17: Building a Modern-Day Media Relations Strategy at Delaware Valley University w/ Tom Durso

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Tom Durso, AVP of Marketing and Communications at Delaware Valley University, discusses what a modern higher ed media relations strategy should look like, and whether or not the same media gatekeepers are even still relevant anymore.

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...to enrollment growth university. I'm Aericleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Tom Derso, associate vice president of marketing and communications at Delaware Valley University. Tom, thanks so much for joining us today. Are It's a real pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. Tom And I are going to have a great conversation today about what a modern, higher ED media relations strategy should look like and whether or not the same media gatekeepers are can still relevant anymore. But before we get too deep into that, Tom can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Delaware Valley and your role there? I would love to Eric. Thanks for the opportunity. So Delaware Valley University was actually founded as an agricultural college in one thousand eight hundred and ninety six. As happens with institutions, we've evolved quite a bit over time. A few years ago we went to university status and we've added significant graduate and degree completion programs and if you look at undergraduate enrollment now we are split evenly about a third, third, third among our schools of...

...agriculture, business and humanities and life and physical sciences. So the places really diversified. We're in the heart of Bucks County Pennsylvania. We're not in Delaware. The Delaware Valley comes from the fact that we're in the Delaware River valley. It's maybe a half hour to the the rivers, about a half hour to our east. As far as my role here, we are in the strategic planning process. We have a president who's been here about a year and a half. It's our first female president, Dr Maria Gallo, and we are trying to figure out kind of who we are and where we want to go. It's a pivotal time for us and an exciting time. There's so many different opportunities to do great work and tell a really compelling story, and I do think that story is here. Awesome something a very exciting time to be there tom the old two step approach to media strategy was one pitch content to the media gatekeepers and Gods and to cross your fingers. Well, what is really change over the last five ten years? What has changed, Eric,...

...is the entire online revolution that has given those of us who are pitching direct access to our readers. Are Consumers, are users. We are not dependent on editors and assignment desks for us to get our word out. It is a complete revolution and certainly one that could not have been foreseen when I started doing this work. It is resulted in a lot of headaches in some ways, but true, I'm optimistic about it. I love that we can have our story out there and our voice out there in a way that is unfiltered to the folks that mad with the most, to us, awesome, awesome, love it. You mentioned that you're fairly new to Delaware Valley University Yourself. So when you arrived, how did you go about determining what to focus your university storytelling and media strategy around? Well, that's still an ongoing process. I've been here for two months and a week, so it's still now. But the whole nut of it Eric is to look at where the...

...institution wants to go strategically. That is what drives what stories you tell, because as our institutions have grown more complex, and I don't think you can argue that point at all, that they certainly have, the pool of stories has gotten more complex and more numerous. So we can't tell all of them. It's in coming on us to find and tell the ones that advance the institution strategically in the best way. Speaking of those kind of media gatekeepers, as you dive into your strategic plan and develop a media strategy around it, getting mentions from the Washington Post in New York time still has tremendous value. Talk about the balance you see between having you and your team take the time to work through those traditional gatekeepers versus order looks like to build out your own communication platforms and really think of your own institution as its own media company. Yeah, and I would even add in there, Eric, that there are also emerging and non traditional gatekeepers that were focusing on these days as well. It's not just legacy media companies, it's also influential bloggers and influential podcasters,...

...shall we say. But in terms of the balance, I'm not sure any of us has quite figured that one out yet. My sense is that the external validation still does mean something and old media is not as antiquated and out of touch as a lot of people think that it is. Moreover, because of the reach of social media, even a mention in your local paper or a neat story in the weekly in your community that can go national at the touch of a button. Somebody in California can read that story who would never have come nearer the newspaper twenty years ago. Yeah, so it is a balancing act and I think a lot of it depends on the kind of students that you're trying to recruit and retain. You know, if you're a local or a regional school with not a ton of reach. A lot of effort...

...to get into the New York Times and the Washington Post probably doesn't make sense. You want to focus more on your regional media. And the second part, which you mentioned, is building your own news operation within and I think that's where what I mentioned earlier, where you have the capacity to reach your users without gatekeepers, and so that means you need to be it's not about telling the stories that you think the media will pick up on, because they might not be your most strategically important stories. It's about posting on your site and tweeting and putting on facebook and snapchat and all that, those stories that are advancing your institution strategically. That will make you stronger because it will help you recruit and retain students who are more likely to stick around, to form a stronger affinity with the institution and become therefore stronger and more generous alumni. Tom Whether you're trying to target those kind of traditional media annals versus the new media channels, versus the hyperlocal media channels, is there still a benefit of...

...deliberately setting up your faculty to be topical thought leaders and celebrities to be called on by these players when relevant events take place. Absolutely Eric, and I'll tell you my thinking on that. Is that all the day to show that students and parents, when they're asked what are the most important factors in determining where they're going to go to school, a strong faculty is usually in the top three. Yeah, and there's nothing like external validation. Of Hey, professor x is quoted in the paper. That must be because he's really an expert in this. So if I'm interested in that, that's a good sign that if I go there it's going to be a good experience for me. And just two months into this new role, how have you gone about trying to build those bridges between your faculty or has your staff arety? You know, are you inheriting a system where those structures and relationships already existed? I'm inheriting one of those, for sure. Our team is done a nice job...

...working with faculty and getting to know them and figuring out their areas of expertise. At the same time, I'm making a point of going and sitting with every single academic department share on campus. It's going to take some months, but I have found that to be an invaluable way to let the faculty know that my team and I are interested in their work genuinely, incredibly, so that when we call on them, it's not a call coming out of the Blue Esk and in the comment on something it's yeah, you know, it's there's been some trust. They're built. I love it. I love it, Tom from an overall storytelling perspective, what platforms, what new ways of communication, are your department focused on that you just weren't five years ago because, frankly, they just didn't exist. I think snapchat is probably the biggest example of that, because it's maybe the newest player and all this, but instagram, I don't think we were doing five years ago, you know, and those are both very image heavy. So we're using images a lot more to tell stories and at the same time multi media has become much more influential...

...because the day to show the perspective, students love to look at videos. That's what gets the most traffic on facebook and the most eyeballs, and so video platforms to tell stories are becoming ever more influential. Yeah, and so how has that change of the last five years in terms of if you were trying to get picked up by national player, putting together in eight hundred to one thousand, sixteen hundred long form article with a single photograph that, if they liked it, they could just grabbed and steal it. What are you producing now, both to run on your own communication platforms as well as to pitch? How is that change in terms of, you know, the form of the content that you're creating for pitching? Well, I think the rise of mean honestly handheld technology. We can use our phones to shoot video and it's pretty good. It's not like you know, this awful jerky grainy stuff. You're getting good images and with some video editing you can put together some pretty nice packages with not a ton of outlay of financial resources. Showing your...

...campus, showing prospective students and parents what your campus looks like, where they're going to study and live. Get them into the labs, get them into the fields and into the classrooms, into the residence halls, get them to see what you are because here, as it at so many other places, Eric, the campus visit is so important. Once they get on campus and experience the place, that's often what seals the deal. If we can give them a taste of that before they get here, that is worth its weight in gold. At the same time, again, find those strategic story lines and then shoot them, storyboard them out. Maybe you're we're basically filmmakers now, as well as writers and media people, and when you're in the news, people are going to look for that. The media are going to go to your website and see what you've posted and see who you are and whether it's good news or bad news, there's a great opportunity to showcase who you are in that visual way that just captures people emotionally in a way that, as much as my writer's heart pains to say, words just can't time such...

...goods. Of any final next step tips for folks hoping to move to a more modern media relation strategy at their own institution, Eric, I would just say it's really all about the strategy our work. We're asked to you more with less, which means we can't do all of it. So what we do has to have as much influence in impact as I can and that means being strategic better work. So find your strategic plan and get a seat on the strategic planning committee to do the next one so that you have that seat at the table and you can hear firsthand exactly where the institution says it wants to go. Those, those are the stories that you have to tell. Such good stuff, Tom, thanks so much for joining us today. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? I love twitter, Eric. So I am on twitter at Tom Derso, T O M Du Urso and I'd be happy to converse with...

...anyone there. He's a good follow folks. Tom, thanks against so much for joining us today. Eric. Thank you. I really appreciated you've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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