Communication Is a Two-Way Street
Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a "Meet the Media" panel at the 29th Annual CUPRAP (College and University Public Relations Association of Pennsylvania) Spring Conference at the Hotel Hershey. It was great to finally get a chance to meet in person so many of the communication professionals that we've worked with in the past. My copresenters were Toni Coleman, editor at Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, and Scott Gilbert, news director for WITF, the local NPR station.
Much of the discussion that morning focused on how we could work more effectively with communication professionals in covering their institutions. I'd like to touch on some of the points that were raised that day, which may be helpful not just for PR staff but for other campus administrators to know, as well.
First, Toni, Scott, and I each noted that accessibility was the key to getting coverage. Our ability to contact the right people at colleges makes our jobs easier. But you may be surprised to learn that one of the hardest things to find on a school's website is the media relations page. We've become adept at using site directories and Google searches to find the media contacts we need, but it really shouldn't be that way.
Accessibility works both ways, of course, and we all agreed that, unless something is stop-the-presses important, a simple e-mail is probably the best way to contact us. Decisions often can't be made on the spot and may take discussion among the editorial staff.
Another way to spread your news is through the various social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, a number of people were actually "live-tweeting" the proceedings over the three days of the conference.
I will repeat here what I told the CUPRAP audience: If you send a Twitter message to @tgoral, I will gladly follow you. I scan my Twitter feeds throughout the day (lists make it easy to keep things under control), looking for news stories and tips from colleges and universities around the country.
The entire University Business editorial staff does much the same thing. You can use Twitter to stay in touch with Managing Editor Melissa Ezarik (@melissaezarik), Associate Editor Ann McClure (@annmcclure), and Associate Editor Michele Herrmann (@micheleherrmann). We also track RSS feeds from various schools and news sources.
Another point raised was that university communications people need to better recognize the lead time that a print publication -- and to a lesser extent, a radio program -- needs to produce a story. Toni Coleman mentioned how she often gets interesting story pitches that she can't act on because they come too late in a production cycle.
The same thing happens to us at University Business. It's much too late, for example, to pitch an idea for our June sustainability issue in late May. One thing you can do to help improve your chances is to grab our current Editorial Calendar (a PDF download can be found on our website under "Media Kit") and see how you might be able to contribute to the editorial coverage we have planned. The earlier the better. Just remember that the calendar is not carved in stone and is subject to change.
Finally, colleges and universities often have faculty or administrators who can speak authoritatively on a variety of topics -- the in-house experts. I asked the audience how many of their schools maintained a list of experts, and nearly every hand in the room went up. All your print and broadcast media contacts should have those lists. Not only will that lead to better stories on our part, but it will also increase the chance that your school gets the recognition it deserves in editorial coverage. If your institution has an expert list, we'd like to get our hands on it. Send the link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
University Business exists to help you. Let's see how we can work together to do that better.
Write to Tim Goral at email@example.com.