Several times each week, I take to this blog to opine on the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to education, ed reform, and school improvement. In trying to look at the state of public education through a communications lens, I often try to separate the message from the messenger. While I value the power of the individual, particularly one who is committed and a strong advocate, I recognize it is the idea that must take hold. Long-term improvement comes from the incubation of good ideas and the demonstration that those ideas have tangible impact. A strong communicator can help break through the white noise and amplify one’s results and impact, but a good communicator cannot and should not replace the data and the outcomes themselves.
I owe part of this philosophy to my parents, who instilled in me the notion that good work should be its own reward. Part of its comes from my experiences on Capitol Hill. I may have been an on-the-record spokesman for senators and congressmen, but my role was to speak for them. Getting my name in the papers was the least of my concerns. I needed to get my boss’ ideas, accomplishments, and agenda noticed by those audiences who could affect change or who would be effected by it.
So it is rare for me to toot my own horn. Yes, I like to talk about the individuals, organizations, and issues with which I am involved. I like to tout the good work of friends and colleagues in areas like STEM education, reading instruction, early childhood education, and closing the achievement gap. And I regularly ask for your indulgence when it comes to proudly boasting of the physical and intellectual developments of my son and daughter, two toddlers that a father could not be more proud of (and two who are clearly among the most gifted and adorable of their age).
Today, uncomfortably, I write about me. Today, it is about Patrick Riccards (or my alter ego, Eduflack, if you prefer). Yesterday, PRWeek magazine released its annual 40 Under 40
feature, where they profile the top 40 PR and communications professionals in the nation under the age of 40. Yours truly is on the list. Somehow, with all of the terrific work being done in this country in PR, marketing, public affairs, communications, and advocacy, Eduflack ranks among the top PR professionals in the nation. PRWeek’s write-up for me includes the following (along with a reasonably decent picture):
CEO, Exemplar Strategic Communications, 36
Patrick Riccards spent the majority of the 1990s working for Congress members before holding leadership positions at two agencies and at Higher Ed Holdings.
An authority on education communications and policy at all levels, including No Child Left Behind, the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative, high school improvement, and reading instruction, he founded Exemplar Strategic Communications last year to serve the sector.
He is also founder and executive director of a Virginia nonprofit, founder and author of the Eduflack blog, and founder and chairman of online professional social network Educommunicators.
Recently, Riccards has begun a national advocacy push to ensure learning opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups.
For those who do not know, I actually do have a day job (I know, you’re shocked that writing Eduflack doesn’t pay the rent). I am the founder and CEO of Exemplar Strategic Communications
, a small PR and advocacy shop that specializes in education issues. Each day, I have the privilege of working with a terrific group of client partners, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AppleTree Institute for Education innovation, International Society for Technology in Education, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, National Governors Association, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Stanford University, Team Pennsylvania Foundation, WETA Learning Media, and many others. I purposely work with a selec
t group of organizations so we can focus on delivering proven results. Personally, I am not satisfied with merely hitting some subjective communications goals (like a pre-determined number of media hits). Exemplar’s work is only successful when the organization’s overall strategic goals are achieved. After all, isn’t that the intent of effective communications in the first place?
I am humbled and honored by the recognition from PRWeek, both for myself and for the education field. I am the first honoree from the education sector ever selected for this award. Typically, these lists are a who’s who of corporate PR, technology, healthcare, and consumer products. Having the education sector on the list is a major step forward for our field. In recent years, we have witnessed the transformation of education, as more and more people recognize the unbreakable ties between education improvement, a strong economy, and a strong nation. Education — and the effective communication of education improvement efforts — is simply too important to our community’s future for it to be ignored. I am incredibly proud to represent all of the education communications pros in the field who work hard so new ideas, new reforms, and new results can be heard, model, and exemplified.
I am also incredibly proud of the work we do at Exemplar, and really see this as a team honor, both for Exemplar staff and Exemplar clients. When I meet someone new in the education sector, one of my greatest joys is when he or she finally pauses to note that I am not the typical flack (refreshing for most I work with). I come in under the umbrella of communications, I talk like a policy pro, and I crunch (and know) the numbers like a ed researcher. At that moment, folks finally see the nexus where all of this comes together, where policy, data, and communications meet to produce the messages and activities that will successfully reach the right audiences. Where we move from simply informing stakeholders on an issue to driving them to specific change. Where we use communication, advocacy, and public engagement as powerful levers in achieving lasting improvement.
Before I yield the rostrum, I just wanted to offer up a few thank yous. I thank Senator Robert C. Byrd, Senator Bill Bradley, and Congressman John Olver for giving me some of my first communications opportunities and allowing me to see that intersection between communications and policy and really develop my footing on that street corner. To Widmeyer Communications and Lipman Hearne, for allowing me to pursue my passions, hone my model for effective communications and public engagement, and to help gain the knowledge and experience I needed to truly be successful. To Kris Kurtenbach and the folks at Collaborative Communications Group, a terrific consulting shop with whom I have now had an eight-year relationship collaborating on some wonderful, impactful education issues. To my mentors along the way, starting on Capitol Hill with Marsha Berry and continuing this past decade-plus with Phyllis Blaunstein, for empowering me, encouraging me, and teaching me how to constantly improve. And, of course, to my family. To my parents for planting the seeds; the eduwife for putting up with every twist, turn, and unforeseen challenge (including the client work on vacations, the many phone calls at dinner, the ongoing emails and tweets that fly 24-7, and just plethora the quirks connected to who I am), and the edukids for reminding me each and every day why I do what I do.
I would also like to thank all of the readers of Eduflack, who allow me this soapbox and encourage its frequent use. I am constantly amazed by those who follow and appreciate what is posted here, along with what is put up on Eduflack’s Twitter page (@Eduflack). The Twitter feed is now becoming one of those go-to sources in education, and I am thrilled I can be of some use. And I cannot forget the hundred of education communications professionals who are helping to launch Educommunicators
, an online social network designed to promote our collective work (and preparing for a Phase 2 relaunch this fall). There is no much passion, talent, commitment, and good working happening in this field. We need to keep acknowledging, sharing, and promoting it. Hopefully, Educommunicators can play a role in doing that.
So to all of you who have helped me, guided me, advised me, worked with me, allowed me to work with you, inspired me (both the good and the bad), and generally given me the ability to develop my craft and find my voice, I thank you. I thank you for this acknowledgment, for the work that led to it, and for the great work we will do together in the coming years.