The Politics of Event Publicity

Dick Jones’ guest post, Event Publicity vs Idea Publicity hit a nerve with everyone struggling in this time of huge transition.  We’re expected to do what we’ve always done.  Some of us have perceptive presidents and provosts who innately know we need to be moving into the new territories of social sites but the pressure remains to get that news release published.
I thought it would be interesting to pursue some issues from Dick’s vantage point of having 20 higher ed institutions — public and private — as clients.  After his guest post appeared, we talked and I said that to try to break away from the continual stream of event publicity would be very hard.
Dick’s answer was , “Yes, because it quickly becomes a political problem.”

Later I emailed and  asked him what he meant.  His answer:

“I think it is a political problem because of the nature of higher education administration.  Colleges and universities are decentralized communities.  If you are the PR director at a small college with 100 professors, every one of those professors thinks that he or she is your boss and has a call on how you spend your time and energy.  The deans and vice presidents feel the same way. 

 “You may see your job as protecting and enhancing the ‘brand’ of the institution and communicating its most important messages to key publics and markets.  But the greenest assistant professor of music thinks you are there to fill the seats for his chamber music concert.  And when push comes to shove, the dean will often back him over you.

 “There are only so many times a PR director can say “no” to requests for “fill the seats” publicity without finding himself or herself in the middle of a political battle. 

 “In corporate PR, the reporting lines tend to be clearer.  The PR director reports to a vice president or to the president.  But the main difference is that the PR person does what a small number of people want him or her to do.  And the messages tend to be fewer and more consistent.  In higher education, by contrast, there are many and sometimes conflicting messages.  The classic one is the difference between the undergraduate or graduate programs and continuing education.  The director of continuing education wants you to send a message of “easy access.”  Everyone is welcome.  The provost, by contrast, wants the message to be “quality” and, sometimes, “exclusivity.”

“I have seen corporate PR folks come into higher education and founder because they don’t understand the basic difference in governance structures and the politics that results from that. “

Dick and I will continue the dialog.  Your comments –or questions — are welcome. 



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