Ashley Ford - 35 Under 35

35 Under 35 Class of 2018-19
Ashley is one of 35 professionals, age 35 and under, who is part of the Class of 2018-19. These 35 individuals are emerging leaders who are making a difference in school public relations.

Ashley Ford
Union County Public Schools
Monroe, N.C.

What does leadership mean to you? 
Leadership isn’t tied to a position/title and it’s not about being the loudest voice in a room. I believe leadership is about modeling integrity and professionalism, working hard, encouraging and inspiring others, and continuously striving to hone your craft. Leadership isn’t about standing out as an individual, it’s about guiding your team/organization towards its goals.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?
I joined UCPS at the beginning of the communications team’s preparations for the 2017 high school graduation season. For weeks, we crossed every corner of the county covering graduation-related events. But it wasn’t until I did our communications plan’s evaluation that I saw the full impact of our work. The number of people that our coverage reached, the types of inspirational stories we were able to share, the outstanding media coverage about our graduates and the positive comments from parents and community members were amazing. I enjoyed playing an integral role in the success of our communications strategy, and this campaign was a great introduction to the breadth and positive impact of effective school public relations.

What is the most challenging and/or rewarding part about working in school PR? 
I love to tell stories, especially stories that may inspire and encourage others. To be in a position where I get to do exactly that is the most rewarding part about working in school public relations. The work that I’m doing may inspire a student or even connect a family to much-needed resources. There is a lot of great work going on behind the scenes in our school system, and I love sharing those stories with our community.

What’s your favorite work app and personal app?
Adobe Spark is a great storytelling tool. I use it regularly to transform what would normally be blocks of text on our website into visually engaging short videos or web stories. The built-in analytics also allow us to track views so we’re not missing out on any opportunities to evaluate engagement. Plus, it’s free, so all of our schools are able to use it as another way to promote their schools. In my personal life, I swear by the Cozi Family Organizer app, which helps me organize and make sense of my family’s hectic schedule. The color-coded schedules for each person in my family, to-do and grocery shopping lists, recipe boxes and email reminders are a lifesaver.

What book has inspired you professionally? 
Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes was a fun and thought-provoking book. Her revelations on work-life balance, knowing (and owning) your strengths, prioritizing, having tough conversations and not being afraid of failure were eye-opening and has changed the way I approach my work and career. 

How has NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?
While I’m not new to the public relations industry, I am new to school public relations. Attending the NCSPRA fall conference was a great introduction to school public relations, and the lessons I learned during those workshops helped guide my work during my first year of school PR. The NSPRA conference in Anaheim, which I attended courtesy of an NSPRA scholarship, built on the guidance that I received from NCSPRA and experience I gained on the job. It was a great opportunity to network with hundreds of school public relations professionals from across the country and I gained a lot of valuable tips that I’ve already started to apply to my work.

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
While I didn’t personally see the Carrolton-Farmers Branch ISD’s kindergarten enrollment campaign, I really enjoyed hearing about it during their workshop at the recent NSPRA conference. The way they tackled their issue of declining enrollment and ran their campaign was strategic, focused, effective and yielded great outcomes. I’ve actually been exploring ways to tweak some of the tactics they used and lessons they learned and apply it to future UCPS campaigns.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited? 
Podcasts, content creation with emerging social media platforms, digital storytelling, etc. are changing the way we engage with our audiences and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve also started to see more of an emphasis on tools that analyze outcome-based measures, as opposed to output-based measures, which is much more effective when evaluating our work. Sure, traditional media coverage is great. But the emerging trends that allow us to engage with audiences and tell our own story, in our own words, are invaluable.