Magazine article University Business

Get Ink. Creating Awareness Is the First Step in Any Successful Marketing Campaign. (Marketing)

Magazine article University Business

Get Ink. Creating Awareness Is the First Step in Any Successful Marketing Campaign. (Marketing)

Article excerpt

There is a wonderful line from Harry Beckwith in Selling the Invisible [Warner Books, Inc., 1997] in which he poses the question: There are several mountains in the Alps that are higher than the Matterhorn. Can you name any? He concludes, "Get ink!"

Beckwith is saying that it is not the biggest or the tallest that is automatically the best known. Rather, it is the one that takes the time, has the foresight, and is willing to invest the resources in getting exposure, or "ink." Of course, with today's electronic media, "ink" might include a mention on MSNBC, espn.com, or the nightly news, and not just a mention in the local trib.

Regardless of the media chosen, the message is this: Savvy schools, recognizing the need to create awareness as a fundamental first step in any brand marketing strategy, know that media relations is a critical tool in their marketing and communications toolbox.

But before we discuss the central components of a media relations effort, we should first define the term. Essentially, media relations involves courting the media or responding to media requests, for the purpose of increasing exposure through news stories and events.

MORE--OR LESS--THAN YOU BARGAINED FOR

Why is a media relations program is important? Fundamentally, it involves the issue of credibility. Even the best, most sophisticated advertising suffers from a critical shortcoming: It is paid media, and ultimately self-serving. In an ad, you can pretty much say whatever you want about yourself. Media exposure, on the other hand, is unpaid exposure, and is validated by the media outlet itself. An article about a college in The New York Times carries the imprimatur of that venerable publication.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that while there is great benefit in having a story (or even a mention in a story) running on ESPN (for instance), there is also an element of risk. With an ad, you totally control the message. With unpaid media, you do not. You have traded control for believability.

Roberto Fabricio, director of Communications at Miami Dade Community College, says, "A media hit recognizing your institution validates from a neutral and objective source the value of an institution in a way that no amount of advertising can ever achieve." He adds, "We recently spent $100,000 on advertising for our new honors college. The ads were very well received. But an article on the honors college that ran in The Miami Herald beat all of the advertising, hands down." He noted that the advertising "with the media placement was a double whammy for us, and really reinforced some key messages." Fabricio rightly concludes, "You cannot have an effective marketing communication strategy without an effective media relations strategy."

Now, let's examine the mindset involved in a successful media relations program. At its core, media relations is like courting. You need to develop a personal relationship with members of the press, in order for your efforts to be successful In other words, you need to spend time. Ray Jones of Media Ink Communications (www.good-press.com) says a media specialist must be thoroughly familiar with his targeted media, their personnel, and perceived constituencies. That familiarity comes from doing homework and taking time for personal visits and active cultivation.

How important are these personal relationships? Critical, says Keith Moore of Keith Moore Associates (www.keithmooreassociates.com). So important, in fact, that each summer in Philadelphia, Moore sponsors an annual "How Colleges Can Obtain National (and Regional) Publicity" conference, during which college and university media relations staff can mingle with reporters, editors, and other media reps who cover higher education. An important goal of the meeting: To meet and mingle. Says one participant at a recent conference, "I came for one reason: face time. …

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