Magazine article University Business

Mixed Signals: What College Presidents Want from Media Relations-And What They Say They Want-Are Often Two Different Things

Magazine article University Business

Mixed Signals: What College Presidents Want from Media Relations-And What They Say They Want-Are Often Two Different Things

Article excerpt

I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO PEN A COLUMN ABOUT THE DISCONNECT between what cortege and university presidents say they want from their media relations people, and what, in fact, they really want from them.

And now I've got my chance.

I recently returned from a panel discussion at the CASE Annual Conference for Media Relations Professionals, herd at the National Press Club in Washington. As I usually do at national or regional, media relations conferences, I sit in on as many of the sessions as possible, so that I can find out what other national, regional, and trade press forks think about higher ed issues. Most importantly, I hang around, lurking behind attendees as they chat with each other, so that I can hear what is on their minds. This time around as I listened to the Q & A's with other media panelists and then (OK, I admit it) eavesdropped on the table conversations that swirled around the discussions, a pattern began to emerge. Panelists kept advising campus media relations fork to be discriminating about the pitches they tossed at the media, and the communications attendees kept wondering why their streams of carefully crafted press releases weren't hitting any marks.

By the time my turn at bat came up, I was seeing a gap yawning so large between what the media relations people were doing and what the media wanted them to do, that I couldn't help but address the discrepancy directly.

"You've asked us a tot of questions today," I said to the room full of weary attendees (I was session number six and it had been a long and information-crammed day). "Now I'd like to turn things around and ask you a few questions." (That woke them up.) I then asked them to raise their hands to identify how many had come to the campus media relations office from other areas of the school (academic or otherwise), and how many had come to their post from other media relations jobs or from a media relations background or training. As it turned out, most were indeed media relations or PR professionals who had been distinctly trained for that role. Very few had moved into the post from the academic side of the university, or from a different higher ed business position.

"I'm surprised," I admitted. They looked puzzled at my declaration. I went on. "We've been talking about the ability to target your story pitches at the right media outlets. To choose appropriate stories only. To get attention via a sharp, succinct 'elevator pitch' approach. In short, we've been talking about the ability to be a salesman first and foremost. As media relations pros, you know that your goat is to get your school in the news--to 'serf' us a story that's so intriguing or timely, we've got to rush it into print. …

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