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Llamas on the Lam, Caddy Shack and Other Takeaways from This Year’s College Media Conference

Remember when I said that you’d always remember where you were when the llamas escaped? Turns out I wasn’t wrong. The infamous llamas came up several times at last week’s College Media Conference, organized by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). And runaway llamas dominating the news weren’t the only important takeaway from the conference—did you know Caddy Shack is based on a real scholarship? I also had some more directly applicable takeaways from CMC this year:

  • Don’t disregard local media, even if you’re pushing a story nationally. Several reporters at the conference mentioned how impressed they were with local stories going viral and becoming national stories, so it’s important not to underestimate what local outlets can do for your pitch.
  • Don’t pitch a story that’s already been written. If a reporter has written about an innovative program or something new on campuses nationwide, don’t count on a changed story to include your institution or another piece that’s just about your university.
  • Build relationships with reporters. Reporters said over and over that they want personalized pitches (with their names spelled correctly) and they want pitches tailored to what they write about. Additionally, if you have a personal relationship with a reporter, they’ll be more likely to keep you and your experts in mind next time they have a news story that fits.
  • Know your audience. It’s important in any form of communications, but especially when you’re making a social media plan. Don’t just jump in assuming you’ll reach the target audience. And, while we’re talking about audiences, don’t forget internal audiences in any communications plans!
  • Think about trends. Reporters love trends, so as much as it may hurt, think about who else might have a unique approach to advising or internship programs and see if you can pitch a trend that includes other colleges as well.
  • Don’t forget education policy changes and discussions. Policy to watch this year includes campus sexual assault, Obama college ratings, student debt/college costs, Higher Education Act, intercollegiate athletics, and SCOTUS looking at affirmative action.

If you weren’t able to attend Teresa Valerio Parrot’s roundtable discussion on building presidential thought leadership, she had two main points:

  1. Think through the psychology of your president—Who are they? Where are they in their career? What are their long-term aspirations? What is their comfort level with being a public face of the institution? What is the board’s expectation for the president’s thought leadership profile?
  1. Pair the psychology of your president with those topics that make them light up when they talk about them and backstop the mission or strategic plan for the institution.

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