One of the most frequently asked questions I hear about RIT stories on national television or in major newspapers is, “How did that happen? How did The New York Times or CNBC find out about RIT?” While the answer is simple, the process for making it happen can be complicated.
Reporters are always looking for good stories, which can result in good publicity for the university. However, getting the information to the right people can be a daunting task and requires a bit of luck.
Before I go into specifics, here’s some background.
I’ve been working in communications at RIT for just over a year. During my first few months here, I was concerned about making a good impression and proving myself to my co-workers.
One of my first assignments was to pitch an op-ed about alternative fuel sources to national publications. Despite 50 e-mails and 20 follow-up calls to writers and editors, I had no takers. (I must admit, being turned down 70 times in one week made me question my long-term employability!)
Thankfully, in the middle of my 0-for-70 streak, another story fell in my lap that would change my luck in a hurry. Medical sciences professor Richard Doolittle mentioned that he had a little research he was working on that I might find interesting. His “little research” turned out to be my ticket to the Promised Land, at least in PR terms.
Doolittle and his research team had developed a 3-D virtual tour of the pancreas—allowing viewers to observe its various parts and glands at the microscopic level, something that had never before been achieved. The tour could be downloaded onto DVDs, allowing for a strong visual component that I knew the press would love.
I invited the local press to an unveiling and demonstration of the technology. I also crafted a quick news release with a snappy title, “Take a fantastic voyage through the human body,” and sent it out to national media. While I thought it would get some notice, I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Upon returning from the demonstration, I had 20 e-mails from all over the world requesting information on the story! More poured in over the next several days from the press, the National Academy of Sciences, Merck Inc. and others. The originality of the technology and availability of DVDs combined with pure lucky timing to create a huge buzz around the story. In fact, interest was so high; it took months to process all the requests, schedule interviews and follow up with all interested parties. The story appeared in a host of publications, including The Washington Post, and Merck has expressed interest in commercializing the technology.
My initial fears over my future success subsided and I was given considerable credit from University News for the publicity. In the words of Hall of Fame basketball coach Norm Sloan, I guess it’s better to be lucky than good!