Give media speed dating a try

Western Technical College this spring held a meeting with local media from print, television and radio where representatives of various college departments and programs made 10-minute pitches before the reporters moved to the next table. (Photo: Western Technical College)

As former journalists, Western Technical College’s public relations team prided itself on having strong connections to local media in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Those relationships were key, both in pitching story ideas and news releases, and in understanding what a journalist needs and how soon.

As journalists in the field left their media outlets – and as the PR team’s news sense changed after years of working in higher ed – the department realized it was losing a competitive advantage. Plus, events were happening on campus of which they were unaware. Deans, associate deans and instructors often undersell themselves, even though many of their initiatives and projects are novel and interesting to a wider audience, including stakeholders and taxpayers. However, the academic side of education doesn’t always think to contact marketing the moment a news story passes their desk.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Amid a brainstorming session, Western’s marketing team resurrected an idea they’d tried years ago: a media speed dating event. The goal was simple: to get campus leaders in the room with members of the media to pitch stories and ideas.

With food, of course.

10-minute pitches

For one hour this spring, college leadership at Western – including academic deans and directors from various student services – met with eight to 10 members of the media from print, television and radio.

College attendees were divided into small groups, each paired with a member of the media. The individuals had 10 minutes to pitch their ideas, and the PR team was available to facilitate the discussion and follow up with media members about story ideas. After 10 minutes, members of the media switched tables, and the process started all over again.

At one table, an associate dean explained how the dental assistant program was partnering with the county to provide dental cleaning services for children in need. At another, the business division dean pitched Suits for Success, an event where business management students collect and redistribute professional clothing to students. Meanwhile, another Western employee explained the Cavalier Cupboard, Western’s on-site food pantry.

The event was a PR opportunity and a chance for members of the media to learn more about Western. As is often the case in various cities and media markets, it’s difficult for media to conceptualize the difference between two-year colleges and four-year universities. At one table, Western’s K-12 relations department explained dual-credit work at the college.

The results were impressive. Within a week of the event, media in the area covered three stories pitched at the event. Attendees said the meeting was productive and helped put a face to the name for our local media partners.

Some suggestions

For those looking to host something similar, here are some best practices gleaned from Western’s event:

  • Host the event early in the workday. Journalists are often in morning meetings by 9:30 a.m. Anything too late in the morning will result in no-shows.
  • Make sure deans, associate deans and directors bring businesses cards. While Western’s marketing team prefers direct contact, it’s important for members of the media to connect directly with sources.
  • Offer to provide tours of various buildings. Given the turnover in media, it’s important for journalists to understand the college, its buildings and its program offerings.

Community and technical colleges have the best stories. Their students overcome so many barriers, and they deserve to have their voices heard. The key, as PR professionals, is to empower the college to openly share those stories with the world.

About the Author

Eric Jacobson
Eric Jacobson is the public affairs specialist at Western Technical College in Wisconsin. He is a current member of NCMPR’s Leadership Institute and the 2023 District 3 Rising Star Award recipient.