Implementing Idea Publicity

In his last post, Dick Jones said when it comes to event publicity, 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.

My reply: I fully agree. You may have hit on the single biggest daily problem we in higher ed PR have. So how do we move away from our 100 bosses to slip in time to do some “idea publicity,” which, I think nearly everyone agrees is much more beneficial to the institution than “event publicity.” And when I say “event publicity,” I’m talking about the day-to-day small events that will never fill the house no matter how much effort we throw into it.

Dick’s response:
The fact that college PR shops can never move completely away from ‘event publicity’ into ‘idea publicity’ is probably the reason I have been able to make a living for the past 20 years. Essentially we help schools with the idea publicity.

But I recognize that not every school is going to take that route. For those at small college shops who know that they are going to have to do it all in-house, I suggest that they budget about 10 percent of their time for finding, developing and pitching idea-focused stories. I’ve been a small college PR director, so I know that’s about the maximum amount of time they can spare for the task. In practical terms that translates into one morning or one afternoon per week.

I call this ‘venture time.’ Venture time is when you spend time and energy on a process when you are unsure of the outcome. It’s higher risk, of course, because if you spend time on a pitch to The AP or The New York Times, you cannot guarantee that you’ll have anything to show for your work. But if it works, it’s a great third-party endorsement of your institution that can be used by the folks in admissions and development.

Most college PR work is not venture time (and cannot be). When you work on a brochure you know that at the end of the process you’ll have a brochure. But when you have the media relations cap on, there is no guarantee of any positive outcome for the time and energy you spend on the process.

My response:

Three things. First, I think you have to convince your administration that “venture time” is a worthwhile gamble so you have their support when someone eventually complains that you’re not giving them or their event enough attention. When you succeed (and you will) your administration will see the value. Most faculty won’t.

Second, have a student do some research on electronic news and blog sites. There are thousands of editors and writers in just about every subject imaginable. They’re all looking for experts and angles. When you hit with one or two, others copy or tag and suddenly your institution is making the international rounds.

Third, administrators love print. So print out a copy of what’s appearing about you on the Web. Give it to them, admissions and development.

As always, your comments and thoughts are welcome.


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