UB op-ed: Developing a cohesive earned media strategy for your capital campaign

Target the right news outlets, engage with them over the long term, and track results for success

It’s thrilling to be associated with an institution when a capital campaign is launched. The campus environment becomes electrified. Capital campaigns spark enthusiasm among the academic community and rally supporters, both on and off campus, as they engage with an effort that can be transformational for the institution.

But as a public relations officer, your work is about to begin. You must capture and sustain the interest of downsized news organizations so they cover the campaign and the stories behind those who are making or experiencing its philanthropic impact.

The days of distributing countless press releases to newsrooms, hoping that one might spark interest, are long gone. Now, it’s like throwing a handful of seeds on a field of rocks and hoping that one germinates.
This is where an “earned media” strategy for your capital campaign comes into play.

Building an earned media strategy

Here are five ways for you to get into the ever-changing earned media landscape:

1. Engage with those who already know you. Start at news organizations with staffers who are already aware of and interested in your institution and its capital campaign. I’m a firm believer in the effectiveness of meeting face to face with publishers, editors, news directors, reporters and writers. These meetings can be invaluable for your institution. Introductory meetings personalize the campaign and allow you to present its scope and potential impact on the community or state. Follow-up meetings should include your president or senior leadership. Present demographic data that will localize the campaign for news organizations, such as the number of alumni and students who live in that specific area.

2. Cast a wide net, but have a target in mind. When I was a boy, helicopters would occasionally drop leaflets announcing store openings, church revivals, pizza delivery deals or concerts. Advertisers hoped that someone would notice and become engaged in whatever was being promoted. But we cannot afford to drop multiple press releases on unsuspecting reporters and writers hoping that one of them will notice us. We must target our messaging and identify national news organization staffers and influential bloggers who are more likely to show an interest or curiosity in how the capital campaign will help shape and transform the lives of students, faculty and researchers.

The days of distributing countless press releases to newsrooms, hoping that one might spark interest, are long gone.

3. Think long term. As most of us appreciate, effective media relations is not a one-and-done deal. You must always consider your next steps. What will follow your face-to-face conversation, email, phone call, editorial board meeting or pitch? After all, public relations is about relationship building and can result in meaningful, productive interactions with editors, news directors, writers and reporters.

4. Understand the power of the pitch. Most media staffers prefer concise emails that pique their curiosity. However, some prefer a phone call or text. Also, make sure your capital campaign-related pitch is timely, relevant and relatable to the news organization’s audience.

5. Measure your effectiveness. Measuring an earned media strategy has become much more sophisticated in recent years. Software measurement tools are now available that will allow public relations professionals to monitor true reach versus potential reach of a published or reported story. Using capital campaign-tracking URLs and campaign-specific hashtags in your news releases are other excellent ways to monitor the effectiveness of your efforts.

Marc C. Whitt
Marc C. Whitt
Marc C. Whitt is director of philanthropy communications at the University of Kentucky Office of Public Relations and Strategic Communications. Follow him on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/marcwhitt) or Twitter (@marcwhitt).

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