As one who enjoys reading history, I often ponder those moments of missed opportunity by myopic individuals or organizations. History is rife with such tales.
Consider the executive at Decca Records, for example, who nixed a recording contract with the legendary Beatles because he didn’t see the group’s musical style and compositions as unique or marketable. Or actor Nick Nolte, who reportedly turned down the role to play Indiana Jones on the big screen, allowing Harrison Ford to become the persona etched in our minds for that character.
Or when the president of the Western Union Telegraph Company passed on buying the patent to the telephone, telling Alexander Graham Bell, “We have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities.”
Those of us who serve in higher ed public relations and marketing must be careful not to make similar errors.
In an increasingly competitive and global higher education marketplace, it is incumbent upon those of us who manage and lead our institutional relations programs to do so with a spirit of eagerness, enthusiasm and openness, and maintain an eye for appreciating the big picture.
When opportunity knocks
It’s no secret that public relations and marketing funds are tight at nearly every public and private institution across the nation. Rather than waving the proverbial white flag, we should accept this financial reality and view it as an excellent opportunity to flex our creative, professional muscle.
I have found that if I am able to demonstrate tangible results with the funds I am budgeted one fiscal year, there is a strong likelihood I will be provided a bit more funding the next year and the year after that. Success breeds success.
Forced to do more with less, we must seek out low- to no-cost public relations and marketing objectives that are high impact, efficient, effective and measurable. I have often found these to exist as low-hanging fruit staring us in the face.
When I was a child, my grandparents had a large apple tree behind their house. One year at harvest time I noticed a large, ripe apple high atop the tree, just begging for 8-year old Marc to pick.
I conceived several crazy and, perhaps, dangerous ways to pick that apple. There was nothing wrong with me setting my sights high on that one ripe apple. Much like our professional goals, we must always aim high.
But in this case, I did not see the dozens of red, juicy apples that were right in front of my face. These apples were easily accessible from where I was standing.
If we’re not careful, we may miss wonderful PR and marketing opportunities that come our way in much the same way, especially if we focus too much time and effort on the one piece of fruit high up the tree.
Perhaps actress Julie Andrews said it best: “Sometimes opportunities float right past your nose. Work hard, apply yourself and be ready. When an opportunity comes you can grab it.”
Low- and no-cost strategies
Consider how you can advance your public relations and marketing program by seizing one or more of these low-hanging opportunities:
• Strategic annual planning and evaluation of communication activities, projects and initiatives;
• Cultivation of fruitful relationships with on- and off-campus constituents, including faculty, staff, media, alumni, community and governing boards;
• Productive collaborations with local and regional education, business, industry, and government for enhanced regional stewardship;
• Exemplary content that leads to effective, targeted storytelling;
• Creative, productive uses of communication technology such as various social media and video conferencing platforms.
The cost for such low-hanging fruit is practically nothing. The impact on your program and institution is priceless.
There’s nothing wrong with reaching for a goal that presents itself as a challenge. After all, we grow by stretching ourselves. Our first challenge, though, should be to seize as many low-hanging opportunities as possible before proceeding to the high, lofty ones.
I guarantee you and your president will celebrate marked improvements with your school’s total institutional relations program as you harvest the low-hanging fruit.
Marc C. Whitt is the associate vice president for public relations and chief communications officer at Eastern Kentucky University, and is a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Advisory Council on Communications and Public Affairs.