Electronic business cards—those mini-CDs you find yourself picking up at educational conferences and vendor booths—can pack a lot of public relations power.

Just as architects, software developers, advertising agencies, and other vendors use these tools as free product “demos,” you can craft a multimedia presentation that sells your school, program, or initiative to parents, students, realtors, board members, and other key constituents.

Having spent the last six months eagerly reviewing each eBusiness card I’ve received, and stumbling through our own first effort in this regard, I’ve developed 10 tips that might save you time, money, and frustration down the road.

No. 1: Clearly identify your audience and goals before developing an eBusiness card. Then, focus in on one key audience, goal, and message.

Warning: This is harder than it sounds. You must be precise. A presentation for realtors should have a totally different look, feel, sound, and message than something you’re developing for teenagers.

The goal is not to communicate everything about your school or district to everybody. The goal is to drill down on that one compelling message you want to get into the mind of your consumer.

No. 2: Think through what this medium can do for you that all of your other communication channels (from print brochures to web sites) either cannot do, or cannot do as well.

Hint: Think multimedia and interactive! In other words, this is not the time to put a manually controlled PowerPoint that someone has to read, or simply to use a PDF format to load up a print brochure. Add music, add sound effects (where appropriate), have it launch automatically as soon as the CD is put in the drive.

Don’t make viewers read a quote from a business leader—let them hear the business leader’s voice and see this person “up close and personal” via a brief digitized video clip. Don’t put all the bullet points up at once, use automation (easy to do in PowerPoint and similar presentations) and bring them in one at a time with voice and background music or appropriate sound effects.

Why put a flat photo of the outside of your school building when you can take viewers on a virtual tour down hallways and into classrooms? If your school isn’t built yet, digitize the architect’s renderings to make users feel like they’re walking into your building with you.

No. 3: Try to make “less is more” a reality. Remember tip No. 1? Use that focus and message to develop your theme, and then wrap the entire presentation around that theme and within that framework.

Your mission isn’t to tell users everything they need, could, and should know (but probably care less about). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to (1) impress them; (2) make them hungry for more; and (3) make it easy for them to take the next step.

No. 4: Include a “call to action.” Okay, you’ve wowed viewers with a compelling message and highly selective multimedia firepower. Now you need to close the deal.

Here are some classic, school-based examples: Call us! eMail us! Check out our web site! Register by this deadline! Move to our neighborhood! Sign up your child! Donate 10 books to our multimedia center! Write your congressman in support of our schools (list his or her eMail address)! Sign up for our free, electronic newsletter for parents on how you can help your child succeed in school! Teach at our school!

Behavioral public relations, long espoused by the late Pat Jackson, one of the PR profession’s premier leaders for more than 50 years, tells us that the most persuasive and effective communications programs are designed to trigger an emotional response and specific actions on the part of the recipient.

No. 5: Shop around. We spent 12 months developing our first business card CD, a glorified PowerPoint presentation, only to have one of our high schools scoop us (the so-called professional communicators) with a three-day turnaround time at half the price, using video footage we shot for them.

There are vendors in every market in every city, and talented, tech-savvy teachers and students in every school. Find your talent, use it, and don’t spend more than $1 to $2 per card.

No. 6: Don’t forget the obvious. In this case, your contact information, including name, address, zip code, area code, phone number, eMail address,and web site. Print this on the card label (or at least include the web site and eMail address on the card label), as well as in the presentation.

Another obvious, but often overlooked, item is the label that you put on your eBusiness card. To be consistent with the overall brand image you’re trying to create for your school, district, or program, the label should have the same colors, theme, images, and look as the presentation. Creativity is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to communications, consistency is even better.

No. 7: Make your multimedia presentation easy to navigate (and easy to escape). Assume that no one else shares your sense of logic, and that what is perfectly obvious to you (“just click on the spinning arrow to get started”) won’t be to everyone else.

It’s fine to launch users automatically into the presentation, but give them an escape hatch to use if they get bored or want to skip ahead to another section. Make it easy for them to go backwards to double-check something they might have missed.

If I weren’t trying to evaluate eBusiness cards for communications purposes, I wouldn’t have opened more than half of the ones I receive from vendors, simply because getting started or getting around was just too difficult.

No. 8: Don’t worry about perfection the first time out, and don’t make this harder than it is.

Use the software and tools you already have at your disposal. If you have PowerPoint, ShockWave, Dreamweaver, or other similar programs, a CD burner, digital photographs, a color printer, and Avery labels, you should be able to handle all of this in-house except for getting the actual CDs cut down to business card size.

If you think of this project as simply creating the modern-day equivalent of the business or calling card, you won’t get too caught up in producing the War and Peace of multimedia presentations.

Your end product should be crisp, clean, clear, and concise (one to three minutes tops). Like traditional business cards, this is a throwaway item, and something you’ll want to refresh and update continually.

Until you know what works (and what doesn’t), have a small number of CDs burned and then give them out like candy. Invite feedback on what could be improved.

No. 9: Use formats and software that most people have, without having to download a lot of plug-ins or other stuff. Again, for most folks, time is one of their most valuable and fleeting assets.

PowerPoint is incredibly common today, especially now that it comes loaded in the Microsoft Office Suite. If I have to download Shockwave, I just might not get around to it.

No. 10: Before you begin, get as many samples as you can. Try to replicate what works well and avoid what doesn’t.

If you or a colleague are going to an educational conference in the near future, stop by every vendor’s booth and collect its eBusiness card. Find out who was responsible for producing it, and see if you can call or eMail this person for advice. As with most aspects of effective communication, a little research goes a long way.

Finally, if you come across any great samples or if you develop a stellar eBusiness card yourself, please send me a copy. I’d love to highlight your successes and share your tips and strategies with other school leaders across the country. You can email me directly at n.carr@cms.k12.nc.us.