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The selling of the university

Successful public relations executives know that a well-placed story about the organization one represents is the result of hard work, knowledge of the market and sensitive handling of the subject and the media. And sometimes dumb luck.

Case-in-point here at Western Connecticut State University: Astute marketing professor Dr. John Cronin alerted me to an end-of-the-semester event in his class on Advanced and Integrated Marketing Communications. He had assigned teams of his students to work with five local nonprofits. The students were to create a marketing plan for each nonprofit that would incorporate social media to help them attract volunteers and donors, and to get the word out about their organizations. Cronin worked with the Greater Danbury Nonprofit Resource Center to find agencies that would work with our students.

Not a bad story for the local media, I thought, so we wrote a press release and made sure that it got to Eileen FitzGerald, the education reporter at The News-Times. As the day of the presentation grew near, I called Eileen to remind her. She said she was interested but I wasn’t convinced she would follow through. The day of the presentation, though, Eileen and photographer Carol Kaliff showed up, and I started to think I knew a thing or two about PR.

I wanted to hear the presentations, too, figuring I might learn something. So I sat with Eileen and pointed out Cronin and Elaine Mintz, executive director of the GDNRC, so she could interview them.

Eileen listened to the presentations and took notes about interesting aspects: Housatonic Habitat for Humanity gained 20 new members on its fundraising committee; the new Facebook page created for the Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club was recognized by the Boys and Girls Club of America; and a new Facebook page, blog and Twitter account for the Visiting Nurse Association increased donations and visitors to the organization’s website.

The story and photo by Carol Kaliff appeared in The News-Times. They were well done, I was happy, and I thought that was that.

But it was not.

The Associated Press noticed the story and distributed it to other newspapers. I found this out when The Boston Globe published the article. I was ecstatic! Most of the big media outlets ignore us unless something really bad happens. Then the Washington Examiner picked it up, along with the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas News and even the Times of India.

There are days when I wonder whether anyone in the media is thinking — for instance, the day several outlets ran an insignificant little story about how a box of candy bars was shoplifted from the football stadium concession stand. With the coverage of the marketing class, the media have redeemed themselves. They are geniuses.

I knew it the whole time.

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Paul Steinmetz

12 Responses

  1. Andrea 270W says:

    I love the idea that the students in the marketing class were able to get first-hand experience for their major by helping out nonprofits. The fact that this was recognized by major media outlets is a plus. I think there are a lot of positive events on campus that should be covered by the media more, not just for newsreaders but to give students a sense of pride in their school.

  2. rob says:

    Great post, Always enjoy good news about WCSU

  3. Rachael says:

    The topic of internships and work experience has been talked about a lot lately. I enjoyed this blog because it’s nice to see that students aren’t just getting education, but more of that beneficial “hands on” experience. This is something that many more students could use, and each department should find a way to integrate it into their study. It was nice to see that the news found it interesting. Recently, it has almost seemed like people forget about their local news, and focus more on what is happening globally. It is as if the local news is less significant. The coverage has proven this otherwise.

  4. Justin says:

    Good to hear Paul! Not to put a damper on a positive story, but it would have been nice to hear that the Danbury Westerners were apart of this story as they are a non-profit organization and certainly could use some marketing assistance. I dont know how far they have come since i was with them, but from what I remember, they could use all the help that they could get. I remember calling games and having the local little league game having a more electric atmosphere than the Westerners. I always thought “these are potentially future major leaguers, where is everybody?” One of the players who I became friends with on the team recently was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays; his name was Tim Mahler, so its certainly a legit product. It would also be nice to hear that students are utilizing them as a resource because they could be a launching pad for students looking to get involved in Sports Broadcasting or maybe ESPN which is located right up 84. I enjoyed my time with them as a student and still wear my Danbury hat and shirt proudly in South Florida.

  5. Jillian Goodman says:

    Wow that is a great story, it is really nice when the media will cover more than just the bad in our world. The news is always about the bad and awful things that happen in our area and around the world. It’s wonderful when they show great things that are going on. It’s a great way to get people involved and show everyone that the world is not all bad!

  6. Katharine says:

    As a student attending WCSU, it’s amazing to hear stories like this! Giving our university some publicity is awesome- especially when it’s positive media. I probably would not have been convinced that The News-Times would want to follow up on this either. Usually events such as this get covered by local papers only. It really is phenomenal that The News-Times ran a story about this.

    The Associated Press noticing this story and distributing it to other papers is really mind-blowing. Who would have thought that people all over would be reading about a Marketing class at WCSU? This story is inspirational and proves that even little efforts make a big difference. Not only did I find it interesting that this story was picked up by The Associated Press, but the amount of attention that these non-profit organizations received is excellent! I think it’s great that these students helped bring in donors and volunteers to these non-profit organizations. You even mentioned that the Boys and Girls Club of America recognized the Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club for the new Facebook page they created. Kudos to Dr. John Cronin’s class!

  7. Wilson says:

    It’s great that Westconn is finally getting recognized. Often, it’s mentioned as nothing more than a home-friendly state school. It’s nice to hear that we’re making a difference in such a grand way. I can’t wait to see what else our student body comes up with!

  8. Sofie says:

    It’s great that the Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it to other papers, so WCSU got some nationwide publicity. I guess you never know what can make it into the papers.

  9. What an inspiring story. To think that kids from a local school could make national news for such a good cause definitely gives the rest of us motivation to try and accomplish something similar. In addition, the students at Westconn got hands-on experience in their future careers while helping promote charity organizations, which means everyone benefits. As Sean said, I wish that other departments would begin trying these sort of hands-on learning projects. It just goes to show that there is a strong market in emerging social media, which makes it a valuable tool for both advertisers and bloggers.

    As a westconn student, I would like to see stories about how SGA and other similar organizations are running the school and various activities.

  10. Great story, Paul. I was especially amazed about the story about the candy being shoplifted. The media often focuses on very unimportant and frivolous news stories such as celebrities and American Idol. I guess no one wants to hear about the bad things that happen.

    As a student at Westconn and first time follower of your blog, I would like to read about music activities that are held on campus. I love music and I really enjoy reading about it as well!


  11. Jason says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I really appreciate news coverage on a such a positive subject, and would love more “hands on” experience through the University. If our ultimate goals are employment in our fields of major, shouldn’t we experience these fields?

  12. Sean Fox says:

    Informative article about something that I didn’t know about. I think it’s great that students are getting hands-on experience in a way that also benefits the community. I’m a student at WCSU and I wish my program, English Literature, participated in an activity that is so mutually beneficial.

    It’s cool to hear that a story about a small school like WCSU, run in a small newspaper like the New Times, was picked up and distributed nationally. The fact that it was for something positive, rather than something negative like drugs or murder, makes it even more impressive.