How Can Small Schools Garner Big Media Attention?

June 5th, 2017 | by Francis Giknis
How Can Small Schools Garner Big Media Attention?


Any athletic administrator worth her salt knows that media presence is crucial to running a successful department. Media buzz affects recruiting, attendance, and fundraising, the lifeblood of collegiate athletics. However, with over 1,200 member schools in the NCAA vying for coverage, the space for media publicity becomes very scarce very quickly. This is why creative, thoughtful communications management is essential, but how can smaller schools maximize their media impact?

James Madison University athletic director Jeff Bourne mulled over this very issue in his recent blog post. The Dukes have had significant athletic success (they’ve won two DI – FCS football championships since 2004 and hosted ESPN’s College Gameday) that one would think should garner them ample coverage. However, Bourne states, “Despite that hard work, ultimately we don’t control whether an outlet decides to run a story or whether they report on JMU with a positive or negative tone. Those are business decisions made by each media outlet. We understand that our opportunities are going to come in strategic windows.”

Bourne puts his finger on the issue many schools face when vying for media coverage. As digital space expands and allows for more pages and websites, theoretically the opportunities for coverage grow as well. However, just because there is more physical room to write about a school doesn’t mean an outlet will do so. Ultimately, as Bourne observes, choosing subject matter for media outlets is a business decision centered on clicks, advertising dollars, and timing. Just because the reporting space has grown with the Internet does not mean coverage for “the little guys” has grown as well.

On that note, one important way for smaller institutions to increase their media presence is to maximize efficiency for the newspaper or website. If space is no longer as limited as it once was, time certainly still is, and making sure that your school enables efficient reporting is critical. Sending scores directly to news outlets, making your staff accessible, and assisting with leads as they break all allow for speedy coverage that will favor your university. If you are a small school that makes getting information difficult, chances are good your local media outlets will not put forth much effort on your behalf.

Nevertheless, no matter how streamlined your communications are, if the readership does not pay the required attention, media will lessen coverage. This creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to rectify. This is where direct-to-consumer communications have changed the game for smaller institutions. Instead of needing newspapers and local television to disseminate information and build a fanbase, social media apps and self-managed sites give great opportunities to spread the word yourself. If an online community develops around your school, the mainstream media players will come as there is now equity in covering your school.

Playing the media hype game can be a difficult one for smaller institutions. Taking advantage of your local news outlets is vital for recruiting and fundraising, but it can be hard to garner meaningful attention. By making sure that your school is easy to work with, gives excellent value for time, and has a strong online presence through social media, smaller colleges and universities can maximize a valuable communications resource.

About Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

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