PR in a Digital World – A Q&A with University of Richmond’s Cynthia Price

PRICECynthia Price, who describes herself as a life-long learner and explorer, is director of media and public relations for the University of Richmond (UR). She proactively promotes the institution and its priorities, as well as university accomplishments, events and initiatives to national, regional and local media. She also spearheads university crisis communications, crafting messages to share with the campus community and with external audiences.

Price began her career as a newspaper reporter and then launched a business magazine for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She spent a decade as the spokesperson for an urban police department with high-profile cases that made headlines. She also traveled the globe for ChildFund International telling the stories of children in developing countries and how donors impacted their lives. She helped the organization rebrand from Christian Children’s Fund to ChildFund.


The BuzzBin caught up with her to talk about the relevance of media relations in higher education, and how the digital world has changed the game.

Traditional media relations seems to have taken a back seat recently to digital communications and content creation. Why is “PR” still essential, especially for colleges and universities?

Earning positive coverage in the press remains an essential PR function, especially for colleges and universities. One reason we want positive press is to attract the best students to our schools.

What has changed is where the placements happen. Most people in higher education still clamor for a positive placement in The New York Times or the Chronicle of Higher Education, but it’s not realistic to expect such placements on a frequent basis.

While both are excellent publications, is that really where we should be? For example, the business news site with the highest traffic is The London Daily Mail has higher U.S. traffic than the Washington Post. And most of the top 50 news sites have more traffic via mobile than desktop. (By the way, I have to thank Michael Smart of Michael Smart PR for tracking these numbers and sharing them during a webinar.)

How do you use social media in support of your efforts to earn positive coverage of UR, its faculty and students?

As with any good PR, we want to place our stories where our audiences are. If we’re reaching out to our peers, then the Chronicle is a great place. If we’re reaching the next incoming class of students and their parents, we can use traditional media, but we also will supplement our outreach with digital media.

At the University of Richmond, in addition to our main social media sites, we also have a dedicated Twitter account for news — @URNews2Use. Our goal is to share the stories of the university with reporters, bloggers, and, frankly, anyone else who is interested in knowing about university news. We share media releases and tweet positive mentions by the media. We help connect reporters with experts they seek.

These efforts are paying off. Shortly after we launched the news Twitter feed, we shared a media release about a pre-orientation event where incoming first-year men hike 40 miles on the Appalachian Trail to build friendships and support systems with each other, faculty and staff. We were pleased when the Richmond Times-Dispatch picked up the story, but we were thrilled when a blog dedicated to the Appalachian Trail picked up the story from Twitter thanks to us using the right hashtags. The story was then shared with thousands of people we would not have reached otherwise; people who may have siblings, children or friends who might now be interested in learning more about UR.

When Paris was attacked, we issued a media release stating that our students studying in Paris were safe. We also tweeted the news. Two local TV stations ran a story and included our tweet as a visual.

Capture_Paris Tweet


In your opinion, what’s the key to a successful pitch in a digital world?

A successful pitch in the digital world is no different than a successful pitch of 20 years ago — the pitch must be relevant to the reporter. It goes back to the basics of what makes a good news story. The difference today, though, is that the story may never be printed with ink. It may only be “printed” in the digital world. And that’s okay if it reaches our intended audience.

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