35 Under 35 Class of 2020-21: Cristen Maddux

Cristen MadduxCristen Maddux

Public Information Officer
School District of Indian River County
Vero Beach, Fla.
Twitter: @CristenM_PIO, @IRCSchools

What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means leading by example. It means participating in all aspects of the area you supervise in order to develop a clear understanding for the work that is being done and the efforts that are being made by everyone who contributes to the success of your office or department.  When I reflect on leaders who have made a difference in my life and my career path, I see those who pushed me to reach my full potential.  I see those who taught me that flexibility and adaptability are as important a characteristic for a leader as it is to someone who is being led.  Effective and impactful leaders have pushed me outside of the walls of my comfort zone and placed me in situations that would teach me valuable lessons.  Leadership means relishing in the success of others including  your team. A successful team is a direct reflection of your success as a leader.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?
I like to joke that I started working in this school district 29 years ago.  I say that because I started out as a student at  Vero Beach Elementary, when I was six years old. The most fulfilling professional moment for me comes to fruition from serving in several different roles in our school district.  I was a student, a teacher, a parent of four students, and now I am the public information officer.  The passion that stems from being so deeply rooted in this school district enhances the way I serve.  The ability to walk back onto the campuses and see some of the same people who contributed to the person I am today and know that my work supports and impacts every student and employee in a different way, is humbling.  To be in a position where I can highlight the work of our students, teachers  and staff members every day is a blessing.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding parts about working in school PR?
The most challenging part of working in school PR is understanding that everyone views the work of the district you support through a different lens. The ability to understand the view of others when it differs from your own, or when it conflicts with the narrative you are communicating, can be challenging at times. School PR professionals must keep an open mind and must grow and learn from members within their organization and from their audience.  The most rewarding part of this job is the joy I get from celebrating others. Sharing information and spotlighting people and the work they are doing for the students in our district is what makes me excited to come to work every day.

How have NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?
My state chapter, SUNSPRA, led me to NSPRA, which opened multiple learning opportunities and surrounded me with a group of professionals to collaborate with and learn from. The NSPRA 2018 National Seminar not only developed my relationship with others in my state chapter, but introduced me to school PR professionals across the nation. It provided opportunities to enhance and develop skills important to my profession. I walked away with invaluable ideas, materials and information. I particularly enjoy the NSPRA forums that allow members to ask questions and interact with each other. Everyone is always so willing to chime in and share information.

What are your favorite work and personal apps?
My go-to apps are Facebook and Twitter, which are the approved social media platforms for our district. Personally, I use Facebook more often because I prefer to not have a character or image limit and there are more options for editing. I love using Canva for graphic design, and Smore is very user-friendly for creating newsletters. This year I downloaded the NewsBreak app, which provides local breaking stories and national headlines. I’ve found this useful, as it sometimes breaks local stories that pertain to our school district. I use the Microsoft Teams app for my work calendar, daily schedule and team collaboration. I became very dependent on this app when schools closed due to COVID-19. We briefly worked from home and began to hold several virtual meetings on Teams. Marketing Video Maker and YouCut Video Editor are fun and user-friendly for creating video content from your phone.   

What book has inspired you professionally?

The book that has inspired me professionally is a book I recently won in a team building session, Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
My team recently won the national Sandy Hook Promise “Say Something” video competition, by highlighting the efforts in our middle and high schools that students were taking to eliminate school violence. Students learned about different warning signs or threats they may see or overhear at school or on social media, how to take action and intervene by telling a trusted adult or using an anonymous reporting system.

I also enjoyed working with our SRO’s and Indian River County Sheriff’s Office to produce “Fake Threats Result in Real Consequences.”  Around the time of this video, school districts nationwide were dealing with students making fake threats against schools and other students.  The increase in these types of reports and the time that was being taken from our local law enforcement officers to investigate these types of threats led us to create a video on the consequences of making a fake threat.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited?
Implementing new ways to connect and engage with our community while  tailoring communication to provide the information stakeholders desire in a user-friendly way. Current circumstances have required a shift toward the virtual world and opened new ways of learning. We are working and communicating in ways that we never thought would be possible or successful. 

Video conferencing and live-streaming have become the new norm, and the adjustments that our stakeholders have made to allow this new way of communication into their lives is a benefit that will carry on for school PR, opening up doors and minds for future introductions to new ways of communicating. I am encouraged at how the focus of communication has shifted to the human element rather than the brand.

Under our new reality of navigating day-to-day life with a pandemic, we are telling stories that highlight human connections and interactions as well as community support and relationship building. As we say around here, “Although we are apart, we are #SDIRCStrongerTogether.”