Wednesday, February 10, 2010

GW Media Relations Office Switches Focus From Listening to Telling

The GW Office of Media Relations is the point where a bottom-up media landscape meets top-down image management. According to The Hatchet, media consultants are expanding into new media territory. According to me, this is only going to make life more difficult for prospective students trying to separate the bottom line from the toxic Kool-Aid fed to financiers and alumni.

I think our school might benefit from a student-first approach. Students aren’t just filling up vacant hotel rooms here; they are actively creating a community. Teachers and students are the meat and potatoes, and it doesn’t do much good to sprinkle glitter on meat and potatoes (even coveted new media glitter).

How often is facility size, or the opinion of a GW expert on Haiti-relief, the deal-breaker for a prospective student? I can tell you from first-hand experience, the elements that are impossible to express in talking points are more often the deciders. “Kids are stuck up there,” or “I’m in love with the city,” or “my cousin couldn’t stop raving about the journalism program,” or “the ratio of chicks-to-me is satisfactory,” are all familiar explanations, and I doubt any PR consultants can tap into that word-of-mouth media, even if they work for Apple. [case in point: Ipad]

The point is: make students happy, and let the school’s media image build from there. This media relations move is billed as “part of a shifted focus on reaching out to members of the media with content rather than simply fielding questions from the press.” I have mixed feelings about this. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up your reputation, but “shifted focus,” seems to suggest the new image strategy will overlook input from outside of the department. You can’t put lipstick on a pig—or a hippo—and if GW really wants to bring home the bacon, they need to keep getting their hands dirty (like I did with this extended metaphor).

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