Stay Visible on Campus: Add Student Media to the Mix

Some of the best advice you’ll ever get ran in this very space, when Michael McNeal reminded us in his June 26 article why it’s crucial to remain visible on campus – even in slower times. “Amen,” I say. And I also suggest a handy tool to consider using if your organization is one of the many that says, “Dash that reduced college recruiting budget… Let’s find some clever ways to stay active on campus.” That tool is publicity…free editorial exposure in campus and student media. Why It Works That’s right. The same public relations techniques that net your company high credibility, priceless visibility, and external validation when it sells its products or services on the market can also yield those benefits when you’re marketing a career in your organization to students. (Which is, after all, exactly what college recruiting is.) Think about it: compared to the complexity and cost of other ways of staying visible, getting media exposure turns out to be pretty straightforward and easy to do (compared to, say, launching an ad campaign? A snap!). It’s inexpensive. And it works: both in a booming economy, when it lifts your organization above everyone else recruiting on campus, and in quieter times, when you’re not hiring students big-time, but need to “show the flag” and stay visible on campus, cost effectively. How It Works Best of all, you don’t have to spend months and millions creating a campaign. Chances are, you’ve got most of the raw ingredients on hand. For instance, does your organization already:

  • Award scholarships to young people?
  • Make grants or donations to any colleges or faculty?
  • Employ any graduates of your target schools?
  • Market a product or deliver a service that students, their parents, or faculty are even remotely interested in or need for themselves?
  • Have a college recruiting website?
  • Support or participate in student activities on campus

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, congratulations. You’ve got the material to create press releases that the campus media will want to publish, free of charge. And if you answered affirmatively to four or more of the above questions you’re golden: you’ve got enough fodder for a year’s worth of campus PR. Think about this: when you give out a scholarship, how many people know about it? The lucky winners, proud mom and dad, and maybe a prof or two. Ditto for your college grants, support for student activities, and all the rest; the only people who know are the people who receive it or who show up in person. Let Everyone Know But when the campus media – not to mention web sites that students visit often – tell your story, thousands of people know about it. And that gives you the chance to embed in each story, subtly but powerfully, a message about why you’re a great place to work. Let’s say that Old Media Inc. has gone high-tech. To boost its chances of hiring budding software prodigies at State U., it starts handing out scholarships to five lucky IT majors there. Trouble is, 500 other worthy IT majors still have no clue that Old Media Inc. is desperately looking for people with their skills. That’s where a simple press release, strategically placed, sets off light bulbs by the dormload: “Oh, it says in the paper (on this web site) that Mary down the hall got a scholarship from Old Media. They must want to hire her bad. Maybe I should look at what they’re up to.” Where else besides The State U. Campus Gazette can you place that story? Plenty of choices, including:

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  • Faculty media
  • Professional/industry press
  • Student/career/business media
  • There are four billion websites – choose the 20 your hiring profile visits
  • Your college website
  • E-newsletters
  • Your e-newsletter & materials
  • Radio/TV

Lots of Stories What else can you use besides scholarships to get some visibility and credibility? Again, plenty. Scholarships are just one of the many tools and activities your company already uses that can be leveraged into high-visibility, high-credibility PR. And the same process I outlined above for scholarships also plays out favorably when your goal is to raise credibility among the faculty who influence student career choices. Every activity your company does, or program it supports, is a potential source of publicity. Other tools or tactics might include creating publicity materials based on your company’s own special perspective and expertise, as it relates to:

  • News, information and advice students can use
  • News about the company and its people – especially alumni
  • Anything students need to know – about your company, about life generally

Now, some encouraging news: whether you work with your communications department, outsource to a media pro, or tackle it yourself, it doesn’t require much heavy lifting to get results. We’re talking here about the kinds of press releases and media materials that are among the most straightforward to craft and get out the door. Finally… Media visibility is no substitute for the real thing – being active and engaged on campus, with real live people and a serious commitment. But when money is tight, and you can’t be everywhere you want to be, exposure in print and on the Web is a great way to grow, maintain, and improve the way students, faculty, and parents perceive your organization as an employer of choice. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Ned Steele (neds@steeleonline.com), member of EMA and SHRM, is recognized as an authority on creatively applying media relations and marketing techniques to help companies recruit college students more effectively. He is president of award-winning Ned Steele Communications Inc./NSC Campus Impact, which helps companies and organizations show the labor market why they are employers of choice, and helps HR executives find and keep top talent. A former newspaper reporter and editor, Mr. Steele has an innate understanding of how the media operate, how the public responds behaviorally to what it sees in the media, and how companies can deploy media relations to help enhance perception and build relationships with prospective hires. He has worked closely with many Fortune 50 companies, across all industries, carrying out strategies that have helped them raise their visibility in recruiting. He is also a contributing writer for Cultural Diversity at Work newsletter and Next Step magazine, and his work has appeared in scores of the nation's leading publications.

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