About ten years ago, I began an article like this with the title, “Media Relations is dead.” Media Relations was a department of an organization that interacted with local newspaper representatives, broadcast television and radio personnel, and even the phone company and their Yellow Pages ads to help spread the word about their organization or an upcoming event to promote it to the local community. I said at the time that “Media Relations is now Media Partnering.”

Guess what? That’s changed too. Why? Because your organization is now part of the media, and partnership infers exclusivity.

“Part of the media?”  Most definitely!  Your school has a Web site, Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest page, and perhaps an Instagram page.  You’re publishing your own content.  Therefore, you are part of the media!

In the good ol’ days (about 25 years ago), broadcast facilities, newspaper and book publishers, and billboard advertisers were the media through which messages were distributed to the general public. Today, the Internet and eMarketing has changed all that. If you’re reading this, you’ll realize it’s true. The only way for me to get this information out to others a decade and a half ago was to buy advertising time on the radio, write a book and then promote it, or post a billboard with a phone number for more information. Show me one person that is going to write down a telephone number from a billboard when they whiz past it on the highway at 70 miles per hour (okay, someone might text it…but that’s not safe and will incur a traffic citation if you’re caught doing it).

Today, your organization is a media outlet.  And, the tables have turned.  Rather than contacting media outlets to promote your event, traditional media outlets are seeking out social media to get ideas for the stories they present.

Even though the Internet has taken center stage as vehicle to house Content Management Systems (or CMS – it’s what you’re Web site really is), those traditional media outlets are still important in today’s information landscape. Rather than telling you all about a product or service in a :30 radio ad or full-page newspaper insert, these are the “hook” mechanisms that direct interested individuals to the company Web site to learn more about the product or service, and even order or sign up right there. It’s instant gratification in action, and is what parents of children in your school not only crave, but EXPECT today!

Interestingly, the more schools I visit, the more schools leaders I hear say that they can’t get their promotional announcements (what used to be called “public service announcements”) aired on a radio station , or the local newspaper doesn’t want to send a reporter to promote their event.

Well, of course not. These media services are in the business of generating profits. The way they do that is by disseminating information. And with government deregulation of the broadcast industry today, as well as technology’s advancements, in the words of country singer Garth Brooks, “The competition’s gettin’ younger.” A newspaper might not have enough reporters to write just a short “blurb” or to gather facts to promote your event because they’ve laid off all but a handfull of their staff, and newspapers are really online Web sites now. So you write your own press release, hoping that will save them some time…and hundreds of other non-profits in your area are doing the exact same thing now because they can, thanks to technology. Wading through hundreds of requests via email is certainly less time-consuming than spending time on phone calls from hundreds of organizations, but there’s also a greater chance of your press release becoming filed in the trash folder for a myriad of reasons. First, you might have printed and mailed your press release, and even though it looks great, there may be an editor that simply trashes anything that comes in on paper because they’d rather deal with email. You might send an email, but it lands in the editor’s spam folder because it’s come from an unknown Web address. Then there are those “traditional” errors, like an incorrect writing style, misspellings, missing information, etc., that cause editors to be able to play “Wastebasketball” as a way to weed through what they’re going to cover.

So is there still hope?

Of course there is! Remember Stephen Covey’s 1st habit of highly effective people – “Be Proactive”(TM). If you have come to the decision that a newspaper is the best way to promote your event, BUY AN AD. If you have decided that radio is the way to go, BUY AIR TIME. Not only are you promoting your event, but you are investing in the media outlet. You are now a CUSTOMER rather than just another entity that wants something for free. You are now DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP with your media contact, which develops a relationship with your school.

After buying that newspaper ad for your event, now you can request coverage of your event, which could generate a news story and possibly even a photograph! That will CERTAINLY create more “buzz” about your event, and more awareness for your school. Sure, the media company will ask you for more business, but you’ll probably have another event that requires promoting.

I can hear it now – “But we don’t have any money to spend like this.” This is where you find a donor or foundation to help fund your marketing budget.  Just be sure that everything that’s spent from that budget goes to meaningful marketing expenditures. Don’t use it as a “catch-all” fund for emergency expenses.  When the “Miscellaneous” category is replaced at the urging of accountants and auditors, many times, organizations substitute the word “Marketing ” because of its nature.  Unfortunately, this is precisely the reason why many Marketing budgets are cut, since the prevailing mindset is that these expenses are unnecessary since they’re really “Miscellaneous” items that can’t be properly categorized.

Here’s the second “but” I can hear coming. “But this is June, and school’s going to be out soon, so we can’t have another fundraiser to generate money to buy an ad. They’re expensive.” If that thought has entered your mind, you need to go back to a previous Marketing Matter and read “You Don’t Get It Because You Don’t Get It.” Fundraising is still important as a bridge to a successful Development program, but a Development program (and, more importantly, an Advancement program) is an essential step to your school’s sustainability.  May I be so bold as to say that if you still believe that development is irrelevant and non-essential to your school’s future, you may soon find that your school is also irrelevant and non-essential to the marketplace.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original Publication Date: 20070604)