Effective University PR Begins On Campus

Like it or not, working with student media is a regular part of institutional media relations on any college campus; those who do it well minimize reporting of incorrect information and address issues before they become a crisis. The best university PR departments know that relationships with student media outlets are every bit as important as the likes of the New York Times, CNN or The Chronicle of Higher Education- perhaps even more crucial. The primary consumers of student media (students, faculty, donors, alumni and staff) make up your most important audience. And, as many universities have learned the hard way, today’s micro-blogging world means student media outlets have a much wider audience than ever before… people are spreading student media stories across the globe, 140 characters at a time.

Take the recent debacle at Arizona State University, for example. ASU’s student daily, the State Press, touched off a firestorm when it reported with the headline “Obama won’t receive ASU honorary degree.” Commencement speakers are typically awarded honorary degrees as a sign of respect and appreciation. However, ASU President Michael Crow decided not to honor President Obama. “His body of work is yet to come. That’s why we’re not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency,” university spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said to the Associate Press only hours after the State Press first reported the decision. The story became a national issue faster than “the wave” spreads through Sun Devil Stadium, thrusting ASU into the center of a national debate and intense media scrutiny that did major damage to the institution’s image.

With so many issues facing academia and university public affairs, it’s easy to forget about the student writer sitting on the other side of campus. Here are some suggestions on how to execute successful media relations with student media:

Focus on building relationships
Even the most veteran journalists have biases because they are human beings. Most students are not at a professional level where they are able to completely separate their role as a reporter from their experience as a student; they see the world through the eyes of a student first. If I were to go back and review every story I wrote as a student reporter (yes, it would involve microfiche), I’d probably cringe. But, I’d also find articles that helped my alma mater’s administration clearly communicate the right message because the President took time to build a meaningful relationship with me as a senior writer for the student paper.  At most institutions, student media outlets are managed by faculty advisors or an advisory board. The university PR team must foster a strong relationship with the advisor (or advisory board) and make that relationship a priority.

It’s About Learning Good Journalism
Remember it’s not about censoring student journalists; it’s about ensuring accurate information and helping them become better by holding them accountable to factual reporting. This is not accomplished through criticism and your role is not to “grade” their work. By nurturing strong relationships with these budding reporters, you can help students understand the big picture and importance of balanced journalism if they’ve not reported things accurately. And don’t forget it’s important to let them know when they’ve done a good job. Nothing is more rewarding to a student journalist than receiving and email or phone call from a university administrator saying “nice work!”

Get Out of the Ivory Tower
Provide regular, personal access to university leaders, including the President. Because leadership at student media organizations changes every year (some every semester), its imperative to always be focused on fostering relationships with student editors and writers who regularly cover the administration. Schedule a reoccurring time for editors to meet with key university administrators (President, Deans, Provost, etc.). Make these meetings informal and enjoyable. Don’t always meet in the office- schedule some as lunch or dinner at a popular campus hangout. You’ll find that making time for student media away from the administration building makes for a much more meaningful conversation and helps alleviate the “administrator vs. student” dynamic that so often manifests itself in student coverage. Senior administrators should make cameos at campus media staff meetings on a consistent basis, every semester. They need to view their leaders as accessible and visible.

Know their deadlines, and answer the phone!
The best university PR teams provide 24/7 availability to media and student reporters are no exception. Let’s face it, college students procrastinate and they are often working on their stories in the 11th hour of their deadline- ensure that a senior member of your PR staff is available to student reporters who need last-minute information or a quote. Know the deadlines for your student media outlet and be prepared for those calls in advance. During my tenure as university PR guy, I would stay on campus well into the evening on weekly deadline days and student writers knew they could call my cell phone or simply stop by my office.

Let Student Media Break Big News
When your institution has big news to share let student media tell it first. If nothing else, give student media private face time with the president before a major press conference. By working closely with student reporters and editors on major announcements, you’ll build trust, help influence the story angle, and reinforce key messaging in mainstream media coverage. Don’t forget that professional reporters are influenced by student media; in fact, they often cite student-written stories as the general opinion of the greater student body. How many times have you seen a TV reporter holding a copy of the student newspaper with a bold headline as a prop?

Whether you manage PR for a small liberal arts school in rural America or represent the largest university in your state, take a proactive, positive approach to working with student media. It’s a truly enjoyable experience to help student reporters grow into professional journalists… and who knows, you might foster a meaningful relationship that extends beyond campus and proves valuable later in your career. A student editor I befriended while working in university public relations is now at a major news organization; she was largely influential in landing a national placement you’ll find in the Ink & Air section of JoePRguy.com.

Using Social Media to Build a Healthy Brand

More and more Americans are turning to the Internet as their sole source of information about everything in their lives- for many, that information comes directly from other people through social media. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 73% of Americans use the Internet on a daily basis; of those online, some 60% of Americans engage in social media- using websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn. The phenomenon of social media is still in its infancy, and to what extent it will continue to grow is uncertain. However, I doubt Facebook will shrivel to irrelevancy like Friendster.com did (does anybody even remember that site?) The statistics are undeniable. Social media is dominating web use: according to Neilson Media Research (the same folks who publish TV ratings), Facebook is now one of the most frequently visited websites in the United States (fourth behind Google, Yahoo!, and YouTube).

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The Importance of PR in Recruiting

If your organization is like many in the healthcare industry, you’ve probably spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on recruitment advertising- especially for physicians, nurses, and highly specialized positions.  But, have you been executing a public relations strategy to complement your advertising?  Most organizations don’t, and they are loosing the war for talent to those who do.  Integrating PR and advertising is crucial for successful searches.

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A Tasty, Fun Way to Fight Hunger in AZ

Economic woes have hit Arizona harder than any other state, and higher unemployment means many Arizonans are struggling to feed their families. Demand for Emergency Food Boxes is up more than 50% from this time last year, according to the Arizona Association of Food Banks (AAFB). In Phoenix, it’s even higher. For example, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance is reporting a 90% increase in total distribution over the past year. But unfortunately, donations and funding have not enjoyed the same increases.

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Facebook Change in Terms Causes Online Uproar

I’ve had a presence on Facebook for a while, with a large group of both personal and professional friends. I update my status with regularity (with the help of Twitter), manage several fan pages, and spend entirely too much time on the site. I was one of the first people in my group of friends to ask if anybody had actually read the new terms of service (TOS) that popped up. The changes sparked an online uproar after popular blog Consumerist.com posted a blog on the changes called “Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: ‘We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.'”

“Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later,” The Consumerist wrote. “Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your own content.”

The blogosphere was soon ablaze with postings on the controversial changes to TOS. In short, the new terms say all of the content you’ve ever uploaded on Facebook can be used, modified or even sublicensed by Facebook in every possible way – even if you quit the service. [Read more…]

Past headaches return for Tylenol?

The AP is reporting today that the 1982 “Tylenol killings” case is being revisited with new evidence seized in the Boston area.


If you are not familiar with the case; in a space of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in the Chicago area died. That triggered a national scare and a huge recall, and eventually led to the widespread adoption of tamperproof packaging for over-the-counter drugs. Nobody was ever charged, but James W. Lewis was believed to be the primary suspect. Lewis served more than 12 years in prison for sending an extortion note to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to “stop the killing.”

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When HR needs PR

There’s no debating the fact that we live in the age of instant communication; information can span the globe in mere moments. Take news of the May earthquake in China, for example; information was spread instantly by Twitter users, easily scooping news organizations. In fact, many reporters were relying on tweets for information and reporting it on-air. “Tweets,” as messages on Twitter are called, are abbreviated text messages that can be instantly posted on online and sent to the mobile telephones of selected friends. For those of us who have made communications our profession, it has been remarkable to witness the evolution of Web 2.0, but along with the fascinating developments we’ve made are also a number of challenges that require adapting our organizations to the constantly evolving communications paradigm.

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