Dick Jones of Dick Jones Communications, is a friend and colleague. He sent me this today. It says so much, so concisely, and so reflects what higher ed PR folks deal with that I asked him if I could share it with my readers.
He said yes.
EVENT PUBLICITY VS. IDEA PUBLICITY
by Dick Jones
What is the business of your college or university?
If the news releases on the websites of many schools are an indication, colleges and universities seem to be in the events business. Click on the “latest news” icon and you see a list of concerts, lectures, plays, oboe recitals, academic meetings, art gallery exhibitions and athletic contests.
To me, this is discouraging. That’s because colleges and universities are not in the events business. The real business of higher education is the transfer and creation of knowledge. And those are the stories that college PR shops should tell.
What knowledge is being created on your campus? Check out the papers published by professors in refereed journals and summarize them in terms the general public can understand.
What knowledge is being transferred on your campus? Check out the innovative courses and tell about them. And make use of the wealth of advice faculty and staff have to offer. How can I get my kid to do his homework? Someone on your education faculty has advice that will help. What should I pack or leave behind for a European trip? The study-abroad coordinator at your school knows the answer.
There is “event” publicity and there is “idea” publicity. If you focus on “event” publicity, you only rarely have the opportunity to set your school apart from others. Every college, after all, has concerts, plays and famous visitors.
“Idea” publicity, on the other hand, holds more potential for you to open windows into the soul of your institution. In addition, start to focus on idea publicity and you find that your local media relationships improve. Editors no longer see you as someone who just wants something from them. They see you as a person who can deliver something that they (and their audiences) can use.
I confess that I thought the arrival of new media would largely take college PR shops out of the event publicity business. I believed that e-mail listservs and blogs controlled by individual academic units such as the music department would give the sponsors of campus events unbeatable laser-focused tools to inform their regular constituents about upcoming events. This would take pressure off the PR shop to do event publicity to “fill the seats.” It doesn’t seem to have happened.
Here we are, heading toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century, still cranking out “fill the seats” releases when there are better things to do.