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September 9, 2014

Four Tips for Cultivating Universities as Advertisers

Recently there have been a lot of debates about the role of universities in the future of news. Journalism schools have been compared to laboratories, incubators and teaching hospitals but for many local newsrooms campuses are also potential supporters and advertisers.

However, navigating campus offices and tapping into college budgets is much different than pitching a local business to buy an ad. There are often many different pots of money, managed by different staff with different titles across different departments.

Prior to my work in journalism I spent almost a decade working in higher education, connecting campuses and community groups around civic engagement and service-learning. I spent a lot of time helping local communities develop partnerships with college faculty and staff, and getting access to the resources those campuses had.

If you are interested in working with a local university around advertising or underwriting on a local site here are a few things to consider.

296448153_427a68f62a_z1) Check the Calendar – Lisa Williams, director of revenue for the Investigative News Network suggests keeping an eye on university events calendars and seeing what lectures, readings and other events are being hosted on campus. Then reach out to the sponsors of those events and pitch them on how your site could help them promote that event.

2) Find the Right People – Departments and offices on campus that are going to be most likely to advertise on a community news site are those who have events to promote and a budget to do so. Look towards Athletics, Theatre, Arts, and Music as a starting place. These departments have regular events that they need to promote to the community outside of the campus. On my local public radio station the school of Arts and Humanities is a regular underwriter. Once you identify specific departments, you’ll have to figure out who is the best person to meet with. It may be a dean, a communications staff, or other department administrator.

3) Build Relationships – Relationships are the building blocks for most aspects of running a local news site and selling ads, but within universities relationships become even more important. Campuses can be like foreign lands, and your friends inside are like “fixers” helping you navigate the red tape and administrative structures.

4) Join the Team – Most big state campuses have substantial “extension” or “outreach” programs rooted in their land grant missions to serve local communities. In addition, these and even small liberal arts schools increasingly have robust continuing education offerings. The extension and continuing education departments are important potential advertisers but also present opportunities for you to teach and collaborate. You could offer workshops on citizen journalism, online marketing, web development, etc… these workshops can be a great marketing opportunity for your site and a potential revenue stream.

Finally, if you are going to approach a university to become an underwriter or advertiser keep in mind that these institutions – and their various departments – are mission-driven and that is an opportunity for local news. There is a great alignment between journalism and education. Both newsrooms and universities are interested in uncovering truths, sharing knowledge and information, and there is often a strong sense of community and engagement around both.

Photo of Columbia University by Michael Renner, used under CC license.