As we all know, one of the most awkward responsibilities in PR can be telling the truth, especially when it comes to the “newsworthiness” of a client’s endeavor. When an individual or group pour their soul into a company, project, or research paper, learning that others may value their knowledge differently can conjure up feelings of resentment against the messenger, which is, of course, us.
This doesn’t just extend to external public relations. For higher education communicators, job responsibilities vary by institution, and many of us are solely focused on internal communications. Not that this lessens the burden. Learning that a reporter won’t care about a specific item of inside baseball is one thing; hearing that a co-worker may not, can be downright deflating.
Yet, we can’t pitch everything – it would be impossible to cater to every faculty member and we’d destroy our credibility with a reporter by pitching non-news consistently. Internally, both low value information and the abundance of information can become white noise.
So, what do we do? The key is to manage expectations and establish ground rules ahead of time. Explain to faculty, professors and researchers about manpower limits within your office. Alert them to the types of stories that you’re looking for – ground breaking research fits the bill, faculty member’s internal award announcement, not so much.
Depending on the size of your institituion, develop expert profiles for your rapid response program through individual interview sessions. Ask each faculty member to monitor the news in their individual silos and to alert you to potential emerging story lines within their field. An expert profile gives you the necessary information at your fingertips to act when the time comes.
Sometimes though, we’ll still be pitched a non-newsworthy department item, and we’ll have to get our “bad guy” hat on and let a colleague know the truth. Here, we must be clear and concise as possible. Let them know why you feel the item isn’t newsworthy and what types of news gets covered by individual media outlets based on our prior experience with certain reporters.
Most importantly, reaffirm what types of journalists are looking for in a potential story. Remember, while we may feel like the bad guy today – our expertise, professionalism and judgment will be respected more tomorrow.