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Monkeys in the middle PR musings

You remember that game, right? The one your older siblings thought was so much fun.

They’d toss a ball back and forth while you scurried between them. You were never quite sure which side to lean toward in hopes of snatching it. But this much was certain—if you stayed in the middle, you’d never get that darn ball. So you picked a side, ran towards it, and hoped for the best.

Nearly two months into my University News career, it seems that game has made a comeback—well, at least in my life. But it’s a bit different this time around.

In this game, University News is stuck in the middle. The older siblings are gone—their spots taken by our RIT constituents on one side and the media on the other. But it’s still tough to decide which side to learn toward in hopes of getting the “ball”, a placement in the local or national media.

On one side, there is the great body of work that is being done by our RIT students, faculty and staff that we’d like the world to learn about. On the other side, there are the time, space and resources constraints on the media.

My understanding of this game was crystallized last week when I attended the Keith Moore Associates 2006 conference, “How Colleges Can Obtain National and Regional Publicity.”

Representatives from hundreds of colleges and universities from around the nation converged in Baltimore to network with one another, share successes and failures and gain insight into the media.

The media was represented by organizations such as USA Today, New York Times, CNN, PBS, and National Public Radio. These news outlets teamed to conduct panel presentations, giving advice to us PR folks on how best to pitch our story ideas.

The theme, overwhelmingly, was this: unless you have a story that a) has broad appeal; b) is part of a national trend and; c) closely matches the interests of that particular outlets’ readers/listeners/viewers, then LEAVE US ALONE!!!

Each of the presenters said they are inundated with more than 1,000 pieces of e-mail daily. And that doesn’t include the thousands of SPAM e-mail that also flood their inboxes. One reporter says that she no longer answers her office phone. If she needs a phone call returned, she provides that individual with an alternate number. Otherwise, she claims, she’d never hit her deadlines.

Reporters are still anxious to hear about great stories. The problem, they say, is that they get bombarded with far too many stories that are not appropriate for their publications. They rely on top-notch PR professionals to weed out those stories, and only send them the ones that are potentially a fit. Those PR people have credibility and, when their names appear in reporters’ inboxes, they generally get a response. The other familiar names get immediately deleted.

The lesson is simple: while we’d love to please everyone by getting every constituency on campus prominently placed in the local and national media on a daily basis, it’s just not possible.

The media has long served as the gatekeeper. And in order to get the kind of quality news placements we’re all hoping for, University News must serve as the gatekeeper’s gatekeeper.

It’s the only way we’ll ever snag that darn ball.


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