The mysteries of school board meeting mojo

After I swore off attending Dayton Public School board meetings, I went to both the Wright State Board of Trustees committee day meetings, and to the Trotwood Madison Board of Ed retreat. The more I know about these political bodies, the more I scratch my head.

Apparently, my legal video recording of the WSU board of trustees has them scheming new ways to put me in my place. I got a call from WSU PR manager Seth Baugess on Tuesday to let me know about new language that would appear in releases announcing board meetings. They will now have specified spaces for cameras. They will not provide a feed to their microphones, because they are afraid of loose talk on an open mic, and that they acknowledge my right to be there and video, however, they’d like prior warning of me being there (which they can’t require).

UPDATE

2 Oct 2018: “All members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend public meetings of the Wright State University Board of Trustees.

In an effort to maintain unobstructed ingress and egress for meeting participants and guests, prevent disruptions to meetings or barriers to public views, and preserve the ability of university personnel to staff the meetings, Wright State reserves the right to designate workspaces for members of the media and their equipment as well as seating areas for other guests.

Guests who intend to record public meetings of the Wright State University Board of Trustees are advised to check with public relations contacts or their designees on site to locate designated workspaces.

It’s fascinating, because the Aug 18, 2018 video of a 3 hour WSU board retreat, which is unlisted, already has over 475 views. I’ve only shared the link with one WSU faculty person.

When I asked Baugess why they didn’t record and post all the meetings, he said because they didn’t want to. They do one meeting a year- the budget meeting and that’s it. Hint, you might have more support via transparency.

If there is one good thing that came out of my video recording of DPS, they expanded their broadcasts to include their “review sessions” which previously weren’t recorded. Not that anything important is achieved at these meetings, that would actually require board members who had a clue.

Which brings me to the 4 hour and 38 minute meeting of the Trotwood board last Thursday night. Yes, over four and a half hours.  What I found fascinating about this meeting is that the Superintendent wasn’t there, nor were any of his staff in his place. It was the board and the treasurer. I have NEVER seen DPS leave the superintendent seat open. When I asked, the board president said he didn’t have to be there, “this is our meeting.”

Which leads me to what exactly are the job divisions between a Superintendent, the educational professional who is highly paid and qualified to run a school district, and an elected board of lay persons who serve as the superintendents board of directors. From the OSBA:

Board members make decisions on a wide range of issues, such as hiring and evaluating a superintendent and treasurer; setting district policy; planning student services; goal-setting and long-range planning; adopting curriculum; establishing budgets; engaging parents; being good fiscal stewards; acting in the best interest of the school district and within the scope of their legal authority; and creating community relations programs. A board member should be a skilled decision-maker; however, decisions are only made by the board as a whole at a public meeting.

Another important part of the board’s work is its public relations role. School board members help build public support and understanding of public education, and lead the public in demanding quality education. The school board serves as a link between schools and the public.

What a school board member doesn’t do
The role and function of board members often are misinterpreted by the public, and in some cases, by board members themselves. The board is a policymaking body and members are the chief advisers to the superintendent on community attitudes. Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of a school district; they see to it that the system is managed well by professionals.

Board members are not education professionals. They do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent and treasurer, nor do they become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent, business manager and treasurer. Board members may be consulted during the hiring process for other positions, such as assistant superintendent.

Source: Understanding Your School Board | Ohio School Boards Association

The first hour of the Trotwood meeting was a presentation by the treasurer. And while I understand that this information doens’t require the superintendent, I would think that it is relevant to his job performance. At one point, the game changing discussion of Open Enrollment comes up. He wasn’t there to discuss the implications- although I can tell you that for DPS sports- you’d see a giant sucking sound as our star athletes enroll in Trotwood in record numbers after the coaching debacles under the current administration. Stated capacity right now is 300, but, I could see enough students wanting to leave DPS after next years report cards show Trotwood with marked improvement and DPS with State Takeover. Enough that Trotwood could actually expand it’s district and take over parts of Dayton- like Thurgood Marshall, WOW, Meadowdale/Valerie and grow.

The next part of the meeting was the main reason I was there. My firm, The Next Wave, was one of 8 bidders who had submitted RFP responses to TMS- and were invited to present. The agenda had each firm presenting for 15 minutes. I was to be last. The only other agency principal that was there at the start of the meeting was Theresa Steele of the Hathaway Group. She stayed up until just before my presentation before leaving. B-63 also stayed for a few other presentations, all the rest came and went.

The agenda: btw I added links to all the firms sites:

BOARD RETREAT
Trotwood-Madison Board of Education Offices 3594 North Snyder Road Trotwood, Ohio 45426 4:00 p.m.
1. OPENING
A. Call to Order and Pledge of Allegiance
B. Roll Call – Board of Education Members
C. Adopt the Agenda
2. TREASURER’S UPDATE
A. Treasurer Update – J. Allen
3. PRESENTATION – MARKETING
A. C-3 Group
B. B63 Line/AFA Associates
C. Catapult Creative
D. The Marketing Formula
E. Wilderness Agency
F. The Hathaway Group
G. Approach Marketing
H. The Next Wave
4. DISCUSSION ITEMS
A. Consent Agenda
B. Executive Session Options
C. October Retreat Information
5. ADJOURNMENT
A. Adjourn

This is where things get odd. The board was somehow directly involved in a contracting process, without any of the staff that would actually work with the agency. If they are just reviewing what the recommendations of staff were, to grant approval, where they already knew the rankings of an evaluation team, this makes sense. However, the questions didn’t seem connected to a rubric to me. If the board is weighing in on preferences, you have to look at two parts of the OSBA instructions:

They do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent and treasurer, nor do they become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent, business manager and treasurer.

But on the other hand:

Another important part of the board’s work is its public relations role. School board members help build public support and understanding of public education, and lead the public in demanding quality education. The school board serves as a link between schools and the public.

And this is where I really wonder about this whole system of electing people to manage professional organizations. I’m used to presenting to firms with marketing professionals with deep understanding of what an ad agency does, who know why and how they plan on working with us. That is not the case here.

The people who we would be working with weren’t even in the room. Hadn’t met with us. And, forwarded all 8 proposals to them for consideration. This is HIGHLY irregular. Usually, after the proposals, only a few are selected for interview. And, this is the clincher, I’ve never, EVER, had the opportunity to watch my competition present- or film. Typically, these presentations are considered “proprietary” information and strategy, and are managed in executive session, or via a sub-committee. It was enlightening to me. I’ll withhold commentary, but, as someone who has judged for the American Advertising Federation National Student Advertising Competition, I can say that most of the pitches weren’t even remotely structured like pitches.

And what was shocking to me, was that only B-63 and Hathaway stayed to watch any others. Of course, when I made the video public yesterday, there were exactly 8 views by today- which means my 7 competitors and one of my subscribers… (total assumption).

Yet, the need for marketing and PR pros is insanely obvious if you watch the remainder of the meeting after my presentation. The free form discussion wandered in some very dangerous areas. While discussing a failed effort to get staff to answer a professionally run independent survey they revealed that only 38 of 440 employees had responded, and then discussed the culture of fear that might be preventing completion. That kind of public sharing isn’t ideal. Neither is the admission by one board member that there used to be a “Hit List” of teachers to be gotten rid of. This opens all kinds of legal liability for the district.

Other discussion of how a consent agenda works, showed a lack of competence by staff or the board, at being properly briefed about it. DPS just moved to consent agendas recently, and while they still allow for a removal of any item, it’s basically a way to avoid so many role call votes for various items. You can read more here: OSBA on Parliamentary Procedure and Voting Makes a Difference.

I applaud Board President Denise Moore for championing that the board need to work on continuous education and improvement. However, as she is a 12 year board member one has to wonder what she was doing for the 11 years before she figured this out, and hired Tyrone Olverson to straighten out a district that had made its way to the basement.

The district didn’t say when they’d notify the agencies of a decision.

A few of the agencies had made an effort to attend a board meeting or retreat before. For at least three of them, their big “reveal” at the end of the pitch was that they had a red “608 to Great” rubber wrist band on.

Yet, my firm, had the forethought to buy the URLS www.thetrotwoodturnaround.com and www.608togreat.com and point them to a holding page that some staff person liked so much that they used it for the background screen for the whole district convocation at the beginning of the school year.

If you watch my presentation, actions speak louder than words. Best of luck to Trotwood in picking a partner. If you want to watch the sample video I included in my presentation directly, it’s here:

And of course, no other ad agency has a platform to reach the community the way Esrati.com does, for better or worse. Over a thousand unique readers a day can’t be totally wrong.

 

 

 

Dayton Public Schools fail marketing 101

This is far from the first post on the extended failure of Dayton Public Schools to manage their marketing resource acquisition.

If this is your first time finding out about this, this post is the full recap, with all the documentation to let you examine the process and see how to fail at issuing an RFP for professional services. First clue- don’t have a single marketing professional on staff to help you evaluate what you are buying.

Second clue: have someone who has no knowledge of how to pick an ad agency write the RFP/RFQ.

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The initial RFP for “Comprehensive marketing services” issued by the Dayton Public Schools

With that said, here is the absolute failure that they issued to start the process. It was missing so many key pieces of information, like a budget, an objective, that it made me wonder if there was anything already written to serve as a guideline for picking an ad agency for governmental organizations. There wasn’t, so I wrote this for The Next Wave blog: Hiring An Agency: The R.F.P. Guide (for Governmental Organizations)

Well, actually I wrote it after the School Board missed their original start deadline of Sept. 21, and threw out the recommendation of their purchasing department who ran this “process” on November 1st.  It was pointed out that their “RFP process” kept favoring big firms, who they’d already worked with, and that the scoring rubric seemed to be off- especially since my firm had real diversity qualifications (Certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business by the VA, HUBzone by the SBA, Ohio ED/GE). They also wondered how a team that included a photographer, Larry Price, who has won an Emmy and the Pulitzer prize for photojournalism twice, didn’t rank higher as “qualified.” Five firms applied. Due to a cc instead of bcc on an email, I knew who the competition was. Had the process been handled competently, my bid should have been very well received.

Superintendent Corr’s answer was to suggest they go out and ask other districts how it’s done. Next came a new instrument to ask for proposals- this one, a Request for Qualifications. The difference being that the purchasing department is supposed to be ranking how qualified each agency is to do the job – to suggest who the board should consider issuing a contract with. Since there isn’t really supposed to be any proposed work, the instrument should be administered in a way that’s kind of like the Pepsi Challenge- blind of branding, just asking to see examples of past work, and describing the skill set of each organization. Yes, you can ask for prices- for a set service, but, usually, you would leave out anything that would tip off an evaluator who submitted what.

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DPS issues RFQ to replace RFP for marketing services

This wasn’t how they did it. In fact, much of the RFQ was a copy and paste job from the RFP. They were still asking for timelines, plans, and now, added how would you spend $75K. This time only 3 of the firms bid, with one subcontracting one of the other first round bidders to fill their “diversity” quotient.

The RFQ asked for a lot of “reporting” proof. Can you show that your marketing dollars spent were effective type things? Showing Neilsen numbers (as Ohlmann does for a lot of their response) doesn’t tell anyone how many widgets were sold. And, unless it’s the EFFY awards (Effectiveness), no ad awards shows actually care if your ad actually sold more widgets, but awards were important. Laughably, The Ohlmann Group bragged at length of how they’d won lots of “Mercury Awards” from the local ad club- the only problem is, they aren’t real awards given by judges- it’s a popularity contest- much like what the Dayton Business Journal does with “Best Pizza in Dayton” awards.

The RFQ, much like the RFP was based on a Board provided guesstimate of total hours of 3120- or 1.5 man years. This district is in much greater need of 1.5 man years- especially if they are hoping to do a rebrand. Both Ohlmann and The Next Wave would want to fix the website that was built in a proprietary content management system (supplied by the third bidder Upward) that has already cost the district a small fortune. Hilariously, it can only be maintained by one person in the district, the current default Public Information Officer Jill Drury, who came out of TV news and has no marketing chops.

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DPS Q&A for the RFQ

There was a Q&A issued 2 days before the turn in deadline of 20 January, 2017. In it, it clearly put a cap of $300K on the project. My firm, The Next Wave bid under it, at a fixed price to deliver 3.5 man years or 7280 hours. And, as a caveat, as long as we were on retainer and doing the work we specified- all the other stuff that they never budget or foresee, we’d do it at the effective rate of $41 an hour. The other two bidders were considerably more expensive- with the average hourly rate of $113 for the “winner” picked by purchasing and hired by the board without a contract review before the vote.

Now, what I’m asking you the reader to do, is to pretend you care about your school district, and where public dollars are spent. And take the time to actually read the proposals submitted by each of the three agencies.

Then read the score sheets/evaluators forms. Then read the contract issued to the Ohlmann Group, waiving the 48 hour rule to vote on it a week early at a meeting without public comment. Then, you decide- who had the best plan, the most cost effective proposal?

Remember that there is still a digital divide in Dayton and that the households feeding DPS schools are mostly poor and many don’t have reliable high speed internet. Also know that almost all broadcast media would have serious over-reach, delivering the DPS message to people who wouldn’t send their kids to DPS if you paid them (the exception being St. Ivers- I mean, Stivers).

That’s why The Next Wave proposal for a media spend of $75K a year was to hire someone in each neighborhood to meet the kids at the central bus stop and take attendance as the kids got on the bus. Then to follow up in the neighborhood with housecalls on homes where the kid may didn’t made it to the bus- and to try to figure out what the district can do to get the kid in school- all before the bus even makes it to the building. Novel idea? Creative? More valuable to the district than a TV campaign? You tell me. Some friends of mine who run a very hot shop in Minneapolis have a mantra- “Actions speak louder than words.” Doing things always beats talking about them in our book too.

Here are the documents provided by the DPS legal counsel for each agency. Note, she gave me scans of printouts, not the original high resolution PDF’s that each agency submitted, with the hope that the low-fi, non-ADA compliant docs wouldn’t be able to be posted and indexed as well- but, don’t worry- I ran them through OCR. Only The Next Wave doc has working links.
Note, the Ohlmann and Upward submissions both run 100 pages. The longest proposal we’ve ever done for a non-governmental client has run 6 pages. Why government purchasing departments think requiring so much information actually helps the process is beyond me.

thumbnail of TNW RFQ proposal

The Next Wave RFQ response

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The Ohlmann Group RFQ response

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The Upward Brand Interactions RFQ Response

Next is the evaluators score sheets. We were told there were 5 evaluators and that one was the superintendent. One can assume the woman from purchasing who ran this mess, Teri Allen, was also one. Obviously, after me calling for her firing after the first round debacle, she’s going to score for anyone but The Next Wave.

The comments in scoring are very different for the three firms.

Of course, my mockery of the actual RFQ in our response- which had the audacity to ask for an Org chart when DPS barely has one, isn’t helping engender warm fuzzys, but, this district has serious problems and asking about org charts makes me wonder?

How does an Org chart make you do better ads? Websites? Video production?

The real key is to read the RFP and then realize the RFQ is yet another cut and paste job- looking to create “gotchas” instead of to actually evaluate what an agency is bringing to the table.

I always tell new clients that hiring an agency is a lot like dating- it takes almost a year before you really know enough about each other to do anything really great. Of course, if you baseline is decades of mediocrity, it’s not too hard to look amazing out of the box.

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The RFQ scoring instrument

The last document is the actual contract, which was presented to the board on board docs as a $112,500 contract instead of $345K. Then there were the two additional “option years” making the whole thing a million dollar commitment.

The school board actually bought this contract, without reading it. Mostly because they were told they had a 90 day out (which was specified to all bidders in the RFQ).

The contract has one hinkey legal mistake, that should make it null and void:

2. In the event of a conflict, precedence shall be given to the following order: (1) this document, (2) the Request for Proposal, and (3) the Contractor’s proposal response, (4) “SOW’ for specified project scope.

Uh, what RFP? This was a response to an RFQ. The RFP had been withdrawn. Of course, you can’t see the top secret RFP, unless it’s actually awarded. Of course, The Next Wave proposal didn’t shy away from sharing our ideas fully- because, well, we actually care enough about this district to have done all this journalism to expose the incompetence at the top.

thumbnail of PRR – D. Esrati – Ohlmann Group Contract

The DPS contract with the Ohlmann Group

The real question is, how many people will take the time to examine all this? Probably not many.

That’s why we produced a video to walk you through the whole thing- ending with the absolutely insane meeting between Board Members Adil Baguirov, Sheila Taylor and John McManus with the representatives from the Ohlmann Group.

We’ve already posted and talked about this meeting, and a few of you watched the whole 90 minute debacle. The meeting was mostly Dr. Adil Baguirov showcasing his marketing expertise, including advocating for the use of Flash- a web application that’s almost universally despised by any modern web developer and has never been usable on any Apple iOS device.

You are probably wondering what the next step is? It’s pretty obvious that after calling for the resignation of 5 board members, and Superintendent Corr, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll change their mind and hire us. Of course, come Jan 1, 2018, there will be four new board members who may want to be able to fully explain why the current board and their picks for Superintendent and Treasurer have caused this district more trauma than triage.

There is another post coming that should clearly change the course of coming board action, but, it will take a considerable amount of time to write and fully document. It’s the final chapter for one of the DPS pretenders.

In the mean time, to those of you who take the time to read all the docs, I’d love to hear your evaluation of this three ring circus.

Political campaign hot cards and websites for less

Shameless plug, or doing my part to change the way politics work?

One of the biggest problems facing America is the high cost of running for office. I know full well how much it costs, having run more times than most (and lost).

To help cut the expense of running for office- my firm, The Next Wave, does campaign pieces- websites- printing- for a lot less than what most “political consultants” charge- and it looks better.

We just did a logo, hotcards, letterhead, envelopes, car magnet and a website for local judicial candidate Mia Wortham Spells.

Mia Spells Hot card Mia Spells Hot card back

The website is basic, but functional and responsive. Done in WordPress, with a PayPal donation engine. You can learn how to manage a WordPress website yourself by coming to one of our Websitetology Seminars, the next one is Tuesday June 23.

Our printing prices are some of the best in town- 1000 4/c, 2/s 4×6 hotcards on 16 pt stock are only $44.55 You can find more prices at www.thenextwaveprinting.com

We’re also doing design work, hotcards, banners and yard signs for Dayton City Commission Scott Sliver and signs and some other printing for Dayton School Board candidate John McManus.

We’ve done door hangers for Beavercreek Township Trustee Tom Kretz, notecards for State Rep. Jim Butler,  Butler Twp. Trustee Joe Flanagan, Liberty Twp. Trustee candidate Rhonda Freeze and of course former Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell and city commission candidate David Greer (one of my favorite portrait shoots). This is mostly in the name of full disclosure- and just because we do design and print for these people, doesn’t mean it’s an endorsement.

What’s funny is that the local Democratic party does a lot of its printing out of Columbus instead of supporting a local Service Disabled Veteran (me) and probably pays more for everything.

Don’t overpay for crappy printing for campaign literature that no one will read anyway – buy it from The Next Wave.
:-)

It’s time you elected politicians as tight with their own money as they’ll be with your money.

 

Panhandling my way to Congress wins Gold at American Advertising Federation awards

David Esrati with AAF Dayton gold for his Panhandling my way to Congress  campaign

Hermes Gold with David Esrati, candidate and ad agency owner

Usually when a Dayton ad agency wins a Hermes award at the AAF Dayton (formerly the Dayton Ad Club) annual Hermes award, the agency gives a short acceptance speech thanking the client, talking about how wonderful they are to work with.

I got to make an acceptance speech last night for my agency, The Next Wave, for work we did on my campaign for Congress last year.

“The client sucked, he has no talent” was my opening. Then I went on to remind 406 of my peers that most “political advertising” reflects poorly on our profession. I spoke of the ad done in 1994 by one of our industries greats, Jerry Della Femina, who wrote a full page New York Times ad “Don’t call it advertising.” I asked that if a candidate comes to them with a request to do a “I was born in ________, I went to ___________ school, I’m a (insert profession here) and I’m going to (insert adjective) (insert verb) for you, type ad- to force the candidate to talk about real issues- and make real promises.

Because in real advertising, if the product or service doesn’t perform as advertising- there are real penalties. In politics, they just get elected and re-elected. Unfortunately, this spot- and the one on foreclosures that won a Silver last year, didn’t get seen by enough voters to make a difference. For that to have happened, I would have had to raise at least $15K – a far deal less than Sharen Neuhardt spent on her botched run.

Here is the spot:

Please watch and share.

From winning the Hermes locally, it’s now entered to go to Regionals and then it can go to the National competition. There were over 433 entries, 238 got in ($65 an entry), a majority win bronze awards which aren’t eligible to move up, and each category (this won in the public service category) can  win one, maybe two golds out of a small pool of silvers. Only 24 Golds were awarded.

It’s a very tough competition, with local agencies doing work for Sears, Nike and other global clients. There is incredible talent in this city- much of it under-appreciated by local businesses. One former boss of mine had several entries win Silver for Chinese clients. Dayton can compete on a global stage.

Even though this spot and the foreclosure spot won, I’m most proud of the public information campaign I ran, where I posted video of almost every candidate at every candidates’ night- so that voters can be informed. It’s my goal to implement better ways for informing voters and change the nature of the process from mudslinging and money grubbing to discussions about the issues. To do that, I’ll need your support. Please consider donating to my campaign for City Commission where I’ve committed to run for under $10K.  Donate: http://electesrati.com/donate-2/

Now, out to collect signatures again in the freezing cold. :-)