35 Under 35 Class of 2020-21: Tyler Hill

Tyler Hill
Tyler Hill  
Arlington (Tenn.) Community Schools
@THillMedia, @ACS_System



What does leadership mean to you?

To me, leadership means discovering strength in others and empowering them to carry those strengths forward. Top-down leadership and decisions are strategically necessary in any organization, but a truly effective leader knows when to let others capitalize on their own strengths to help move the organization forward. Great leaders also proactively solicit feedback from others before and after decisions are made. Though it’s not practical to involve all team members in every decision, I believe a strong leader makes it a point to be an active listener and make adaptations where needed.  Finally, leadership means publicly celebrating others’ successes. Whether you are the head of an organization or not, I believe any person who makes it a targeted effort to celebrate others can help boost morale in all levels of an organization.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?

The most fulfilling professional moment I’ve experienced in school communications came this year when my district won three NSPRA Awards of Excellence and two Awards of Merit for our products in videography, social media and newsletter design. As a one-person department, I rely heavily on my “Digital Media Team” at each school to feed me positive news ideas about our students and staff.  I’m particularly proud of the social media award for Instagram (arlington_schools). We made an intentional decision to cater this account specifically to students and about students. It’s free from announcements and instead focuses on student celebrations and how they’re impacting our school community.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding parts about working in school PR?

Beyond the anomaly we call COVID-19, I believe the most challenging part about working in school PR is staying consistently connected to each school  while maintaining an appropriate balance of coverage. My mantra in school PR is storytelling, storytelling, storytelling. I want to keep the community as informed as possible about happenings within our buildings. I tell principals and teachers often: the more we highlight the great things happening in our buildings, the stronger the mutual trust and rapport will be with parents and the community. The issue, unfortunately, is some schools are better at promoting themselves than others, and it can be a struggle to find a healthy balance of coverage so one school doesn’t dominate the others.  I think the most rewarding part is getting to be the behind-the-scenes “voice” of the district. Managing social media accounts, websites and mass notifications is an incredibly rewarding and thrilling position to hold.

How have NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?

NSPRA and my state chapter, TNSPRA, have guided me by simply opening a network of connections. It was through my state chapter conference that I met nearby school communicators who have now become a regular text group on my phone. At any time, I feel comfortable contacting TNSPRA members and those I’ve met nationally through NSPRA to discuss ideas and challenges that I’m facing. Especially for one-person departments where you’re relied on to be THE communications expert, school PR can feel like you’re on an island all alone. NSPRA and my state chapter have given me that connection back  to the “mainland.”  Also, the NSPRA Connect Open Forum digest is my morning read!

What are your favorite work and personal apps?

As someone who does a lot of in-house video and photography work, the Adobe Suite is my main go-to set of apps, particularly Adobe Premiere for video and Lightroom for photography.   Canva has a dedicated spot on my browser for anytime I need a quick flyer or graphic.  I also utilize Smore for my district-wide newsletter, which is handy for those using Blackboard since the products are integrated.  Personally, Twitter and the Podcasts apps are running 24/7 on my phone.

What book has inspired you professionally?

The book that has had the largest impact on me professionally is one I actually read when I began my first career in TV journalism. “Aim for the Heart”, written by the award-winning journalist Al Tompkins, taught me how to write with a purpose. Although the book is intended specifically for those working in journalism, I have found that it can speak broadly to those working in public relation capacities as well.  

People remember what they feel. As school communicators, we have the incredible honor of introducing our communities to wonderful stories of student and staff triumph. Through artful storytelling, we can help shape policy and move beyond telling the “what” to telling the “why.” “

Aim for the Heart” helped me discover the importance of going beyond the surface to find a more compelling story that can connect with the audience.  The book also has fantastic tips and tricks on shooting and editing video, methods to interviewing subjects and how to write concise yet captivating stories.

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?

It’s been nothing short of amazing to see what school districts across the country have pulled off in terms of educating children and keeping families informed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It truly feels like we’ve all been neck-deep in nearly a year-long communications campaign to keep families and communities informed about the ever-evolving situation.  It took a global pandemic for parents to truly realize and appreciate the role of an educator, but I also think school communicators have shown their value and worth during this time. From the moment schools shut down to the time they began to reopen either in-person or online, school PR professionals have been there to advise decision-makers along the way.   Beyond COVID-19, my district recently created an in-house video series that highlighted basic kindergarten skills, such as holding a pencil and counting to 100. Kindergarten has vastly changed over the years. This was an enjoyable way to enlighten parents about the changes.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited?

Data analytics are always exciting! Digging into analytics ensures that I’m publishing content that is relevant and engaging for my school audience. Data analytics are continuing to evolve and becoming even more granular, which is unbelievably beneficial in knowing which types of content and messaging I should and should not pursue.  Artificial intelligence (AI) for websites and voice searches is also an emerging marketing trend that has widespread potential for school districts. Chatbots and AI can be incorporated on your website and social media channels to provide automated responses, such as “What’s on the school lunch menu tomorrow?” More families are also modernizing their homes with smart speakers, allowing districts to optimize content for voice-based searches. It’s honestly an intimidating part of school marketing that will require creativity, but I think that’s what makes it exciting.