Thursday, April 12, 2012

How To Get on "The Today Show"

According to the New York Times, Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards and student debt is topping $1 trillion for the first time.  The bitter irony is that many high-school students are enrolling in colleges and, after graduation, instead of landing a job are landing in the poor house.

One way students can reduce debt is to chose a quality public university where tuition can be one-fourth that of a private one.  But how does a public school lure away students who are attracted to a brand-name private college? Here's how.

Working with an affiliate PR firm and the associate dean at a public university, I identified several dozen recent transfer students from private universities.   They were all contacted via email to see if they would participate in a story about how transferring from a private to a public school  helped their debt situation and proved to be a good academic fit. 

Three students (10%) replied that they were willing to work with us.  One was a computer science major, another an economics major and the third was a voice/opera major.   All had transferred to take advantage of the lower tuition and the public university’s academic excellence and small size.

When I pitched the story to a variety of national reporters and TV producers who specialized in education, the producer from the Today Show, who wound up doing a feature story on one student, told me that she was really not interested in the computer science or economics majors.  What caught her eye was the voice major and the possibility of entertaining video and audio – voice lessons and singing in an opera that would tell a visual story etc. – along with how she had reduced her debt.

If I had not conducted thorough research on all the possible students, and not developed profiles on three (vs. one) students, then we would not have achieved a spot on The Today Show.   The pitch also triggered a post in a nationally read education blog in The New York Times. At the core of this success was the original research, which allowed us to offer the producer choices.  And, we triggered a story that we hope helped many families struggling with student debts.

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