It’s January—which means it’s cold, really cold in some places. In general, it’d be much more pleasant to hunker down in your office with a space heater and hot cup of coffee than going just about anywhere else on campus. I get it. I have braved bitter (and painful) wind chills on campuses from Iowa to New Hampshire and hated every second of those walks from one extreme end of campus property to the other. But I never regretted it, because every time I got out of my office, I learned something new—something that helped me become better at my job.
It may be cold, but January is also a time of new beginnings. In higher education it’s the start of a new semester—busy, but not as insanely busy as the end of a semester, which means people generally have more time and are more willing to chat. So, as campuses across the country start to come alive again this week and next, remember that relationships are key to successful PR efforts and new ones forged at the beginning of the semester can lead to spring story ideas you never would have thought of otherwise.
For the shy ones among us, those who may be new to their campuses, or anyone who just needs to reinvigorate their spring story pitch list—here are a few great ways to get out and meet people, make new relationships, rekindle old ones and get media hits that you wouldn’t have landed if you stayed in your office this winter.

  • Invite someone new to coffee once a week—a faculty member you don’t know well, a student, a staff member. Remember stories come from ALL areas of campus…from vice presidents’ offices to housekeepers’ break rooms. (I worked with a dining hall chef on one of my favorite national stories.)
  • Attend as many varied events as possible; lectures, sporting events, etc. And talk to people. Not only is it fun to watch student performances or hear expert speakers, you can learn a lot from casual conversations with other attendees.
  • Go to the gym at lunch. Double bonus for this one, because you can get some great and important stories in the locker room from people whose paths you might not normally cross, while also getting in shape!
  • Organize informal brown bag lunches with small groups of people you think are interesting and want to get to know better. You’d be surprised how many people show up with the prospect of being able to talk about their work. (If you can swing it, bring cookies for dessert.)
  • Ask if you can sit in on departmental meetings just to see what’s new. Some of the most interesting meetings I ever attended were in the admissions office—and yes, they became media stories! The best thing about this method is that it doesn’t require any effort on the part of the department your meeting with. They go about business as usual—while you work your creative story-finding magic.

I’d love to hear more about the creative ways all of you find stories and build relationships on your campuses. Please feel free to share ideas in the comments section. And best of luck and happy pitching this semester!