We’ve always admired Dick Jones, president of Dick Jones Communications in Pennsylvania. He has always been a thought leader in the higher education public relations field. A good example is this advice he provides as you confront the sometimes very difficult task of generating publicity for your institution’s commencement.
There are about 3,000 colleges and universities in the nation. A handful of them get mentioned every year in commencement roundups in various national news media. Your odds aren’t good.
Many schools seek famous persons as commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. Publicity is one goal in doing so. The visibility that results, however, is usually local. Sometimes it can be regional and statewide. Rarely will it be national. There are too many commencements. And there is less media interest in the subject than many commencement committees suspect.
The moral? Always try for national attention, by all means, but don’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t happen.
Suggestions? Here are several.
- Use commencement to honor persons who may not be household names but who deserve it. They will be flattered and you will probably hear a better speech.
- Insist on an advance transcript of the commencement speech. It will help you write a better post-event story and it is the key to your slim chance of national visibility. Commencement roundup stories in national media are summaries of interesting quotes and they are not always from famous people.
- Award honorary degrees at “off-times” during the year. When Wilson (Pa.) College awarded an honorary doctorate to Whoopi Goldberg in December the school received national attention. That probably wouldn’t have happened in May.
- Hold an early commencement. By late May or early June the media’s already-minimal interest in commencements tends to disappear entirely.