Magazine article University Business

Get Ink II: In This Second Look at Creating Awareness, We Focus on Marketing the President to the Media

Magazine article University Business

Get Ink II: In This Second Look at Creating Awareness, We Focus on Marketing the President to the Media

Article excerpt

Based on my conversation with college media relations officers--and my own experience in that position at three different colleges--it sometimes seems as if every college president in the country wants to be quoted in The New York Times. In defense of college presidents, the desire is not all (or always) about individual ego. Rather, it is a college president's correct understanding of the need to continually remind a forgetful public of her institution, and the role it plays in our society.

To help bridge the gap between what the president hopes, and what your average media relations officer can deliver, following are a handful of "rules" for the creation of a successful presidential media relations strategy. (Add these to "Your Keys to a Successful Media Relations Program" in "Get Ink," December 2002.) Some are designed to help you understand the media and how they work, and others are designed to help position you as a media resource. All will help you get ink.


"But I don't want to talk about that," said a president with whom I once worked. During my tenure at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, he had been contacted by the media to comment on a new medical procedure. In his mind, what the reporter wanted to talk about was not news. This president missed the key issue: Presidents don't decide what's news; editors and reporters do. For this reason, most media exposure is really a planned response to an unplanned-for opportunity. It is not about your own continual cultivation of the media in order to get your story out, it's about cultivating the media so that when they have a story to write, they will think of you.


There are three calls you had better respond to immediately: those from the IRS, your board chair, and the media. When it comes to the media, always remember that most reporters and editors have two positions on almost everything--not interested or urgently interested. This sense of urgency is driven by deadlines; when reporters are on deadline, they can't wait, can't postpone, and can't delay. They may call you, but if you can't respond, they will make a second call to another expert, and there is always another expert.


In my experience, most reporters and editors are thoughtful professionals who work hard to write fair and objective stories. However, you must understand that the reporter has a different goal than you do. You want to look good. He wants a story. And therein is the potential for conflict. The media is not interested in your agenda. They don't really care why you want to be quoted. Their only interest is the story and they will always look at you as a means--one of several that are available to them--to that story. You can't control them or the story they ultimately produce. If you want controlled media, buy an ad.


It can take months, even years to develop a media relationship that eventually bears fruit. Keith Moore, of Keith Moore Associates (, illustrates this point when he mentions the legwork that Warren Wilson College (SC) undertook. The college's PR director, Ben Anderson, had met and pitched a story to The New York Times education editor in June 1999. That fall, college President Doug Orr went to New York to personally visit the same education editor. In January, Times reporter Jacques Steinberg traveled to Asheville to visit campus. The story, "Blue Collar Jobs Complement Liberal Arts Courses" ran in the Times on February 6, 2000--almost eight months from pitch to catch. The Lesson? If you want media fruit next summer, begin planting seeds now.


Every college president who hopes to earn an hour in the national media spotlight needs to spend other hours--perhaps many hours--in media training. …

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