  • Pioneer Square is one of my favorite Seattle neighborhoods to explore. It's one of the most historic neighborhoods, with beautiful architecture, art galleries, and the Underground Tour, which explores the city's hidden underground tunnels.
  • Don't go up the Space Needle. For the best views in Seattle, go to the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Tower. It's the tallest public observatory in the Northwest and offers sweeping 360-degree views of the entire city, including the Space Needle. You can also get great city views from Kerry Park for free.
  • Pike Place Market gets a lot of well-deserved hype, but there are incredible neighborhood farmers' markets muttered throughout the city from Wednesday to Sunday. Curtis’ favorite is the Ballard Farmer's Market, a massive all in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Seattle.
  • The Bellevue Botanical Garden is absolutely lovely this time of year
  • WSPRA also created a list of things to do, drink, and eat for attendees.

Advice from a Team

West Chester Area School District

Beth Hayes, digital communications specialist, is attending her sixth NSPRA and follows the same three steps each year:

  1. Divide and Conquer: Read through the sessions and talk with my colleague to make sure we get the most bang for our buck.
  2. Build our Schedule: I try not to make plans for lunch & dinner. You will meet a bunch of new people and that is a great time to make connections and understand the value of the expression "the more the merrier!"
  3. Don't Think, Say Yes! Get outside of the hotel areas and do what the locals do with your new friends. It can be tempting to sit in your hotel room and relax, but you will be missing out on a lot of fun stories to share when you return home. And don't forget to extend invitations to others.

Molly Schwemler, manager of district communication, has been in school PR for eight years and is attending her second NSPRA conference. She has found that NSPRA gives her team dedicated time together. “Communications is everyone else's cheerleader, and that's great. That's who we want to be and who we need to be, BUT attending conferences like NSPRA allows us the time and space to focus on ourselves and who we are as a team.”

Chloe Barnes, communications technician, is excited about her first NSPRA and knows she will have great support from her team members. “As someone new to the communications field, I know this will be a great opportunity for growth. I am fortunate to be attending with my experienced and highly knowledgeable team, who I know will offer guidance while also encouraging my independence."

Thoughts from First-time Attendees

Laura McFarland, communications liaison and FQIA officer at Powhatan County Public Schools, transitioned into school PR less than a year ago from another career in a district that didn’t previously have the positions. She has worked to learn as much as she can to equip herself for her division but knows there is much more she can do. “I am beyond thrilled at the learning opportunities and professional connections NSPRA will present to grow in my role and increase my value to our students, staff, and community.” 

Terry Rombeck, director of communication at Andover Public Schools, has been in School PR for over six years and will attend his first NSPRA in July. "As a first-time NSPRA attendee, I'm excited to be surrounded by other school communicators who share the same passion for storytelling and public education as I have. Every time I have a conversation with a fellow school communicator, I learn something and come away feeling confident that our schools are full of smart PR leaders. I'm hopeful that I'll come away with a notebook full of good ideas to implement this year."

Wisdom from a Returning Attendee

Janaca Scherere, communications director at Special School District of St. Louis, MO, reminds attendees to take a break. “There is SO MUCH valuable information that will be coming at you non-stop throughout NSPRA. Many resources are available through the app after the conference, and the presenters are very helpful when it comes to filling in the pieces at a later date. Enjoy being present, spending time with people passionate about the same things you are, and learning something new!” 

Chantal Chandler, marketing director, shares that attendees should take the time to make a plan for the presentations they want to see but also says, “DON'T feel you are committed to it. And go to the social events!”

From a Session Facilitator

Erica Chandler, APR encourages those coming in early to join their session. “If you're a one-person shop and heading to Seattle early, Jill Filer, Stephanie Smith, APR, and I would love to see you at our pre-seminar workshop, "Brewing Success: A Solo Strategist's Guide to Communications Planning," on Saturday, July 13!

We'll spend the day developing and improving our strategic communications plans (or starting from scratch!), as well as your knowledge base and skill sets, with guidance from other one-person school PR pros and peers to lean on. You won't regret the time spent investing in yourself and your district — and you'll head home with a communications plan!” 
Erica got her best advice from co-presenter and director of communications at Harrisonville Schools, Jill Filer: download and reflect on what you learned on the trip home. “I usually take my notes out on the plane or the ride home and make a Now/Soon/Someday list — things I can accomplish or implement in my district right now, ideas I think I can get to sooner than later, and then a wish list of great ideas to incorporate when I have time or when it makes sense.”

When Jill prepares for NSPRA, she begins by thinking about the upcoming year and the goals that they have as a district and goals for herself. She is strategic in her session selections, choosing 2-3 topic areas and selecting her sessions focused on that.

She recalls feeling she wasn’t as strategic at her first few NSPRAs and was really overwhelmed when she got home. “This is not to say that if I see a really fun-looking presentation or a presentation by a presenter I really want to hear, I don't sprinkle those in too. The best part of the seminar for me was the 'between times' when I had conversations with colleagues. The networking and collaboration are beyond the best. It's even OK to skip a session if you're having those conversations, as the connections you make are the heart of NSPRA.”

Stephanie Smith, APR, director of public relations at Fort Osage School District, shares a similar sentiment to her co-presenters: “The best advice I received was to focus on what you need from the conference that fits with your goals and plans for the coming year. There are lots of great sessions you can go back to after the conference that you might be interested in and get handouts. Keeping your focus helps you not overwhelm yourself."

Advice from Finalsite

Lindsey Davis, senior manager of experiential marketing at Finalsite, considers attending NSPRA like hitting the conference jackpot. “Companies get to show off their latest and greatest, have some fun with clients and prospects, and learn the latest trends.” Her advice to attendees is to not be afraid to visit the exhibitors a few times. “Go three times during the event with different mindsets and goals:

  1. What does my district need?
  2. Have some fun, play the games, or try the fun demos vendors have to offer.
  3. Be selfish. Look for areas that can provide you with personal and professional development.

Nick Hall, solutions engineer, is attending his 5th NSPRA. He encourages attendees to make connections. “The insight you’ll gain from the connections you make is just as valuable as the sessions you’ll attend. NSPRA members really look out for one another, and the people you connect with can develop into an excellent support system.”

Joshua Sauer, APR, is a long-standing member of the School PR community, a previous NSPRA board member, and the director of solutions engineering at Finalsite for public school districts. He advises attendees to ask questions during sessions: “This not only helps you understand the material better but also encourages meaningful discussions that benefit everyone.”

Join the Finalsite crew on Sunday evening as we celebrate with NSPRA National Seminar Opening Reception. We're looking forward to kicking off the conference with you at the MoPOP on Sunday, July 14 from 6:30–8 PM.

Bring your burning questions to our mini-lab at the conference. Our team is ready to talk through how we can help you find solutions to your most pressing needs. Want to dive deeper? Book a meeting with one of our solutions engineers.

Stop by the Finalsite booth #200 to say hello and learn about the first Community Relationship Management platform for schools — and how Finalsite can help your district thrive!

Key Takeaway

NSPRA 2024 promises to be an enriching experience filled with opportunities for learning, networking, and personal growth. Remember to be strategic in planning your schedule, open to new experiences, and proactive in building connections. Embrace the wisdom of those who have been in your shoes, and don't forget to take a moment to enjoy the journey!

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Elishia Seals is an Educational Sales Consultant with Finalsite. Before joining the Finalsite team, she worked in #SchoolPR as a Public Information Director in Kansas and served on the Kansas School Public Relations Board (KanSRPA). She began her education at the University of Missouri St. Louis, achieving a bachelor's degree in Photography and Art Studio. Her love for learning continued at Pittsburg State University, where she earned a Master of Arts in Communication and a Master of Science in Career and Technical Education with Honors.

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