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Demystifying Media Relations

I spent the weekend (on the beach – yay!) celebrating the upcoming marriage of a friend with a new group of women. Pretty quickly upon meeting them, they asked what I did for work. When I said I was in media relations, I was greeted with a few blank stares and obligatory exclamations like “Oh,” or “Wow. That’s great!” Realizing I would have to give more details, I launched into my elaborated explanation, complete with examples.
It was a good conversation starter, but it got me thinking about those moments we’ve all had in which people (not only people you’re meeting for the first time, but even those with whom you’ve actually worked for years – or worse, your own family members) look at you with a blank expression wondering what it is you actually do at work all day.
I’m not sure why, but “media relations,” “public affairs,” “public relations,” and “communications,” are terms often misunderstood on college campuses. And unfortunately, the job of a media relations professional becomes a lot harder if the experts we’re hoping to pitch don’t fully comperehend what we actually do.
That’s why I always made sure that the first thing I did when meeting with any faculty member or administrator for the first time was explain my job. I created an easy-to-read, one-page document with information on what my colleagues and I did and when to contact us. It looked like this:
What we do:
The media relations staff…

  • issues press releases based on newsworthy events, scholarly achievements, human interest and trend stories to targeted local, regional and national t.v., print and radio
  • directs members of the media to expert scholars through targeted pitches, regular media advisories and press releases tied to the news of the day
  • assists in preparing and pitching op-eds and letters to the editor
  • advises on preparations for interviews with print, radio and television outlets
  • offers individual and group media training

When to contact us:
Please let us know when…

  • your area of expertise/research currently relates to an issue in the news
  • you are working collaboratively with students (or other faculty) on unique projects
  • you introduce a new academic (or other) program on campus
  • your forthcoming book, essay, article, etc. is expected
  • you receive major grants, fellowships or other honors
  • you see interesting trends emerging with your research, or with your students
  • you would like assistance placing an op-ed or letter to the editor
  • a reporter contacts you directly for comment

To me, it seemed like overkill at first, but people were truly appreciative. Many hadn’t before realized we could help with op-eds or interview preparations, for example. As a result, we started placing more opinion pieces almost immediately. And, even better, my job became easier once people truly understood what I did.
If you have a similar story – or related tips – please share them here! I love bonding over shared experiences like this, and am always looking for new ways to talk about media relations.