WCSU in the Age of Reason

Paul Steinmetz writes about Western Connecticut State University

The selling of the university

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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