Using the U-CAN Outreach Toolkit
The Launch of U-CAN 2.0
Coordinating with NAICU
NAICU and the Regional News Media
Coordinating with Your State Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
U-CAN Contacts at NAICUGeneral Background
Talking Points about the Launch of U-CAN 2.0
General Talking Points about U-CAN 2.0
Commonly Asked Questions Working with the Media
Pitching the U-CAN Story
Possible Pitching Points
Selecting Media Contacts
Preparing Media Lists
Contacting the Media
Organizing an Editorial Board Meeting
How to Write and Place Op-Eds
Placing Public Service AnnouncementsReaching Students and Parents
Ideas for Partnerships with Local High SchoolsEngaging the Community
Ideas for Engaging the Community
Reaching Out to PolicymakersTools You Can Use
Promotional Posters and Postcards
Sample News Release
Sample Opinion Piece
Sample Newsletter Articles
As educators, it is our responsibility to begin teaching students--and their families--even before they decide which college to attend.
Choosing to go to college is one of the most important decisions an individual will make in his or her lifetime. Selecting the college that best fits the student's intellectual, professional, and extracurricular interests; values and personality; and financial circumstances is crucial to his or her satisfaction and academic success.
More than ever, as tuition continues to grow, families are focused on getting the best value for their dollar. The first step is finding the right information to make the right college choice.
Focus groups with prospective students and parents, conversations with Congress, and calls from the U.S. Department of Education leave no doubt that colleges and universities need to provide better information, and in a consumer-friendly format.
To this meet this challenge, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) has developed U-CAN (the University and College Accountability Network), a free, consumer-informed college information Web site. For the first time, institutions of higher education have come together to develop and deliver key college information directly to consumers. With the initial launch of U-CAN in September 2007, colleges have taken an important step toward better educating consumers, and fostering student satisfaction and success.(Additional information on U-CAN’s history, purpose, content, and design can be found in the General Background section.)
Using the U-CAN Outreach Toolkit
Colleges and universities have the opportunity to play an important role in spreading the word to students, parents, business and community leaders, policy-makers, and other key constituencies through the news media and direct outreach. The U-CAN Campus Toolkit will give you the information and resources to do that.
This toolkit has six sections:
- Introduction summarizes the purpose of U-CAN and this toolkit, discusses how to coordinate your outreach activities with NAICU and state independent college associations, and provides NAICU contact information.
- General Background gives you the information you need to tell U-CAN’s story and answer questions from the news media, your board members, school officials, and other members of the community. This includes talking points, history, and commonly asked questions. This section will help ensure that messages on U-CAN are consistent and facts are accurate in every interview, presentation, or speech that’s given.
- Working with the Media will help you develop and implement a strategy for publicizing U-CAN and the importance of a thoughtful, thorough college selection process. This kit also includes tools to assist you in getting the attention of radio, print, and television media.
- Reaching Students and Parents provides ideas for communicating directly with prospective students and their parents about U-CAN and how it can help them make the best college selection.
- Engaging the Community gives non-media strategies for educating the community about U-CAN, by reaching out to community groups, service organizations, policy-makers, and business leaders.
- Tools You Can Use includes a number of resources to help you promote U-CAN, including a sample op-ed, news release, and newsletter articles; a speech template; posters and postcards; and more.
The Launch of U-CAN 2.0
NAICU relaunched U-CAN on September 17, 2008. The news release announcing the unveiling was e-mailed to the U-CAN public relations contacts at participating institutions and to the state-level independent college and university associations at the same time it went to our media list. The re-launch gives you the opportunity to promote your participation in U-CAN to local media and other campus constituencies.
Reporters who want comment or additional information from NAICU, should contact Tony Pals, NAICU director of public information, at (202) 739-0474, email@example.com
. To help reporters flesh out their stories, you may wish to identify a well-briefed and articulate student, parent, or counselor who is willing to comment on U-CAN, and how it will help in the search for the best college.
Coordinating with NAICUOverview
The bulk of NAICU’s proactive communication efforts have been concentrated on national and trade outlets, with state associations and institutions working in concert to reach out to local and regional media.
NAICU is promoting U-CAN through a national and trade media tour featuring NAICU's president (one-on-one and small group meetings with reporters); a Google marketing initiative (keyword search text ads and display ads on content-related Web pages); Facebook advertising; direct marketing to college admissions counselors; and a presence on Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia
NAICU and the Regional News Media
When we work with regional media, NAICU always makew certain that reporters know which of their local colleges and universities are involved in U-CAN, and offer institutional media contact information. If NAICU can be of help with your press activities — providing a national perspective to a reporter, contributing additional data or information, giving feedback on a draft op-ed — don’t hesitate to contact us.
Coordinating with Your State Association
of Independent Colleges and Universities
If your institution belongs to a state-level association of independent colleges and universities, you may have already been in touch with the association executive or communications director about coordinating outreach on U-CAN. The National Association of College and University State Executives (NAICUSE) has been a vital partner in the creation of U-CAN, and your state organization will be quite familiar with the initiative.
As you consider or begin to prepare an op-ed, editorial board meeting, or distribution of U-CAN promotional print materials to high schools, you may wish to consult with your state association. The state staff may be able to supplement the background materials provided by NAICU with important state-specific messages and tools. Collaborating with other institutions in your state (or metropolitan area) will help avoid overlapping and duplicative promotional activities that confuse audiences and dilute your institutions’ overall effort. A listing of the 39 independent-college state associations that make up NAICUSE is found at /member_center/naicuse.asp
, along with links to their Web sites.
U-CAN Contacts at NAICU
Please contact the NAICU communications staff prior to media events and other outreach activities if you have questions or need additional information about the initiative, or if you have questions about your institution’s U-CAN profile.Communication Outreach Efforts
Tony Pals, Director of Communicationstony@naicu.edu
, (202) 739-0474 (office), (202) 288-9333 (cell)Institutional Profile Questions
Galen Vandergriff, Digital Media Assistantgalen@naicu.edu
, (202) 739-0477 (office)
Roland King, Vice President for Public Affairsroland@naicu.edu
, (202) 739-0475 (office), (202) 380-8172 (cell)
The U-CAN consumer information initiative is designed to give prospective students and their families concise, Web-based consumer-friendly information on individual private colleges and universities, in a common format.
U-CAN consists of hundreds of institutional profiles with comparable data and targeted links to the institution’s Web site for more detailed information on specific aspects. The profiles are displayed in a common template that NAICU developed, based on consumer feedback.
Through focus groups conducted in cities across the nation, prospective students and parents from all backgrounds identified the information they most need to make an informed college choice. Their comments shaped the format and content of the U-CAN site. U-CAN is totally free — both to users and to the colleges and universities that choose to participate.
As tuition continues to grow, there’s mounting pressure from policy-makers for institutions to be more transparent about price and other consumer information. U-CAN profiles include information identified by policy-makers as important for institutional accountability. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have called for comparable, concise, relevant, and easily accessible information to help the public better evaluate and choose colleges.
The in-depth information included in the college and university profiles covers admissions, enrollment, academics, student demographics, graduation rates, most common fields of study, transfer of credit policy, accreditation, faculty information, class size, tuition and fee trends, price of attendance, financial aid, campus housing, student life, and campus safety. U-CAN gives consumers easy access to information on average loans at graduation, undergraduate class-size breakdown, and net tuition. This information, which comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS survey and the Common Data Set, is often difficult for consumers to find and decipher.
Talking Points about the Launch of U-CAN 2.0
- The September 17, 2008, launch of U-CAN 2.0 builds on an innovative effort by the nation's private colleges and universities to provide prospective students and their families with the information they need to make the best college choice.
- The re-launch of U-CAN includes two major upgrades to a Web site already recognized for providing free access to rich and consumer-relevant information in a colorful, user-friendly format:
- An enhanced search function increases the number of searchable fields from three to 17.
- A new directory of online sources provides guidance for preparing for college, searching and selecting the best college fit, and navigating the admissions and financial aid processes.
- U-CAN's new features are the result of consumer focus groups conversations conducted across the nation in spring 2008, and feedback collected from site users over the past year. The findings show that consumers value the type of transparency, guidance, and user-friendly access to information that U-CAN provides--and want even more.
- Since its original launch on September 26, 2007, participation in U-CAN has grown by 21 percent, from 600 nonprofit, private institutions to 728. More than 70 percent of NAICU's 953 member institutions participate, with the percentage steadily growing each week. (Nonprofit, private colleges that are not NAICU members are eligible to participate--and many do.)
- In the past year, more than 400,000 users have visited the site, viewing nearly a million pages.
General Talking Points about U-CAN
- U-CAN is the first national consumer information tool developed by colleges and universities themselves — either private or public. For the first time, hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation are actively collecting and providing consumer information directly to the public.
- U-CAN is a groundbreaking effort to answer (1) growing consumer demand for comparable, concise, relevant, and easily accessible information, and (2) intense calls for greater institutional openness from Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, by providing a convenient way for consumers to find the college selection information they need.
- College is a substantial investment, and the families of this nation deserve good information to help them make good decisions. U-CAN gives consumers the most useful information about institutions, reports it in a consumer friendly way, in a common format and single location, and charges nothing for the public to see it.
- U-CAN is unabashedly oriented toward the interests of prospective college students and their families, as determined through focus groups and other research. The types of information collected and the design of the college and university profiles were shaped by consumer focus groups.
- Despite the many third-party sources of college information, consumers and policy-makers believe more can done to help students and parents choose the college that’s the best fit. U.S. News and other existing sources may provide useful information, but focus groups with consumers and conversations with policy-makers make clear that something else is needed.
- U-CAN helps to make the college selection process more holistic, and more responsive to the interests and priorities of the individual student. The college and university profiles provide key statistical data that’s complemented by narrative descriptions and subject-specific links to relevant campus Web pages. Together, this quantitative and qualitative information gives consumers an opportunity to see what sets each college or university apart in nature, mission, and academic and student life features.
- What U-CAN offers is new in several ways. Its content and design are completely driven by consumer comments. All information on the U-CAN Web site is completely free (and we don’t accept advertising or sponsorships). U-CAN’s mix of institutional data, narrative briefs, and subject-specific hyperlinks to campus Web sites, for hundreds of colleges and universities, can’t be found anywhere else, in a central, consumer-friendly location.
- U-CAN is at the front of an emerging trend in higher education to provide greater institutional transparency and accountability. Other college and university groups are also addressing this issue by planning similar consumer information Web sites (see Frequently Asked Questions for details).
- U-CAN demonstrates higher education’s ability to respond to the marketplace — in this case, its demand for adequate and accessible college information. Some federal policymakers have proposed requiring institutions to establish standardized measures of student learning. While well-intentioned, such a rigid, narrow, top-down, one-size-fits-all approach could never adequately reflect the diversity of private colleges and universities, and would fail to serve students and families. Let consumers, not the federal government, shape the higher education market.
In mid-2006, aware of the growing concern among American families, members of Congress, and the U.S. Department of Education about the need for better college consumer information, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) started working on U-CAN in close consultation with the National Association of Independent College and University State Executives (NAICUSE), member presidents, and a number of other associations representing independent institutions. Focus groups conducted across the nation and involving a diverse set of participants identified the types of information that consumers look for and need in order to make an informed college decision. The groups also indicated the best ways to display and present the information.
In mid-April, 2007, the NAICU board of directors unanimously approved plans to fully develop and launch U-CAN.
Launched on September 26, 2007, U-CAN's first year has seen tremendous growth. Within 12 months of being launched, U-CAN experienced a 21 percent increase in the number of participating institutions, from 600 to 725. In the past year, more than 358,000 users have visited the site, viewing more than 850,000 pages.
On September 17, 2008, U-CAN "2.0" was unveiled, featuring two major upgrades to a Web site already recognized for providing free access to rich and consumer-relevant information in a colorful, user-friendly format. A series of consumer focus groups conducted across the nation in spring 2008 resulted in the (1) development of a significantly enhanced search function, and (2) creation of a new directory of online resources designed to provide guidance on preparing college, searching for and selecting the best college fit, and navigating the admissions and financial aid processes.
Commonly Asked Questions about U-CANWhat is U-CAN?
U-CAN is a Web-based resource designed to give students and parents concise, consumer-friendly information on nonprofit, private colleges and universities in a common format. U-CAN was developed and is managed by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).
U-CAN includes information identified by prospective college students, parents, and policy-makers as being crucial to making a smart college choice, and important for institutional transparency and accountability. It was the first national consumer information tool developed by colleges and universities themselves. For the first time, hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation are actively collecting and providing consumer information directly to the public in one central location.How many colleges participate?
As of September 17, 2008, 728 nonprofit, private colleges and universities have signed up for U-CAN. See our U-CAN By the Numbers
section for more statistics about the initiative.What does U-CAN offer?
U-CAN helps to make the college selection process more holistic, and more responsive to the interests and priorities of the individual student. The college and university profiles provide key statistical data that's complemented by narrative descriptions and subject-specific links to relevant campus Web pages. Together, this quantitative and qualitative information gives consumers an opportunity to see what sets each college or university apart in nature, mission, and academic and student life features.
The in-depth information included in the college and university profiles covers admissions, enrollment, academics, student demographics, graduation rates, most common fields of study, transfer of credit policy, accreditation, faculty information, class size, tuition and fee trends, price of attendance, financial aid, campus housing, student life, and campus safety.
U-CAN also gives consumers easy access to information on average loans at graduation, undergraduate class-size breakdown, and net tuition for hundreds of colleges. This information, which comes from the U.S. Department of Education's IPEDS survey and the Common Data Set, is often difficult for consumers to find and decipher.Is U-CAN free?
Yes. All the information on the Web site is available to the public at no cost. There also is no charge for institutions to participate. U-CAN is not-for-profit, and does not accept advertising or sponsorships.Does U-CAN have profiles for both private and public institutions?
U-CAN only provides profiles of private, nonprofit colleges and universities. (However, institutions do not have to be NAICU members to participate.) An effort similar to U-CAN -- the Voluntary System of Accountability
or VSA -- has recently been developed, presenting information on public colleges and universities. U-CAN will continue to focus on private colleges in the near term -- with the long-term possibility of a system that would include both public and private institutions.Why was U-CAN created?
Consumers, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Education have called for consumer-friendly information that individuals need to evaluate colleges, a goal that NAICU strongly supports.
College is a substantial investment, and the families of this nation deserve good information to help them make good decisions. U-CAN gives consumers the most useful information about institutions, reports it in a consumer friendly way, in a common format and single location, and charges nothing for the public to see it.
Although there are many third-party sources of college information, focus groups with consumers and conversations with policymakers indicate that they believe more can be done to help students and parents choose the college that's the best fit.What determined U-CAN's content and format?
U-CAN is oriented toward the interests of prospective college students and their families, as determined through consumer research. The types of information collected and the design of the college and university profiles were shaped by focus groups held across the nation with students and parents from diverse backgrounds. We continue to assess feedback collected through follow-up consumer focus groups, a user survey on the site, and other means.Does U-CAN rank institutions?
No. U-CAN does not rank or rate colleges and universities. Rather, the school profiles are a convenient way for students and families to compare institutions using a standard format. U-CAN's ease of use allows users to decide for themselves which college best meets their interests and needs.Was U-CAN developed to compete with the U.S. News rankings?
No. U-CAN was created in response to public demand for comparable, concise, relevant, and easily accessible information, not as a replacement for U.S. News
or any other consumer information tool. NAICU does not take a position on the U.S. News
rankings, but participating colleges and universities are free to discuss their interest and involvement in U-CAN as they best see fit. Some institutions view U-CAN as a replacement for the U.S. News
rankings. Others do not.How is U-CAN different from U.S. News and other commercial publications?
U-CAN offers the following unique mix.
How does U-CAN differ from the U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator?
- The type of information collected and the design of the college and university profiles were shaped by the focus groups with students and parents. U-CAN collects the most useful information from participating institutions, and reports it in reader-friendly format.
- The profiles are highly "clickable." More than two dozen targeted links take students to specific pages of an institution's Web site. The links and narrative descriptions complement the profile's statistical data, and provide an opportunity to see what makes each college or university unique.
- U-CAN is free. There is no cost to consumers to access the profiles, and no charge for colleges to participate. U-CAN is not-for-profit and accepts no advertising or sponsorships.
U-CAN and College Navigator
, both launched in September 2007, provide similar search options and institutional data points. U-CAN only includes nonprofit private colleges, while College Navigator includes public colleges and universities, nonprofit private colleges, and for-profit private institutions. U-CAN offers a visibly appealing design. Colorful charts and graphs allow for quick comparisons between institutions and allow users to get to the information they need easier and quicker. U-CAN provides links to targeted sections of college Web sites, where users can find additional institution-specific information. How does U-CAN differ from the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges' Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA)?
While U-CAN profiles private colleges and universities, VSA
profiles public universities. However, there are other differences. As of September 2008, U-CAN has 725 participating institutions, compared to VSA's 297 participants. U-CAN has a search function. VSA does not. All of U-CAN's college profiles are limited to two pages, for the benefit of consumers suffering from information overload. While VSA requires participating colleges to provide student learning outcomes -- and specifies which measures institutions must use -- U-CAN does not require outcomes measures.Why doesn't the U-CAN template include learning outcomes measures?
Two reasons. First, there is no consumer demand for learning outcomes data. Lumping in additional data that's unwanted by students and parents would diminish the user-friendly nature of U-CAN. Second, there is no one learning outcome measure -- or one set of measures -- applicable to all types of institutions and all academic fields of study. This makes it impossible for U-CAN to provide this information in a common format. However, any U-CAN participant can choose to link to a place on its Web site where it highlights findings from its various assessment instruments. How often is the site content updated?
Data provided by participating colleges and universities is updated annually. The most recent update took place in the summer of 2008. How is U-CAN data standardized across institutions?
Since it is important to have comparability across U-CAN profiles, participating institutions are asked to follow the guidelines regarding the specific year and source for data. When consumers compare U-CAN profiles for various institutions, it is critical that they be able to view data from the same year. Drop-down information boxes give consumers details on the data sources used. An extensive and detailed set of directions for colleges in entering their data also helps assure comparability.Can a tool like U-CAN, developed by colleges and universities, be trusted to provide consumers with objective and honest information?
If consumers, Congress, and the administration decide that the information on U-CAN is self-serving and of little value, the likely alternative is new federal reporting mandates. It is in the enlightened self-interest of colleges and universities to provide accurate information. Among the statistics reported on U-CAN are list price, five-year tuition trends, and average loan debt at graduation -- figures that are hardly self-serving.How will U-CAN get noticed in a world filled with well-financed, well-marketed college selection resources?
NAICU coordinates an ambitious grassroots communication effort that supports activities by participating institutions to reach out to local high schools, parents, news media, and community groups. We market U-CAN through the "new media," including targeted ads on Google and Facebook, and a presence on Wikipedia and social network sites.
Working with the Media
This section is intended to help presidents and their public relations officers organize media outreach to publicize the public benefit of U-CAN and their institution’s involvement. Included are how-to-guides on contacting your local media; organizing editorial board visits; writing opinion pieces and speeches; and tips on reaching out to high school students, parents, and others in your community about the U-CAN project. While these brief guides may be basic for many public relations offices, they are intended to offer accessible and helpful information for colleges with more modest public relations operations and provide idea starters for more seasoned professionals. They are supplemented by downloadable promotional print material and other practical resources in the Tools You Can Use section, below.
Keep in mind as you plan your institution’s outreach efforts, you may wish to consult with your state association of independent colleges or a particular set of participating institutions in your area. For more details, see the Introduction section, above.
Pitching the U-CAN Story
U-CAN is a groundbreaking initiative that gives consumers a new way to find important college information. This is the first national effort by colleges and universities to provide consumer information, in a common format, directly to prospective students and parents. U-CAN comes at a time that rising tuition has consumers more focused about getting the best college value. The 2008 re-launch of U-CAN also comes at a time of continuing criticism in Washington, D.C., of what’s seen as insufficient institutional transparency and accountability.
Media coverage of U-CAN when it was first launched in 2007 showed that institutions publicly objecting to the U.S. News & World Report
college rankings had a built-in news hook that probably still continues today. In telling their story, they have pointed to U-CAN as a new, better alternative to the magazine’s reputation surveys and rating system. However, even if your school has not taken a public position on the rankings, you still have a newsworthy story to tell.
Read the General Background section of this toolkit, above, for ideas on story angles that might appeal to your local media. You also can browse media coverage of U-CAN
posted on the Web site.
Possible Pitching Points
The following points are meant to serve as a general guide as you prepare to pitch to your institution’s participation in this important national effort. Of course, you will want to personalize them to your college and students, and adapt them to individual institutional circumstances and perspectives.
- U-CAN is the first of its kind. This is the first nationally coordinated effort by institutions themselves — private or public — to collect and report data and qualitative information directly to consumers. To be among the colleges participating in this unique effort is news. We are at the front of an emerging trend. (Similar efforts by a handful of other national higher education associations are now underway; see General Background for more information.)
- Consumer and political demand for greater college transparency and accountability sparked the development of U-CAN. As tuition continues to grow, there’s mounting pressure from Congress and the U.S. Department of Education for institutions to be more transparent about prices, costs, and other consumer information. More than ever, families are focused on getting the best value for their dollar. The first step is being able to make an informed college choice.
- Despite the many third-party sources of college information, focus groups with higher education consumers, conducted across the nation over the past two years, show great anxiety about not having the right information to make the best college selection. U.S. News and other existing sources may provide useful information to some consumers, but they are not enough on their own. (This is a point that U.S. News itself makes.)
- What U-CAN offers is new in several ways. Its content and design are completely driven by consumer comments. All information on the U-CAN Web site is completely free (and we don’t accept advertising or sponsorships).
- U-CAN’s mix of comprehensive quantitative and qualitative information about hundreds of colleges and universities cannot be found anywhere else, in a central, consumer-friendly location. Each online institutional profile has more than two dozen hyperlinks to individual pages on the school’s Web site. These campus Web pages flesh out the quantitative data of the profiles, and provide important insights into each college’s unique character.
A more complete set of talking points can be found in the General Background section.
Selecting Media Contacts
Designate someone on your communications staff (or, depending on the set up of your shop, an outside consultant) as the media contact. This person will serve as the main contact listed on all media advisories, and should keep track of media coverage. It is important that the individual chosen as the media contact familiarize themselves with the materials in this kit. These documents provide important background information, and will prepare the media contact to comfortably pitch U-CAN, and address reporters’ questions.
In addition to the primary media contact, designate spokespeople for U-CAN. Ideally, they will be the senior college officials who, schedule permitting, take the lead on giving interviews, speaking to community groups, signing op-eds, and so on. Opinion polls show that the public considers presidents one of most credible voices on higher education. Your president’s willingness to speak on the issue demonstrates the importance of the effort to your local media.
Students, parents, and high schools want to hear from campus leaders most involved in the issue at hand. In this case, that would include presidents, provosts, and admissions officers. This said, campus PR professionals themselves should not pass up opportunities to share information about U-CAN with the public.
Prospective students and parents will most identify with others like them who are going through the college selection process, or who recently have. If you can arrange it, having a prospective, newly admitted, or current college student—or the parent of such a student—speak about the value of U-CAN will bolster your message.
Preparing Media Lists
To get the best coverage you will need a list of reporters, editors, columnists, and radio/TV producers in your community. The president’s office should work closely with your public relations office to help communicate with the local media. You probably already have media contact lists; if not, this information can be found at www.newslink.org. Always remember to include your campus news organizations such as the student newspaper and radio station, as well as internally produced publications such as staff newsletters and the alumni magazine. Here is the information you will need for your media list:Newspapers
- Names of the editor and education reporters
- Deadlines and days of publication
- E-mail address, phone and fax numbers, and address, and preferred method to be contacted
- Name of news director and talk show hosts/producers who might cover this topic
- E-mail address, phone and fax numbers, and address, and preferred method to be contacted
- Names of news director, assignment editor, and, in rare cases, a designated education reporter
- Deadlines for each newscast
- E-mail address, phone and fax numbers, and address, and preferred method to be contacted
Contacting the Media
Once you have developed a news hook with a local angle, designated media contact and spokespeople, and compiled your list of newsroom staffers and beat reporters, you can begin reaching out to the media. Be prepared to adapt your pitch to each individual reporter, based on his or her previous coverage of the college selection process, and type of media outlet. Always respect reporter’s deadlines, and keep in mind the following schedules.Print
It is best to call a newspaper’s newsroom between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. At this time reporters are most likely to be available because the morning planning meeting is over and they are not yet working against their 5 p.m. deadline.Radio
It is best to call radio newsrooms after 10 a.m., but before 1 p.m. Remember many morning newscasts run from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., and news directors and reporters are often gone by the afternoon. Television
Planning editors or assignment editors generally take calls between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with the exception of the 11 a.m. hour, when many are preparing for the noon newscast. It is best to call after the morning planning meeting, which usually ends between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.
When pitching television outlets, remember to describe the visual elements. If you don’t try to tell your story with compelling images that draw viewers in (e.g., a campus tour, college guides spread across a dining room table, or a high school senior and parent browsing an online U-CAN college profile), you don’t have a TV story. Other Rules of Engagement
- Do not call during a breaking news story or when reporters are on deadline.
- Be persistent. Follow up if you don’t get in touch with the reporter right away.
- With most reporters, e-mail is the preferred method of being contacted with a story idea. Faxing and regular mailing are largely obsolete. Phone calls are acceptable, and considered one of the top two contact options by most journalists.
- If calling, don’t leave long messages. Get to the point quickly. Leave your name and contact information before and after your brief pitch.
- If e-mailing, do not send messages with vague subject lines or text that goes beyond the length of one screen depth. Keep your e-mail short and to the point. Avoid attachments unless you have an established relationship with the recipient.
- Remember that your story is worth the reporter’s time, but also respect the reporter’s time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask who in the newsroom would be the best person to speak to. If one reporter passes, ask if there is a better person to contact with the story.
- Be helpful. Send press kits and offer follow-up interviews, even if they don’t immediately bite on the story.
Organizing an Editorial Board Meeting
An editorial board meeting is a group discussion between a newsmaker, and those from the editorial section of a newspaper. Sometimes beat editors or reporters may sit in on the conversation to gather information for their coverage of the newsmaker’s institution, industry, or cause.Setting Up an Editorial Board Meeting
The first step is to clearly define why this visit would be of value to the newspaper, how your newsmaker is qualified to speak as an expert, and what new understanding he or she will bring. Go beyond self interest and think about what will grab the newspaper’s interest. Why is the topic timely and relevant? How is the general public (i.e., the newspaper’s readership) impacted by it?
Promote the president’s credentials and the significance of the topic without appearing self-serving. When pitching the paper, always include “Here is why this issue is important to your readers, and here is why President X is well equipped to share some insight on the issue.”
The person to contact for a visit will vary from paper to paper. At a weekly or smaller daily paper the editor is likely the best contact. Larger papers, however, will have an editorial page editor who will handle the visit and invite the appropriate people. Visiting with the Editorial Board
When meeting with an editorial board, it is important that your president attend and serve as your institution’s newsmaker. It is likely the only way that the editorial staff will agree to take time out of their schedules for a meeting.
At the board meeting, the president should open with a brief summary of the U-CAN initiative and the need for better consumer information, followed up with some comments on how the project is taking shape at your institution.
It is important for the president not to become defensive when fielding the editors’ questions, or to take personally any probing or impertinent questions. A reporter who appears to be confrontational may simply be trying to elicit a strongly worded, or even controversial, comment, and not expressing his or her own viewpoint. It is also important to remember that while the discussion may seem informal, everything the president says will be considered “on the record,” unless otherwise explicitly agreed to before the meeting, and may be quoted in the newspaper. After the Editorial Board Meeting
After the editorial board meeting, it is worthwhile for the president to send a note to the highest ranking attendee from the newspaper, as well as any additional or background information. You will want to follow up by e-mailing or mailing background materials promised to attendees by
the president. In addition to the short-term goal of planting a favorable editorial, keep in mind the long term benefit of using the visit as a jumping off point for a closer relationship with the paper.
How to Write and Place Op-Eds
An op-ed is a bylined opinion piece written by someone other than a member of the newspaper staff. Op-eds are widely read, and can be a valuable means of communicating an opinion on the U-CAN project and the college selection process in general.Writing an Op-ed
The most important part of an op-ed is “opinion.” The op-ed should be a strong and creative piece that informs the reader. You are trying to change the way a reader views an issue. However, many op-eds do not get printed because they come off as overly promotional.
Most newspapers expect op-eds to be hooked to a current issue in the news, but not one that is fleeting. The intense process of finding the best college is an issue with staying power. The launch of U-CAN comes as most college-bound seniors begin to see college application deadlines loom on the horizon.
The structure of the op-ed will also help you get published. The standard op-ed is prescriptive—where the writer describes a problem and then offers a solution. What timely and relevant problem are you addressing and what is your innovative solution to it? There should be an opening section that explains the subject and why is it important. This should be followed by several arguments or facts to support the opinion. Finally, the closing section should re-state the writer’s viewpoint. It is important to quickly get to your point. Length and Submitting Requirements
Op-eds have very specific requirements. Not following them will likely get your op-ed rejected before it is even read. First, keep it short. Most papers ask for 600 to 1,000 words. Most papers also will insist on exclusivity for the op-eds they run. This means that op-eds are usually submitted sequentially, first to the writer’s preferred choice for placement. If it is rejected there, move on to the second and third choice media. The op-ed should include a sentence or two about the person submitting the piece—the person’s professional affiliation, and title, as well as any other credentials that enhance the writer’s expertise on the subject. Before you submit an op-ed, make certain to review the newspaper’s guidelines, most likely found on its Web site in the “contact us” or opinion section.After Your Op-ed Runs
After the op-ed appears, plan to distribute copies to key audiences and post it on your institution’s Web site. Check with the paper. Sometimes there will a nominal charge for reprinting your piece, but most of the time there will be none. You should distribute the op-ed to alumni, community partners, and policymakers. Reprint it in internally produced publications, and don’t forget to e-mail a copy to NAICU for placement on our Web site.
Placing Public Service Announcements
Public service announcements (PSAs) are short messages on a subject of benefit to the public, and produced on film, video, or audiotape, and then given to radio and television stations cable systems. (It's generally a lot easier to get a PSA broadcasted on radio than television.) A public service announcement typically announces a free community event or service, and is usually provided by a non-profit organization. PSA Options
Generally, PSAs are sent as ready-to-air audio or video, although radio stations sometimes prefer a script that their announcers can read live on the air.
Different stations have different policies for PSAs. For example, in some small communities, you can just call in your PSA by telephone. Find out ahead of time what local stations require—a call describing your PSA, a script, or a fully produced, ready-to-air version, and other station guidelines.
Your script can be sent as “live copy”—simple script that's ready to be read by a live on-air announcer—or as pre-recorded audio or video. While live copy is inexpensive and is used extensively in radio, television stations rarely use live-copy scripts. If working with a TV station, you can try for an on-camera interview with a spokesperson to announce the new initiative. You can also submit your own video.
Most radio and TV stations prefer 30-second spots, but other lengths may be more appropriate, depending on station preference. As a general rule, you will use 60 to 75 words for a 30-second PSA.Writing PSAs
For your copy, try to use short, arresting sentences aimed directly at the listener at the beginning of the PSA to help grab their attention. Keep it brief and simple. Focus what you want the viewer to do or remember after they see or hear your PSA. Although a PSA covers less material than a press release, it still requires the same “who, what, when, where, and why.”
For a video PSA, you must describe each shot in writing, and give the correct dialogue to go with that shot. The script itself should be split into two columns; the left column will list all directions, camera angles, sound effects, etc. and the right column lists all dialogue. Producing and Submitting PSAs
If your office is not equipped to develop PSAs, consider tapping a broadcasting student at your institution. They are hungry for the experience, and most upperclassmen will have had some formal training. In this age of YouTube, you may find a student with the necessary video production and editing skills, even if your campus doesn’t have a broadcasting program.
Try to send the PSA about two or three weeks prior to when you like it to air. If you don’t have a personal contact at the station, call for the name of the public service or program director, and address your pitch it to her or him.
Sample PSAs are located in the Tools You Can Use section, below.
Reaching Students and Parents
It is crucial to reach out beyond the news media and directly to high school students and parents, teachers, and high school college counselors. Ultimately, they are the ones who will use and benefit from U-CAN. Partner with schools and parent associations to get the word out to students and their families about U-CAN and the steps for a smart college search. Make sure to communicate early and often with these groups so U-CAN gets on their radar screen. You may wish to coordinate your outreach to students, parents, and school officials with your state association of independent colleges, or one or more other participating institutions in your area (see the Introduction section for more information.)
Ideas for Partnerships with Local High Schools
- How you go about contacting local high schools to discuss ways to reach out to students and parents will largely depend on your existing relationships. A typical model starts with sending a letter about U-CAN’s purpose and value to the superintendents, principals, and college counselors of local high schools. You’ll want to contact several schools at once since some may not respond. Follow up with a phone call, reaching out to the superintendent first, and then the principal or counselor. Getting the buy-in of a superintendent early on may save you a lot of leg work in the long run.
- Distribute U-CAN postcards and posters to school superintendents, high school college counselors, high school students, and parents. You can download U-CAN postcards and posters from the NAICU Web site, and print them in your choice of several different sizes. To download the materials, you must first get the password, by sending an e-mail with your name, institution, and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. The posters are designed so that a college or state private-college association can add its name as a supporting organization before you print and distribute them. Because of their size, the front of the postcards cannot be customized, but the blank back side can. You will have multiple opportunities to use these print materials in your outreach efforts. You may wish to mail them directly to students and parents, or to college counselors at local high schools. Make sure to distribute them whenever you speak about U-CAN at public events. Hardcopy examples are included under in the Tools You Can Use section.
- Working with a counselor or teacher, identify one or more students who would post a message about U-CAN on the high school’s Facebook network, and on their own profiles.
- Arrange a guest speaker to address high school class periods and high school extracurricular clubs (e.g., Key Club, band, student council, etc.). Most high school teachers would welcome outside speakers to discuss how to search for a college. An admissions officer, or a current college student who is well informed not only about the college selection process, but U-CAN, would make an effective speaker. The speaker needs to be familiar with the initiative, the information in this toolkit, and be comfortably prepared to take audience questions. Go in with a prepared presentation (20 minutes max), as well as printed handouts (e.g., U-CAN posters, postcards, sample institutional profile). See if you can get an Internet connection and a screen large enough for the whole classroom to see the U-CAN site in action.
- Send a delegation of university ambassadors to run a table or booth at major high school events (e.g., college fairs) to hand out information on the college selection process and U-CAN, and answer questions. Your table/booth should include something eye-catching (e.g., institutional profiles and U-CAN posters), handouts (e.g., postcards), and an opportunity to take action (e.g., make the U-CAN site available for browsing on a couple of laptop computers with Internet access).
- Work out an arrangement with local high school newspapers and yearbooks to have a U-CAN advertisement included, to point students in the right direction for more college information. You may even decide to include an ad in every newspaper issue throughout the year, and buy a full-page color advertisement in the annual yearbook.
- Encourage schools to include material about U-CAN with information packets that go to students and parents at the beginning of the school year.
- Speak at parent association meetings. Through these groups, you can work with parents and teachers to raise awareness about U-CAN through the classroom and information distributed to families.
Engaging the Community
There are many ways that colleges and universities can promote U-CAN by engaging community and service organizations, businesses, churches, and other groups. These organizations are often effective channels for reaching high school students, parents, and opinion leaders. It is also important to tell your representatives in Congress and the state legislature about U-CAN, what if offers to consumers, and how colleges and universities are committed to transparency and accountability to the marketplace.
The ideal spokesperson will be an individual who is very familiar with the steps involved in the college selection process, can suggest resources and give credible advice, and can reassure families confused and overwhelmed by the college search process. Examples of effective spokespeople include presidents and other academic leaders (provosts, deans); college admissions officers; and high school college counselors. In some cases, highly informed parents or students who have gone through the college search process may be able to assist.
It is important that the individuals chosen as spokespeople familiarize themselves with all the documents in this kit, including the talking points, FAQs, fact sheets, etc. These documents will help the spokespeople discuss the project accurately and beyond generalities, communicate consistent facts and messages, and be ready to answer questions.
To tailor the talk to your audience, find out what their goals are and link them to the issue of helping aspiring students find the college that best fits their needs.
Ideas for Engaging the Community
- Speaking to community groups about the college selection process is a great opportunity to educate others. The local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Lions Club, and other civic organizations are good venues for your president or another campus official to meet with civic, business, and government leaders and speak about the need for better college consumer information, and your institution’s involvement in U-CAN.
- Contact youth organizations in your community, such as those at churches elsewhere, and volunteer to provide materials and make a presentation about the new U-CAN resource, and how to select a college.
- Ask community groups that have an interest in helping kids get to college or who reach your target audience, to get involved with sharing the word about U-CAN. Interested organizations—women’s groups, schools, churches, and businesses—can send out e-mails on their listserves and print a drop-in article in their publications. You might want to pre-test the articles and e-mail messages with high school college counselors, teachers, and community and religious leaders who interact closely with teens and parents.
- Work with local businesses to get them to disseminate information about U-CAN to their employees and customers. For example, they could include information in their billing statements, and in store circulars. Businesses with natural tie-ins include those that sell college-related products and services (e.g., stores that run back-to-school/college promotions).
- Many libraries and other community facilities have display cases or bulletin boards with information about new nonprofit services and upcoming events. Ask to post a U-CAN poster, and leave postcards at the front counter.
Reaching Out to Policymakers
Arrange to meet with your members of Congress, state legislators, or their respective staffs to discuss the U-CAN initiative. These individuals could be asked to include information about U-CAN in their newsletters.
The U-CAN college and university profiles include information identified by policy-makers as necessary for greater institutional transparency and accountability to consumers. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have called for improved consumer information to help the public choose colleges. It is important for you to let lawmakers know that you are taking these steps toward enhancing transparency. Before the Visit
You are encouraged to contact the NAICU government relations staff before you meet with a congressional office, for additional background information on Capitol Hill’s interest in college consumer accountability and for updates on legislative or regulatory proposals.
It is important that you coordinate visits with state legislators or their staff with your state-level independent college and university association. This will ensure that key state-specific messages are being communicated to policy-makers in the Statehouse.Meeting with Your Elected Officials and Their Staff
Be prepared. Go in to a meeting with specifics. Be prepared to show them your U-CAN template, and explain how it will help students and parents make better college decisions. Review the General Background section in this toolkit beforehand. Tell them about your efforts to inform the public, and share supporting background material, including published opinion pieces and positive feedback from students, parents, and other members of the community.
Be brief. Respect the busy schedules of your representatives and their staff. A typical appointment might be about 20 minutes. Do not over stay your allotted time. Remember that if your elected official is not available, meeting with staff can be just as valuable. It’s the staff that develops and negotiates the vast majority of legislative language that impacts colleges.
Follow-up. After you meeting, write a note to the representative and aides you met. Thank them for their time. Maintaining a dialogue with them will benefit your campus in the long run.
Tools You Can Use
The following resources can be used as idea starters and guides to creating your own communication vehicles. In the case of the posters, postcards, and logo, you will be able to download them for your use.
This section includes:
Finally, thanks for your participation in this important effort.