Note: Dick Jones is one of the most experienced experts in the higher ed communication world. He’s also a friend and colleague who’s helped Mansfield University land stories and features in everything from The Chronicle of Higher Ed, The New York Times and USA Today to numerous AP stories and a couple prime spots on NPR. So when he sends a missive to his clients, I pay attention. I also asked him if I could use his letter as a guest blog post.
Here it is.
It’s time to oversimplify; to be glib and shallow. Why, after all, should I be different from anyone else? In national media relations for colleges there are five over-simplistic formulae that guide our work. These are:
Qualitative judgments: bad.
Events: maybe, but probably not.
The news media like stories with results. A study published in a journal qualifies. So does a new book, if you discuss the substance of the book and not just the fact that there is a new book. Numbers help. Admission applications are up by X. Deposits are up by Y.
The news media usually yawn at process. The faculty is debating a new core curriculum? Wake me when it’s over. A task force has been appointed? Call me when they have a report. We’ve received an NSF grant. Remind me about it when you’ve completed the research.
The news media like advice from experts. And all faculty and staff are experts in their fields. If they aren’t, why do you allow them to teach and serve students who are paying for the privilege? Take every opportunity to make your institution advice giver to the world.
The news media aren’t interested in qualitative judgments. Your college has a better freshman year experience than your competitors? Maybe so, but your competitors claim otherwise. And the news media have neither the time nor the inclination to dig deeply enough to settle the question. Now if you are the biggest, the smallest, the oldest, the newest—something that can be quantified—that’s different. (Tip: use advice stories to advance qualitative claims. “Here are four things students and parents should look for in a good freshman experience program, says Dean of Students Joe Blow.”)
The news media are less interested in covering or publicizing events than you think. This was always true. Now that there are fewer people in newsrooms it is even truer. Getting coverage for (positive) news events is no slam dunk even if the president and the deans think otherwise. Under exceptions see “football teams—undefeated.”
Armed with these concepts you are now ready to go into any meeting with faculty and administrators and quickly make yourself persona non grata when you spout them. I’m just kidding. Sort of.
Postscript: Social media is maturing quickly and these rules apply to these media as well.