Author: Matthews, Frank
Date published: August 19, 2010
Journal code: BIHE
"Sometimes you're going to get burned. No question about that."
That's how Dr. Dianne B. Suber, president of Saint Augustine's College, describes her risk- vs.- reward approach to dealing with local and national media.
But Suber says public relations is as important to a college as any other campus initiative, and her school has positive national television exposure to prove it.
In June, the college was featured in a three-part series called "Beyond the Dream" on the Fox News channel, which reaches more than 90 million households, according to Nielsen TV Ratings data.
Since Suber arrived at Saint Augustine's 10 years ago, she has developed a reputation as a driven leader. She instituted reforms at a school beset with financial woes, low enrollment, scant alumni support and poor faculty and staff morale when she joined. "Even in this economic downturn, we have not had to lose any faculty members, our enrollment is up, alumni giving is up and our students are heading off to graduate school in record numbers," Suber says.
With a good news story to tell, the college's marketing and communications staff reached out to Fox reporter Kelly Wright, who, as a local anchor in North Carolina during the mid-1990s, was familiar with Saint Augustine's.
"The process of getting positive recognition just doesn't happen. You've got to give it just as much attention as any other important campus initiatives," says Suber. "Our goal has been to take our stories and relate them to the common man and therefore reach a wider authence.
Says Wright: "This was just a good story to tell. Here was a small HBCU in the middle of the well-endowed prestigious schools associated with Research Triangle Park that was doing extraordinary things. Suber had a vision that was constantly hammered to anyone who would listen. She had buy-in from the entire campus and community and results were being achieved. It was therefore an easy story to do."
Wright advises that this same story could be told about many other HBCUs, but it is the responsibility of these schools to get their vision and their story out there.
"Understanding the media process," says Suber, "is absolutely necessary if you're going to succeed."
- By Frank Matthews