In depth with Jacob Hanson, who is leading PRP Group into the future of learning.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Education leaders don’t want to be ‘sold’ products. They want to form long-term relationships with partners who understand and care about their goals,” says Jacob Hanson, son of Sue Hanson, founder of one of education’s leading strategic PR and marketing firms. Formerly PR with Panache!, with Jacob at the helm, the firm recently rebranded and is now PRP Group.
Sue Hanson’s vision for the PR with Panache! brand was and still is built on authentic storytelling, bravery, and the love of education and people. Prior to joining forces with son Jacob, Sue taught high school and also was the community relations director for the Minnesota Twins baseball team.
Jacob and Sue worked hard and laughed just as hard year after year as they were humbled to be recognized as the leading PR and Marketing firm in the education marketplace. They were thrilled to help some of edtech’s rising stars become household names used in schools everywhere. Sue retired from day-to-day work with PRP a few years ago. Before she left, she created the culture, values, and authenticity that has allowed PRP to grow and continue to win awards to this day.
Recently, PRP has broadened its focus to include more consumer-facing media relations, became a HubSpot Platinum Partner Agency, and built the education industry’s only marketing department based on the principles of Growth-Driven Design.
A graduate of Fort Lewis College, Jacob Hanson graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern Language. Spending subsequent years of his career dedicated to sales growth, marketing, and brand awareness, Jacob brings to PRP Group a fierce passion for education and extensive experience in moving high-quality companies and their brands to the forefront of the education marketplace. A skilled communicator with a zest for life, he has the wherewithal to see the big picture, connecting the dots between sales, marketing, and public relations to create dynamic communication and integrated marketing plans to tell the stories of tech-enhanced education effectively.
Jacob serves on the Board of Directors for a Minnesota-based STEM non-profit, High Tech Kids, whose mission is to deliver fun, hands-on science, engineering, and technology programs and events that inspire Minnesota kids in their formative years. A native of Minnesota with a strong affinity for the Rocky Mountains, Jacob enjoys spending time with his two wonderful children, Sawyer and Bexley, making fresh tracks and hiking with his two hound dogs, Darla and Ivy.
We sat down with Jacob to congratulate him on PRP Group being named “Best PR, marketing, and/or strategic communications firm working in edtech” and winning The EdTech Leadership Award as part of The EdTech Awards 2022 from EdTech Digest.
What prompted you to first get involved with education and technology?
There is a much longer version of this story, but it was my mom, Sue Hanson, who provided the opportunity for my career to focus on education and edtech. She had worked in education in one way or another for the majority of my life, and was a teacher before I was born. Education had always been important in our house growing up. Sue was the first in her family to earn a college degree, and I have always believed that when given the opportunity, support, and access to a high-quality education, every child can succeed.
For a short spell in college, I was an education major with hopes of becoming a high school history teacher and eventually a college professor. I realized this just wasn’t in the cards for me, but I eventually found my way back to education!
What prompted you or Sue to found the company—what problem were you trying to solve?
Sue has such an interesting story—she should write a book. Neither of us had set out to found a company together, but the opportunity presented itself and we dove in. I owned a business with two buddies from college for a few years, so the opportunity to own my own business again was attractive to me for sure. The immediate problem my mother was trying to solve was to keep her baby boy from moving away again. I had been offered a job with an edtech company in Phoenix and was ready to accept and move back out west when she and my dad pitched the idea of giving this a go. My dad was actually our “CFO” for the first few years, so we are a true family business.
That is the more practical version, but I’ve always felt that PRP gave me the opportunity to serve education and positively impact students in a different way than being in the classroom. We help to solve the problems of educators and administrators across the country by telling stories that we hope will help them do their jobs to the best of their ability.
How have you managed your growth? What’s been key?
I’d say sometimes well and sometimes not so well! I have always believed that if you do the right thing, the money/growth/success will follow, and thankfully the universe hasn’t made a liar of me yet. Maybe a less fluffy answer is to take care of your employees and treat them well, trust them, focus on building and adapting processes to ensure strong infrastructure to support current and future growth—and then more focus on your employees.
Congrats on your big win from The EdTech Awards! What does an honor like this mean for you and your team?
Thank you so much! It has been so fun celebrating the recognition with the team and hearing from friends and colleagues. The award means the world to me. Day in and day out, I stand on the shoulders of giants, and seeing my team recognized for their hard work brought tears to my eyes. Over the years, I have always said that being the biggest is not important, but being the best is. Winning an award like this is the culmination of many people doing really great work, many times over, to positively impact education.
‘The award means the world to me. Day in and day out, I stand on the shoulders of giants, and seeing my team recognized for their hard work brought tears to my eyes.’
What key lessons from your past inform your current success?
1) Being intentional about a positive culture driven by your core values is one of the best investments a leader can make.
2) Don’t just be good, do good. The universe will remember and return the favor in spades.
3) The status quo is never good enough.
It’s been a wild ride these last few years. Broadly speaking, what is the state of education today?
There is so much good happening in classrooms across the country each and every day. I have the pleasure of speaking with dedicated educators and administrators every single day. Based on those conversations, I believe the state of education is strong. It is passionate, it is committed, it is willing to adapt, it is creating opportunities for students across the country. It is the people in the classrooms who make me believe the best is yet to come.
With that said, I definitely have concerns, specifically related to educators, administrators, and the Great Resignation. Educators have been under enormous stress these past few years, and are now facing legislation that not only limits free speech but could get them fired or worse. It has been hard to see educators being attacked for ensuring that all students feel safe to learn and safe to be themselves in their classrooms.
What’s tech’s role in education—and how about your company’s efforts with this?
If I had a nickel for every article I’ve read with that title over the years! I’ve always believed that technology’s role is to make something better or to make your life easier. I think that applies to edtech as well. If a solution can do that for a teacher, administrator, or student, then it has a role in education.
PRP Group has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of innovative education and edtech companies in the 10+ years since our founding. These companies’ solutions span the education spectrum. Our role is to work with the members of our client family to identify the stories that need to be told to influence a conversation, ensure that their voice is heard, and shine a spotlight on the inspiring work happening in schools and districts across the country. It’s amazing to work with the educators and leaders using these tools.
‘Our role is to work with the members of our client family to identify the stories that need to be told to influence a conversation, ensure that their voice is heard, and shine a spotlight on the inspiring work happening in schools and districts across the country.’
What’s ahead for education—trends to watch? any you are setting?
I choose to believe that our best days are still ahead of us. My kids are in 1st grade and kindergarten, so maybe I’m biased, but I’m convinced that more good, more progress, and different ways of thinking about education will come from the pandemic than anything negative.
One specific trend I am seeing on a smaller scale is an increase in educator pay. If this trend can grow so educators are being paid a fair wage for the important work they do, more will want to join and stay in the profession. There is no greater impact on the success or failure of a child’s education than having high-quality teachers who also look like them.
PRP Group has always focused on how we can best serve education. In one way or another, that has revolved around telling impactful, helpful stories at the right time to the right people in the right place. It’s a trend we started setting years ago, and one we continue to embody every day.
Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, or the future of learning?
I believe our work in education media is especially urgent right now. Teachers are burning out, books are being banned, parents are angry. These stories grab front-page headlines, but this is so far from the full story of education today.
Our mission is to share the other stories: about a boy who discovers that he can do math, about a Black girl who starts her own magazine (Black Girls Magazine), about a woodshop teacher who learns how to teach computer science and becomes even more beloved by his students. Educators around the country are doing heroic work. Schools continue to be the bedrock of our communities, and our job is to keep shouting it from the rooftops.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org