PR Rock Stars: Mansfield ISD’s Richie Escovedo
I can’t remember how or when I first really “met” Richie Escovedo, but I do know he seems like someone I’d be good friends with if we lived in the same town. We share a love of sports (unfortunately his favorite teams include the names “Cowboys” and “Rangers”), we both have young families, and we both share a love of our industry. A love that led Richie to donate his valuable time as one of the first HAPPO champs a few years ago (Richie’s still a champ for the DFW area). I’ve always really admired Richie–not only for his commitment to the industry and his involvement with PRSA, but for the fact that he works in the education industry, supporting our teachers. Let’s hear what Richie has to say about working in that industry, blogging as a busy young professional/father and his other interests.
You’ve spent your entire 12-plus-year career in the education industry–how has that shaped the communicator you are today?
I believe education is one of the most significant contributions to society. Education has a special place in my heart because I come from a family with half a dozen members who are (or have been) teachers or school administrators. I have a passion for education and recognize that so much misinformation and confusion exists surrounding what truly happens in schools. It’s important for stories to be told to solidify or in some cases mold public trust in an educational institution.
How did you choose the education industry? Or, did it choose you?
I got in school PR a little by accident. My wife worked in the field first. I started going with her to state school PR conferences (TSPRA) and meeting pros from across Texas. Honestly, at the time I didn’t know there was such a thing as school public relations. I came across an open PR position at a private high school in Ft. Worth and the rest is history.
What are the unique challenges you face as director of communications for a school district in a major metropolitan area?
In Texas, school district boundaries don’t follow city or county lines. Our district covers 94.5 square miles and includes the city of Mansfield as well as portions of south Arlington, Grand Prairie, and other smaller areas. This doesn’t seem like a big deal except when it comes to zoning and local property taxes which is part of how districts are funded. The school districts in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market are all dwarfed by the urban districts of those same two cities. The DFW media market primarily focuses their attention on the big two, but thankfully the market is rich in opportunities to work with great journalists. Share of voice gets to be interesting in the market with so many competing interests in k12 education along with solid institutions of higher education. Like anything else these days, school communicators in major metro areas better be adept at being there own newsrooms.
What would you tell individuals considering a PR/communications role similar to yours with the Mansfield Independent School District?
Anyone interested in school PR/comms need to think and prepare beyond typical community outreach strategy. You must become adept at understanding (and being able to explain) school funding, curriculum and testing, and with the realities of recent events, campus safety and student/staff security.
Is there anything unique you’re doing at Mansfield with social media that you just haven’t seen anywhere else within education?
At one time MISD was on the forefront of social media and digital comms and our team was among the earliest adopters of tools for school communication. I’m pleased that so many others have continued the drive for fully integrating tools of the social web with the rest of the communication channels at their disposal. I can tell you that our district has a focus on innovation and we are now among the top 100 enterprise and school iPad rollouts (#12 on the list). Last fall, Mansfield launched a 1 to 1 iPad program for all of our high school students and professional staff using 10, 720 iPad 2 devices.) The district is looking to expend that down to the middle schools next as e-books become more pervasive. So I guess the innovation is being pushed along through the curriculum side of the house. I’m good with that.
You’re also a blogger. Been blogging since 2008 (congrats, by the way). How and why do you keep that going with all the responsibilities you have between work and home?
Good question, sometimes I ask myself the same thing Actually, blogging is a way for me to continue to work on my writing in addition to exploring tools, trends and sharing lessons-learned in the practice of PR, school communications. I enjoy hearing from other pros who comment or email responses and tell me they’ve learned something or appreciate my candor in sharing when things have gone awry.
You’re a big PRSA advocate. You’re active within your chapter–and you’ve been a HAPPO champ since the very beginning. As professional organizations like PRSA have taken a bit of a hit with younger folks of late, what would you tell those people about the value of your PRSA experience to date? Why should young people become MORE involved in organizations like PRSA instead of withdrawing from them?
I’ve been a proud member of PRSA since 2001. PRSA National and our local chapter (Ft. Worth PRSA) has been a major source assistance, professional development, networking and friendships. Other PR people get it. In my experience with PRSA as well as the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA), having colleagues to bounce ideas off of or go to when you need a specific parent/staff communication is invaluable. More often than not, I’ll find a PR pro that’s had a similar issue and can be a guide. At this stage in my career the tables have turned a bit and I enjoy being among the resources for others. I plan to continue to assist other PR pros (or those looking to get into the field). Others did it for me and I’m happy to serve. Young communication pros should seek out professional development opportunities and organizations to help get off on the right foot.
Finally, we have a lot in common. We’re both huge sports fans (although our allegiances are quite different). We’re fathers to small families. We both blog. I’m sure it’s how we met a number of years ago. As such, I’m wondering if we also share an interest to pursue many different interests. For example, I firmly believe PR will not be my only career. I hope to pursue my interests in teaching and coaching at some point in my life. My question for you: Do you ever see a career for yourself outside the world of PR?
I’ve been playing the saxophone for about 25 years (yes, I was a band geek but it’s cool because I married a band geek). I love music. I played sax for the Latin Express for a short time in college. If I was going to pursue something outside of PR, I think it would be as a professional musician. Although, the hours wouldn’t be as desirable. My only other viable option would be to draw on my experience as a bartender. Fun times. But that’s another story.