I have known for some time that if it bleeds, it leads. That’s how news is decided, primarily for TV, but also for the other mediums. I can sadly say that at least 75%, if not more, of the TV coverage we have had here at the university has been a tragedy/travesty: apartment fires, federal investigations for fraud, vandalism (twice), etc. This is certainly not for lack of pitching the good stories to the media. We even create the angle/hook/sensation for them. It doesn’t matter.
In addition to the bleeding leading, sports will always be covered. Collegiate box scores and game stories always make print, and are often mentioned on local TV. However, I was watching the local newscast Monday evening, right after Albert Pujols fractured a bone in his arm in a game and will be out for quite some time. The newscast started on the hour, and that was the ONLY topic covered until the 13th minute. Now there was a commercial series or two in there, but still! There are so many positive things happening in St. Louis right now, including Marine Week down on the riverfront. Instead, we get to hear the interview of the 10-yr-old at the stadium telling us that he would have punched the guy in the head if he broke his arm.
Now I kept watching this particular newscast because I was in awe of how much of the beginning segment was dedicated to this topic, and naturally it was to become fodder for my blog. But the fact that Joe and Jane Sixpack keep watching crap like this is the reason it continues to happen. And the reason why I don’t often watch the TV news.
Continuing with the season of college rankings, here is an interesting story about a student embarking on a hunger strike to draw attention to the inadequacy of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings process. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think there are more important issues in the world about which we should go on a hunger strike.
- Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students)
- Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs)
- Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country)
This certainly sounds like a much more worthwhile ranking system for prospective students and parents than the U.S. News rankings based on fame, exclusivity and money.
Last week was what many in higher education considered a stressful week. The U.S.News and World Report rankings were released to the schools on Monday (8/16), with a press embargo until 12:00 midnight Eastern time Tuesday. So most college communications teams spent the day either breathing a sigh of relief and sending the release that they achieved a good rank, or frantically scrambling to craft the message drawing attention away from the fact that they slipped in the rankings.
In addition to the usual stress, U.S. News made significant changes to the methodology and presentation of the rankings this year. Full details can be found on their blog, but in summary they:
- changed the category names
- listed all schools, not just the top tier
- increased the weight of the graduation rate
- included the opinion of high school counselors in the calculation
There has always been a question about whether rankings like these and countless others are just a popularity contest, or rather a valid external assessment of college choices for prospective students and their parents. The subjective opinions of peers, and now this year high school counselors, factor into the rankings. The chief admissions officers, provosts and presidents of all colleges and universities have the opportunity to provide their opinion of the institutions in their geographic region. This peer assessment variable accounts for 25% of the total score–the most heavily weighted variable. If we are trying to assess outcomes of an institution, why aren’t the managers at companies hiring the graduates asked?
You could argue that this skews the rankings, as surely an institution can influence those opinions through a variety of communication channels timed with the survey response due date. Or, you can view this an opportunity to educate your peers on the accomplishments and accolades your institution has recently achieved, and create a communication strategy for this target audience.
Have you ever noticed how the underdogs who make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament manage to place high in the rankings? (Think Butler, Northern Iowa this year.) And how the tournament is right around the time that the survey is completed? Coincidence? Or is that there is increased visibility and communication about those schools while they are featured on TV?
Assessment is always a big topic at universities. To me, this is one more way to assess success. There are qualitative and quantitive, objective and subjective, ways to measure nearly everything.
Additionally, when you increase factors like graduation rate, your overall score increases. So, in theory, would your rank.
Regardless of what side of the fence you fall on, there is something to be said from a marketing perspective about credibility through external validation. Several of the categories, like Up and Comers and Focus of Student Success, are great to use in a communication strategy highlighting recent innovations you have added to your institution.
There are also those schools that do not appear on the rankings who try and use that to their advantage. I have seen taglines such as “awards won’t change the world, but our graduates will” on billboards.
Has anyone asked whether prospective students and parents are using these rankings in their decision making process? If you appear favorably in the rankings, are you calling attention to it and asking your prospective students and parents to pay attention?
An article appeared in the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education in 2008, titled De-Mystifying the U.S. News Rankings: How to Understand What Matters, What Doesn’t and What You can Actually Do About It. I highly recommend reading this article.
The AP Style Guide has recently updated a few things, including “website” versus “Web site”…is Yahoo paving the way for digital communication styles?
Awareness is heightened about crisis communications…here’s an article: The PR Crisis Playbook
More efforts by Facebook to improve image? Facebook Launching Official Live Streaming Channel: Facebook Live
As we design websites for clients, it is always interesting to see how color impacts customer behavior
And ’tis the season: U.S.News and World Report rankings are out. Here are a few articles:
- The Rankings, Rejiggered – Head Count – The Chronicle of Higher Education
- Methodology: Ranking Category Definitions – US News and World Report
- SIUE, McKendree rank high in U.S. News survey
There is a lot of controversy surrounding these and other college rankings. My next post will talk a bit about ways it can help or hurt an institution.
SIUE cited again in U.S. News rankings! http://bit.ly/siueusnews! One to watch for “innovative changes” for 2nd year in a row! #siue
Three ways Facebook is killing your website.
LOVE the 10 BlackBerry Commandments from PINK Magazine!
And a discussion on the death of Google Wave.
I recently drafted a memo internally discussing proposed organizational changes. Though targeted toward higher education, the points are well made for any industry:
The rules have changed for marketing and communications professionals both in general, but especially at the university level. We are challenged to keep up with constantly evolving technology and consumer behavior patterns, even more so with the advent of the Internet and the explosion of social media marketing tools. The good news is that we have greater and more direct access to our customers, reducing the reliance on the traditional news media to communicate with our audiences.
The field of traditional public relations has evolved such that greater skills than just crafting the attention-grabbing press release are critical to job success. Public relations materials are now for more than just mainstream media audiences. Our audiences do not just want to see our organization on TV or in the newspaper; they want to see us on the web. Marketers are now challenged with helping customers move through the decision-making process with great online content; providing authenticity, not spin; and encouraging participation, not generating propaganda.
Communicating in the 21st century requires us to consider the following factors:
- We are in a competitive, global marketplace
- This is a 24/7 media environment—not just the traditional 9a-5p
- The marketplace is extremely consumer-centric
- Consumers have an expectation of governance and fiscal responsibility
Challenges we must overcome include providing context and perspective, demonstrating our competitive advantage, and ensuring our customers have a consistent message and experience.
In the traditional PR environment, organizations or units at a university could effectively function with a single individual generating press releases and responding in a reactive media environment. Today, teams of professionals are better suited to proactively tell the stories of success, and distribute those stories via all appropriate channels: through the website, video, publications, social media outlets, traditional media outlets, direct-to-consumer communication, and so much more.
All of these advances in the marketing and communications field present opportunities, but also the challenge of remaining professionally current in the field. Being part of a larger team or unit allows an individual to participate in more non-traditional professional development by learning from their teammates.
Given the fiscal challenges of both the federal and state governments (especially my home state of Illinois) and the tough budget times we face ahead, we must find ways to be more efficient and take advantage of existing resources—now more than ever before. We no longer have the luxury of separate marketing teams for various areas of the University. In addition to meeting the new challenges in the marketing field, it is fiscally more responsible to have one consolidated group that can address the marketing needs of various areas and the University as a whole.
I’ve had several conversations lately about the PR implications of negative actions taken or substantial errors made by companies or employees. And inevitably, there is always a suggestion that we figure out how to “cover this up”. I shake my head, and my response is typically the same: has anyone thought about perhaps admitting an error, issuing a heartfelt apology, and outlining the steps you are taking to fix the problem and safeguard against repeating history?
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Wouldn’t you find it easier to forgive a company for a wrongdoing if they apologized and fixed it, versus tried to cover it up? How about Toyota’s recent mechanical problems–they were slow to speak in the public and apologize, but once they did, it focused the conversation away from trying to catch them to talking about how the problem is going to be fixed.
Yes, there will be a time when their brand will suffer. However, they have worked very hard in the past to build relationships with their customers, to the tune of significant brand loyalty. It will take some time, but it will be easier for them to rebuild trust than if they had not built that relationship foundation.
Sorry for the brand loyalty digression, but the message is the same. If you do the right thing to fulfill your mission and satisfy your customers, handling times of crisis becomes so much easier. So when we ask ourselves what we are going to do about a particular situation, the answer to me is easy: what is the right thing to do for our employees, our customers, and our other publics?
Last night I attended the Meet the Design Teams event for The City + The River + The Arch Competition at the Roberts Orpheum Theater in St. Louis. They have narrowed the field down to five design teams who are vying for the chance to design the landscape around the St. Louis Arch grounds on both sides of the Mississippi River and do a better job of incorporating this iconic piece of public sculpture into the city of St. Louis and it’s tourism industry.
I have to say it was very refreshing to watch Joe Buck as the emcee. He really injected some humor into it. He came right out of the gate saying that this was going to be a fun event rather than a formal event and almost took more of a approach of a traditional “roast” event rather than a formal presentation. So, immediately I was heartened to see that it wasn’t going to be a long boring night of presentations.
However, when the first design team got up to present their capabilities and their team members, I was a little disappointed the he was not as engaging a speaker as Joe Buck. I wasn’t expecting him to be a perfect speaker. However, I was asking for it to be a little bit more engaging and interesting and to capture my attention.
I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the presentation set-up in the theater was poor. The image quality on the projection screen was dark and blurry at best. I don’t have the best eye sight but I don’t need glasses, and sitting in the back of the theater it was extremely difficult if not impossible to read any of the text on the slides and to make out the specific details and some of the images. And, his presentation was heavy on photography and imagery. So, I found that to be distracting and I lost interest very quickly in what he was saying because, I struggled to see what he was referring to on the presentation slides.
So, I guess my take away from this event was the importance of being an engaging and dynamic speaker. To capture the attention of an audience that can range anywhere from people who are specifically interested in architecture and design to just the general public interested in what’s happening in the community. You have to find that perfect balance between getting very technical to please the technical people but, also being very engaging and top of a strategy oriented to draw in the general public.
I also understood the importance of really understanding the venue in which you are presenting and the tools that are available for you, and tailoring your presentation to meet those challenges. I think that if any speaker would have paid close attention to the venue and the equipment available, they probably would have tailored their presentation a bit differently to meet those equipment challenges. And therefore, would have done a better job of engaging people.
Some of the best presentations I’ve seen interacted with the audience and really drew people with what interested them into the presentation. I know that it’s difficult to do with a large crowd but I think it’s possible.
So, my challenge to myself and to all of you is: What are you going to do to make each presentation different and unique and draw in that audience?