In this world of digital and social media, traditional media still has a very important place at the table when it comes to showcasing your faculty. To accomplish this, you’ll need foresight and aggressiveness too. As colleges and universities vie for attention in an increasingly crowded field, faculty accomplishments and expertise can be the differentiator when it comes to rankings, admissions, faculty and staff recruitment, and overall perception.
Seeing your school’s name in a local or national publication is free marketing and helps raise the brand awareness, especially when you see a faculty member quoted by a prominent outlet on a significant story. Not only does it put your school in a national conversation, but it tells the public that someone within your institution was thought of highly enough to be used by the New York Times or Associated Press. What else must the school have expertise in?
So how do you get there? For starters, you need a plan and willing participants who appreciate the need to not only educate students inside the classroom, but the masses outside of it. When I worked in academia, I reviewed the roster of faculty and identified those with expertise in fields the media would be interested in, and I kept an eye out for those who had real world experience. Maybe someone worked on Wall Street before becoming a finance professor, or ran a non-profit before becoming a social work professor or maybe an immigration lawyer before coming to the law school. I found that being able to reference that real-world experience only helped with a professor’s credibility because it gave a reporter something relatable to hang their hat on.
After identifying willing faculty, it’s important to be ready to fit into the news cycle. One effective way is to have a roster of professors who can provide immediate analysis to reporters when news breaks. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, be proactive—get a few thoughts from that professor on a topic making news and send those quotes, at BG we call them “Source Sheets,”—to reporters who are writing about that topic. The key is to reach reporters quickly in the hopes they will a) pick up the phone and want to talk with your professor or b) copy and paste the quote and insert it into their story. If nothing else, you’ve let the reporter know of this faculty member’s expertise which might pay dividends in the future when the reporter writes another story on the topic. And when you send these source sheets frequently, reporters will start calling you looking for experts.
Writing Op-Eds is another effective way to insert faculty expertise into the national dialogue. Identify faculty who can quickly write a piece that offers solutions or an interesting and against-the-grain take on an issue. Keep in mind that the best way to place an Op-ed is by saying something different than what everyone else is.
In the case of significant news events coming down the pike sending out pre-approved quotes from experts is a great way to place your faculty in the national media conversation. Just before Pope Francis came to the United States, I was able to pitch several source sheets from my university’s theologians who offered insight as to what this visit meant, what message we could expect, how the visit might play in America. Needless to say, our office was busy lining up television, radio, and newspaper interviews with reporters who contacted us after receiving our faculty comments. You could do the same for an upcoming State of the Union speech, a Supreme Court ruling, a presidential debate, “Giving Tuesday,” or a significant anniversary (the 20th Anniversary of Princess Diana’s death this summer comes to mind). Also, having an economist lined up to provide analysis after the Monthly Jobs Report comes out (8:30 am on the first Friday) is another way to get your faculty in the news.
While every college or university has its go-to faculty members who are a reporter’s dream (not to mention a PR department’s), other faculty excel in research, and getting that out into the mainstream is just as important. It’s critical to maintain relationships with faculty from the various schools within your university so you can find out what research is about to be published. Whether it’s research on an innovative way of combining sound and color with the world of business, or how gender affects the way decisions are made, the research could ultimately affect the average person and if so, will attract the attention of the media. Reading the research paper and getting quotes from the professor that are then incorporated into a short news release or pitch can not only get media but if nothing else, it goes a long way toward maintaining good relations with the faculty because you’re showing you care about what they’re up to.
Lastly, pay attention to what your faculty are doing outside of the classroom. The university I worked at had a finance professor who developed a family game board that was being sold all over the world. The school also had a photography professor who I nicknamed the “Father of the Selfie,” because had been taking a picture of his face every day for 30 years (he’s still going). While not directly related to their work in the classroom, these were stories picked up by national media and are another way to spread the awareness of your faculty.