Spreading the news: subject area experts can be found across college and university campuses. Here are 17 proven ways to leverage these experts and get media coverage for your institution.
IN THIS AGE OF 24/7 NEWS, THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR MEDIA coverage are wide. But getting institutional ink--whether it's in a traditional print source, on a website, or via social media--still has its challenges. Often the story isn't institutional news itself but news related to a faculty member or administrator or news on which one of these experts can comment. Following are 17 ideas for helping to make--and shape--this attention.
1. Think like an editor.
When pitching a story about an institutional expert, "you need to ask the question, 'Why would it be of interest to a reporter, readers, or viewers?'" says Bill Tyson, president of Morrison & Tyson Communications, a firm that generates coverage for colleges and universities. As Dick Jones, principal of Dick Jones Communications, puts it, "The real business of higher education is the transfer and creation of knowledge, and those are the stories that college media relations people should tell."
2. Connect current events to your experts.
During protests in Iran over the recent presidential elections, Manny Romero, director of communications and publications at Marymount Manhattan College (N.Y.), let the media know about Ghassan Shabaneh, an international studies professor who has visited Iran and has contacts there. The professor was a guest on the TV program Worm Focus and was interviewed by CNN. Another example: In 2008, the University of Central Florida's news and information office launched a campaign to promote economist Sean Snaith's expertise in the midst of the U.S. economic downturn, says Grant J. Heston, assistant vice president for News and Information. Each of the 1,000 customized media pitches sent throughout the year highlighted Snaith's unique analysis. Staff also sent online video clips of previous interviews to national reporters and television producers. References to or quotes from Snaith appeared in 1,200 media placements.
3. Make your media relations page a destination.
The news media section of Quinnipiac University's (Conn.) website includes a "hot topic of the day," which lists a university expert (including contact information) who can comment on that topic. A recent post covered President Obama's meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and suggested public relations professor Alexander Laskin, a native of Russia, for comment.
4. Send out a tip sheet.
Jason Hughes, director of public relations at Lynn University (Fla.), mentions experts in a weekly tip sheet sent to local and regional press during the academic year. Each sheet includes a top tip followed by a sources piece that highlights a faculty, staff, or, on occasion, student expert. One past sources piece was written on Sindee Kerker, an associate professor of criminal justice who was on the O.J. Simpson trial prosecution team. She has been featured on several local TV broadcasts. Lawrence MacIntyre, assistant vice president for University Communications at Indiana University, meanwhile, says he issues two or three tip sheets and advisories a week to selected national media outlets. "Sometimes there is no response, and sometimes we'll get five or six hits." Each one features photos and quotes from two or three faculty experts. South Texas College has a similar effort. Twice a year staff members produce and e-mail calendars to local reporters highlighting the events and new announcements that they may want to cover, says Helen Escobar, coordinator of public relations.
5. Get acquainted with local journalists.
Staffers at a local newspaper or TV station might not be as familiar with your institution as you think. "We should never assume the people in our institution's hometown know all about us," says Marc C. Whitt, associate vice president for public relations and marketing at Eastern Kentucky University. "Both local media and the community are vital constituents who must not be overlooked or taken for granted." Theresa G. Wiseman, director of media relations for the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, arranges for the president to meet with reporters new to the education beat. During a breaking news situation, they may be more likely to think of calling on the college for comment.
6. Have a media-friendly campus.
Sharing ideas and methods for getting press with your fellow collegiate constituents can be a win for all PR sides. About twice a year, Eastern Kentucky University's PR team invites peers from other institutions in the state to meet collectively with reporters and editors from a single media outlet as a means of networking, sharing story ideas, and learning the challenges both institutions and media outlets face. "Although we are always seeking opportunities for Eastern's stories to be told, we also want everyone else to succeed too," says Whitt.
Media efforts have been similar at South Texas College, which hosted two forums in the past three years between local media outlets and education PR groups to open lines of communication between the groups. "These forums have helped both sides understand each other's perspectives and build lasting relationships," says Escobar.
7. Organize your experts.
Making it easier to find sources through a print or online reference guide helps point reporters in the right direction. The communications office at the Stetson University (Fla.) College of Law sends journalists a pamphlet containing an overview of subjects the school's legal experts can talk on. The printed guide serves as "a one-stop-shop" for Stetson experts, explains Brandi Palmer, manager of media relations. On the office's website, a "Faculty in the News" link lets journalists see what conversations faculty members are having with other journalists around the country. At Michigan Technological University, Director of Public Relations Jennifer B. Donovan says a new multimedia-based newsroom offers an online experts guide as a resource as well as the latest news and feature stories from Michigan Tech.
8. Partner with organizations.
Through a partnership with the National Science Foundation, Michigan Tech has gotten better visibility for its experts. NSF's public affairs office produces a number of science news sites, such as Science360, a daily science news wire where profiles of researchers and graduate students are featured. "They are eager to work with colleges and universities, because it provides content for their websites as well as extending the reach of our news related to NSF-funded research," notes Donovan. Another news-related partnership is between Pepperdine University's (Calif.) Graziadio School of Business and Management and Christopher Thornberg, principal of Beacon Economics. They jointly release local and statewide economic forecasts "that shed light on many aspects of the economy in Los Angeles and California," says Director of Public Relations Douglass Gore at Pepperdine.
9. Consider seeking outside help.
Culver-Stockton College (Mo.) hired the services of PR firm Cushman/Amberg Communications to help promote and provide exposure to the college's EXP@CSC curriculum. According to Melik Peter Khoury, vice president for enrollment management and college marketing, the firm's knowledge and relationships with various news outlets allowed for regional and limited national exposure through TV, radio, and print interviews with the college's president for the EXP@CSC program "that we otherwise would not have had for a small private college in the Midwest." Pepperdine's Graziadio School works with Burson-Marsteller to build relationships with reporters who know and understand the business school's goals and mission, according to the firm's director Patrick George, so that business reporters can connect with school experts on topics ranging from small business and entrepreneurship to business ethics and financial markets.
10. Create a location for conducting interviews.
Having a campus TV studio--or even just a room equipped for taping interviews--helps make experts readily available for news commentary. Rob Amberg, vice president and general manager of Cushman/Amberg Communications, recommends that institutions that frequently have media on campus have a briefing room with WiFi access, a dedicated podium, and cable and power hookups on-site. At the University of Central Florida, a TV studio that allows for live talkbacks with local, state, and national media is expected to launch this fall, notes Heston. Quinnipiac's School of Communications offers broadcast-quality TV interviews with faculty experts from an on-site facility equipped with a VideoLink ReadyCam.
Indiana University has leased fiber-optic lines that go directly into the control rooms of all five Indianapolis television stations. "Because our campuses and buildings are all fiber linked, we are able to switch broadcast-quality video from virtually anywhere on our campuses into these control rooms," explains MacIntyre. "The video link also makes it possible for us to make our faculty experts available for live or recorded video interviews with virtually any news organization on the planet." Faculty have appeared on CNN, Fox News, the BBC, and network morning shows.
11. Eucourage faculty blogging.
Margaret D. Spillett, director of communications for Syracuse University's (N.Y.) School of Information Studies (iSchool), says that faculty there blog about work and professional interests. Scott Nicholson, associate professor and director of the Masters in Library and Information Science program, maintains a blog and wiki, and posts YouTube videos that "provide fodder and ready-to-go content for any journalist interested in learning about, for example, gaming in libraries," says Spillett. Associate professor R. David Lankes, executive director of the Information Institute of Syracuse, has what Spillett describes as a "very robust blog" with his presentations, research summaries, and commentaries; it was selected as one of the best library blogs to read in 2009. "The White Collar Crime Blog," co-edited by Stetson law professor Ellen Podgor and Wayne State University (Mich.) Law School professor Peter Henning, posts links to news stories and offers commentary on legal topics. The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog often points to the professors' blog in their posts, says Palmer.
12. Tweet it.
Campus PR departments are using Twitter for sharing faculty research and other campus news with followers, including journalists who may be more likely to contact the institution when in need of a source. Webster University (Mo.) takes the social medium a bit further. Communications Coordinator Krissi Timmerman says her team conducts "live tweeting" during campus events that are of interest to the general public and media. In June, on President Beth Stroble's first day in that role, 47 tweets marked with the "#websterpress" hashtag made it easier for users to find them through searches. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter covering the event highlighted the live tweeting in the article. Webster staff tweeted about the piece, and Interactive Media Manager Patrick Powers estimates the link has reached about 15,000 people.
13. Start a hotline.
Two years ago the PR staff at Lynn created a "media hotline" so that media members can call 24/7 to reach an on-call staff member. "This helps us respond quickly to early-morning and late-night expert and breaking news calls, and also gives faculty and administrators a way to reach us anytime day or night," says Hughes.
14. Get to know your experts, professionally and personally.
John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations at Quinnipiac, recalls a story about the late law professor Greg Loken, who had expertise in juvenile justice. Morgan knew that he had grown up in Littleton, Colo., so soon after the Columbine High School massacre occurred, he gave Loken's name and biography out to several media outlets. The effort resulted in the professor's appearance on an episode of the TV news show Dateline dedicated to the tragedy. John McGauley, president of Gehrung Associates, which represents higher ed clients, suggests scheduling regular interviews with faculty members or administrators to uncover research, initiatives, and trends. "Getting out of your office and into the offices of those who create news on campus is essential," he says.
When choosing an expert to serve as a quotable source, Randell J. Kennedy, president of Academy Communications, which helps colleges and universities with media outreach, notes institutional public relations always do well to keep a news outlet's audience (readers, listeners, or viewers) in mind. "A trend conscious, pop culture scholar may be a better match for a specific outlet, and a more reflective and authoritative 'dean of deans' may be a better match for another."
15. Train your experts.
The Public Affairs Department at Quinnipiac offers annual media training in its HDTV television studio, where a consultant teaches faculty about messaging, speaking in sound bites, and dressing correctly for on-camera interviews. Beforehand, each participant provides three questions they would not like to be asked in an interview, and the consultant teaches them how to tackle those questions, Morgan says. Pepperdine's Graziadio School has used resources internally and through Burson-Marsteller to provide periodic training for experts to best articulate messages in a way that is useful to media and of benefit to the school, says Gore. "We also regularly engage in 'batting practice' to refresh interviewing skills or to articulate responses to questions."
16. Let them give their opinion.
Writing an opinion piece, a journal article, or a letter to the editor is a good way for a faculty member's area of expertise to get noticed. Tyson of Morrison & Tyson Communications recalls a talk he had with an editor of a major daily newspaper who told him that she and her colleagues will find expert sources based on who was writing letters to the editor. "Opinion pieces can be the strongest document you can have to elevate the discussion into major news," he says.
17. Give public thanks for their time and efforts.
The staff of the media relations department at Webster, along with the university's vice president, host an annual "thank you" luncheon each year to show appreciation to faculty experts that give much of their time to media relations efforts, says Timmerman. Morgan says that Quinnipiac's President John L. Lahey has called professors who have participated in media interviews to thank them for supporting the institution. And at Syracuse's iSchool, Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy paid for lunch for faculty and staff members who attended the spring and fall media relations trainings hosted last year. "This gave a bit of an incentive, and they knew she'd be there as well," says Spillett.