RelevanceBack to Table of Contents | Back to Recommendations
- Many universities are relatively tone-deaf in their press contacts, pouring out a constant stream of press releases on a preset schedule. The news media no longer devotes space to the latest university news and instead institutions should look for tie-ins with current events and more strongly promote stories with the greatest resonance and relevance to current events.
One consequence of the transition towards the "soundbite university" is that the news media no longer reserves page space just to report on the latest university research. To stay relevant in this new media environment, institutions must alter the way they approach the media. Instead of a continual stream of generic press releases that round-robin over all departments on a preset schedule, universities should look for opportunities to tie their research into major state, national, and world events. Companies routinely tie their products and services into the news of the day, but universities have historically tended to announce research as it is released and not revisit it.
For example, when a major news story breaks, university press offices should search their archives for relevant research and lists of faculty that work in those areas and put this information in front of the reporters covering that story. They should routinely compile updated media guides and distribute those on a regular basis to their institutional newswires to ensure reporters have the latest contacts for their faculty.
This is not to say that universities must become entirely reactive in their press interactions, but if the world is discussing the BP oil spill in the gulf, a university with research on oil spills might consider issuing a press note or media guide. Rather than simply writing off a project because there is nothing new to report at that moment, public relations staff should look for fresh angles that promote the relevance of their work. A release about a research program on oil-eating bacteria will have a much higher likelihood of being picked up during the height of the BP oil spill than a story on the latest faculty book on 15th century grammatical structures.
Relevance takes on new urgency as state and federal budgets across the country are increasingly strained and universities must justify their contributions and shake off the image of the detached ivory tower. A university whose faculty are continually in the news as experts on the latest issue of the day, day after day, cultivates an image of a vibrant institution that is highly relevant to the national discourse, and promotes a positive image among the taxpayers and politicians that support it, not to mention prospective students and faculty.