121 Middleton Way Sacramento CA 95864 US +1.916.698.2809 Luanne@LMLMarCom.com
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In universities, we have storytellers of all means and methods: media relations, social media, advancement, recruitment, unit writers, athletics, magazines, research, internal communications, and on and on. Interactive content provided by videographers, photographers and Webbies round out the list. Oh, but then there are the events folks with scripts and speeches too.
I work with several institutions that have a social media person. Just one or maybe two, and everyone sends them their press releases and content, to adapt to social media. It’s an odd thing. The writer most intimate with the content sends their stories to another writer who boils it down to 140 characters?
We have become so good at silos in higher education. But in today’s content-driven world, fluidity and multi-media skill sets make much more sense. Over the years colleges and universities have built strong media relations teams at the same time that the number of reporters have dwindled and the preponderance of interactive, blog and media outlets steals the eyes and hearts of the public more than any television news cast. With limited resources and content providers siloed at many levels, a few organizational tweaks are necessary to be competitive in flowing content to the many and varied outlets that our audiences frequent. A few ideas:
The Urgent versus the Important
It seems crisis communications dominates. It is important to have a trained and small team ready to manage the distractions, and another more robust team dedicated to advancing the positive stories. Minding the reputation of the institution is two-fold during a crisis. As one manages the urgent, the other team is pushing forward the positive content that cushions the negative. Too often, many communicators get pulled into the crisis and the marketing and positive reputation management falls to the side. Confining the urgent to a small and highly skilled team allows content to continue to move positive outcomes forward.
Start with the Media Relations Team
The truth is, media relations, in its current usage, is a worn-out term. Today, we need content providers who know how to write a story as a tweet, a news pitch, a Web story and a magazine posting. With video and photography serving as top ways to tell a story, writers need to also be trained in interactive media. To have writers dedicated to news releases and working with the traditional media is an antiquated approach. Today, media relations writers fall into two specific categories: crisis communications and content of all kinds. As with #1, crisis teams should be built for the urgent, but the media relations team as it currently stands, needs to know how to pitch stories to the traditional press and also serve as marketing content providers. The days of internal news bureaus have passed. There are too many ways content finds its way into the hands of our audiences to have our best writers dedicated to the smallest media segment: newspapers, broadcast and traditional print. This retraining comes with a big cultural push. Often, it is the media relations team that needs a strong content strategist who is guiding their content into the right outlets and helping the writers know how to package their stories in different media.
Marketing is everyone’s job
If marketing advances reputation and promotes the university, then all on the communications team needs to advance strategy, not just the marketing team. Sometimes the university culture shies away from “marketing,” but the reality is that all on the marcom team works to push content that builds the positive stories of the institution.
Hire a Content Strategist
Or train someone on the staff to coach and guide where content is distributed. All writers will need to have someone aligning their work and helping with the strategy for getting good news to the right audiences. While many offices have many talented writers, a content expert is like an orchestra conductor making sure that all that is written is performing in the right notes to the right audiences.
The “Rule of Two”
With the whiplash effect on communications offices, a hard look at mission is in order. The marcom office is responsible, at its core, for two things: advancing and protecting reputation; and assisting with revenue generation. When incoming work is measured against these two criteria, the workload becomes more focused and content is streamlined to help advance the university’s goals. In universities, revenue means different things, but often, supporting admissions, development, alumni relations, research and if there are professional schools, clinical operations, are often the dominant work projects.
Too often content is developed, and our audiences do not see it. If the entire office understands the tools available and how to use them, stories grow legs and reputation grows. It is time that we rewrote our position descriptions and changed our approach to content generation.