How to dig into the strategy and mine the report for proactive communications and outreach on your campus.
by Teresa Valerio Parrot, Principal, TVP Communications
The TVP Communications team and I are fortunate to do what we love—we work with campuses to tell their positive news through media outreach and address their negative realities through crisis communications and leadership response. And we do this best when we incorporate healthy doses of data and strategy.
I most often use Campus Sonar intel to help our crisis clients and those facing challenges understand where their situations are discussed and shared digitally, who is participating in the conversation, and evaluate how well their responses are or are not resonating with their audiences. Campus Sonar’s latest report made me stop and think about how we approach the proactive portion of our work. While the title of the report—Using News Insights to Prepare Your Campus Communications Strategy—may have you thinking of reactive planning like I did upon first glance, I encourage all of us to dig in on the use of “strategy” and mine the report for how we can and should think about proactive communications and outreach.
The report gives planning suggestions based on the types of stories covered most often during the three-month analysis timeframe. Those themes—diversity, equity, and inclusion; Title IX; and freedom of speech (and athletics within each topic)—continue to dominate coverage today. Having said that, there are still opportunities to pitch constructive stories among these three themes and the issues you want to address and offerings you want to promote. As we know (and the report reinforces), those pieces that resonate best have a positive emotional trigger and a common experience to draw our audiences in to learn more. The greatest placements may tell the stories of spontaneous moments, scholarship, or experiences, but the crafting of the pitch is calculated storytelling and the truth-filled sharing of excellence. The STREAM report provides the intelligence for mixing and matching approaches to increase your chances of high-profile placements.
The greatest placements may tell the stories of spontaneous moments, scholarship, or experiences, but the crafting of the pitch is calculated storytelling and the truth-filled sharing of excellence.
There is the opportunity, of course, to allow others to tell your story. But leaving the crafting of the campus’s narrative to outsiders poses significant reputation risks and missed opportunities to advance your campus’s image and reputation. While some of the neutral stories included in the report may have their origins in pitched pieces that didn’t quite reach a positive sentiment threshold, some of them and also many of the negative stories undoubtedly stem from campuses chasing stories rather than participating in their origin. In this case, the “prepare” term feels more than appropriate for the work ahead.
But leaving the crafting of the campus’s narrative to outsiders poses significant reputation risks and missed opportunities to advance your campus’s image and reputation.
The STREAM report is also helpful to set expectations with your leadership for national media coverage. During the first three months of 2021, approximately 1,500 pieces were written by 394 reporters for 20 national outlets. Of those, 3% were positive. And of those 394 reporters, just over 100 were not sports beat reporters. The 3% of articles written by approximately 100 reporters represents the tens of thousands of pitches we are all tasked with placing among highly read and shared outlets. In other words, over 3,000 campuses are vying for those 45 positive stories—and even a portion of approximately 1,000 neutral stories—to share among their audiences.
In other words, over 3,000 campuses are vying for those 45 positive stories—and even a portion of approximately 1,000 neutral stories—to share among their audiences.
Set appropriate expectations among your leadership when they want a grant covered, or an innovative program, or the first offering of an academic topic. The only way you’re going to get that revered placement is if you’re offering innovation and uniqueness, access to leadership, data and/or outcomes, or positioning your campus within a trend.
And finally, the report reinforces a plea I issued earlier this year. I encourage all communicators to closely read the portions referencing intercollegiate athletics. Based on the data, the good, negative, and neutral news for your campus is likely to come from athletics. I highly recommend sharing a copy of the report with your campus’s sports information director (SID) and pairing it with an invitation to join you for lunch to discuss the content. Your SID undoubtedly has insights that can help you to plan and strategize, and you have information they can use for their outreach.
My takeaways for you: button up the lines of communication with your SID, establish realistic expectations with leaders for national coverage, plan now for how you will claim your narrative for positive and negative news, and use the data in the report to inform your communications strategies.