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Keeping the ‘R’ in ‘public relations’

Sometimes, when we’re obsessing about how to frame a story, or how to make a story’s nut graf as strongly written as possible so it might grab the attention of media outlets around the country, we have to remind ourselves that in the end, it probably won’t matter — at least, not as much as a host of other factors. We’re not being defeatist; we’re simply acknowledging the truest fact that governs the PR business: It’s about relationships. Seems like that can get lost sometimes, during the run of play. But it’s so very, very true.

When you’re armed with good, interesting work from your faculty, those relationships can lead to big successes. The last few days have provided plenty of good examples:

– Sociologist Phil Schwadel’s recent research that found, among other things, that Gen X-ers are up to 50 percent less likely to “lose their religion” than their Baby Boomer parents. In looking at what national outlets would be interested in this study, we went back to April and remembered the good work that a reporter at Thomson Reuters Global had done with one of Schwadel’s previous studies. We reached out to the reporter once again — and promised exclusivity, as well. Within 24 hours, this resulting story on the research had circumnavigated the globe, landing in all kinds of high-profile outlets.

– Educational psychology professor Ken Kiewra has published a number of interesting studies, including a recent one on the prevalence of high-schoolers cheating. His latest work, which concludes that college undergrads study ineffectively and inefficiently on computers and other digital devices, landed in a section-front cover story in USA TODAY on Tuesday. This came about through our office’s relationship with the newspaper’s national higher-education reporter, who last October visited campus for this awesome cover story. We check in with her every now and then, even (gasp) just to say hello and with no agenda whatsoever. In May, knowing that Kiewra’s study would be released in early August, we gave the reporter a heads-up on the work. The reporter filed the study away until last month, when she was assembling back-to-school stories for this week. Without that relationship, UNL would’ve missed out on being included in USA TODAY’s wide-ranging article.

Another strong relationship — which comes from school ties — paid off with Kiewra’s study later in the day with the Washington Post writing about the research. Jenna Johnson, a former DN editor and UNL alumna and an education reporter for the Post, featured the work in her popular Campus Overload blog.

– Net neutrality is again in the national news, and UNL telecommunications law professor Marvin Ammori is right in the thick of things. In today’s New York Times, Ammori pens an op-ed asserting the government’s role and responsibility in regulating telecom countries to protect net neutrality. Ammori, who is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Center for Internet & Society, splits his time between Lincoln and D.C. — where he swims in a number of media circles. His solid professional relationships with the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post and, now, the Times continue to pay huge dividends for UNL (see also my earlier post on Ammori, to get an idea of why he does so well in the national media).

– Over in the College of Engineering, Namas Chandra and a UNL research team are working on ways to better protect U.S. soldiers from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). This research, which is a years-long project, is on track to produce groundbreaking and important results that will have a direct impact on our troops. Since it’s a longer-term project, we felt it was important to pitch the story to local reporters, which would provide some local and regional exposure and also serve as a foothold for when national pitches will be in order. So we turned to old friend and dean of local reporters, Don Walton, who wrote a great piece on our engineers’ work.

In an age where search-engine optimization, social networking and sites like Digg are growing more prevalent in how reporters find their sources, it’s good to know that we can still pick up the phone or send off an “old-fashioned” e-mail to those in the media with whom we have good standing. This week, so far, has been an excellent reminder of the enduring power of maintaining those good relationships. It goes without saying that it’s good for business, but staying in touch with writers and reporters, and being able to help them explain the world around us to the masses, is also really good for the soul.

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