March 03, 2020 - by Deanne Taenzer
As Georgia’s research and innovation hub, Augusta University is home to hundreds of leading experts in education, healthcare and business. They’re incredibly proud of their rich history in innovation and believed there was an opportunity to have greater impact with media relations by making their expertise more accessible. In her role as Director of News and Information, Heather Henley set out to find out new ways of using their experts more strategically.
According to Cision’s 2019 Global Comms Report, 60% of senior communications leaders, like Henley, identify mainstream journalists among the top three most powerful influencers for impacting consumer behavior. Henley knew the key to success was all about boosting visibility for their experts – helping them stand out in a noisy world and making it easier for those mainstream journalists to cover their stories.
When Henley put her strategy into action, the results started building, turning into one of the best programs we’ve seen.
“We were really excited about this expertise marketing strategy. With our incredible pool of experts, we realized we could engage journalists on so many topics. We needed to be thoughtful in how we aligned this expertise to our priorities here at the university.” Alongside Rachel Robbins, Digital Content Specialist, Henley turned to ExpertFile to help take their expertise marketing strategy to the next level.
Choosing your Expert Roster
Henley knew that one of the most important steps in this new strategy was who would participate. This may seem like an easy task, but navigating internally can be a minefield when you’re dealing with so many experts.
It’s not as simple as choosing smart people. These experts need to contribute to university priorities while also understanding media relations. Traditionally, when we think of media, we’re drawn to newspapers and broadcasts, but there are a broader set of media channels than ever before – ones that can be useful for time-constrained or shy experts. Henley shared why it was so important for Augusta University to think beyond traditional channels.
“Sometimes the challenge comes from the experts themselves. They may not be comfortable speaking to the media because they’ve had a bad experience in the past or they don’t feel like they’ve had enough training. We have professors who are surgeons, so scheduling can also be difficult. I think that’s probably a challenge for a lot of media relations departments.”
To help navigate these challenges, Augusta explored different ways to involve their experts in media channels. They started looking more carefully at the strengths and goals of each faculty expert to assess where they would be most suitable while adding value.
“We’ve had some people write guest columns or editorial columns for the local paper. Others were really comfortable with podcasts or live streaming. Part of our media training plan is finding the right placements for the right experts and knowing where their comfort level lies,” said Henley.
This approach to expertise marketing is a great way to engage both experts and media alike. Not only are you opening doors to more opportunities, but you’re also showing your experts that their ambitions and boundaries are respected.
Getting the Word Out
If you want more press, you need to find new ways to put your expertise on display. It’s not enough to send a pitch when studies show 96% of pitches fail to turn into a media hit. Socializing stories across multiple channels is a must. But promoting stories where all the expert’s critical and interesting details are embedded inside the story sets your content apart and appeals to what journalists really want to see.
Using a tool called “Spotlight,” which allows for rich stories that include videos, social mentions and cited articles, along with embedded expert profiles, both Henley and Robbins were able to get more engagement from their media outreach. They credited Spotlight’s content power along with its added distribution as a vital component of their recent success.
“It’s been a great ride since we started using Spotlights to their full potential,” said Robbins. “We started by creating releases and pushing out a few experts on important topics. Then we pushed them to our news site and the media, which led to a lot of pickup.”
Their Spotlight on the Face Trap App received national attention, including views from both the Washington Post and Bloomberg News. As Georgia’s flagship medical school, Augusta shared their expert insights on the health risks of vaping, which was picked up by GPB Atlanta. And with the 2020 election on the horizon, Henley and Robbins expect that voting security will be a big topic in Georgia following their 2018 gubernatorial election.
“We’re really focusing now,” said Henley. “Our innovative research and leading medical advances have made us well-known in our local market, so I think the next step is promoting that throughout the state, digging into that Atlanta market and pursuing national media.”
By strategically publishing relevant content, Augusta University is able to better target media on the topics that matter most to their organization. They’re also able to grow awareness about those specialties and increase support for those departments — making Spotlight an integral part of their strategy.
Making it Count
The market has a limited attention span, a lot of noise and it’s a speed game. You simply don’t get second chances to get noticed by journalists and reporters. Being timely, relevant and uniquely interesting are all critical elements – and the difference between being picked up or being ignored. With more than 55% of people viewing your content spending less than 15 seconds on a page, the message needs to have an immediate impact.
The Augusta University team understood the hurdles they faced and wanted to ensure they made it count every time.
“We knew when a topic was trending, but sometimes we struggled with how to position our content,” said Robbins. “ExpertFile has been really great at helping us position story angles and tuning messages to increase our potential to get media pickup from our expert stories.”
Over the past six months, Augusta University has worked with the ExpertFile team to refine their program and optimize their expertise marketing strategy. These efforts not only helped them navigate some of their internal challenges, but also provided hands-on support for the heavy lifting.
“We were thrilled to find out that in addition to writing our own Spotlight stories, we could also tap into the Editorial team at ExpertFile – and we jumped at the opportunity,” said Robbins. “That additional support makes a big difference.”
Augusta quickly realized that the proactive storytelling approach available in an ExpertFile Spotlight meant their stories reached a bigger audience. They then integrated it into their existing PR outreach, weekly newsletter to journalists, pitches and press releases. Ask them if it worked and you’ll hear great results about story placements in outlets like NPR, Voice of America, The Associated Press, Business Insider, Univision and Inside Higher Ed, along with boasting a 34% average open rate for their outreach to journalists.
Augusta views their relationship with ExpertFile as an extension of their team and not just another vendor, making the impact that much more powerful.
Chance Favors the Prepared
A successful expertise marketing strategy is one that is constantly evolving. Augusta understood they needed a strategy that moved and changed as quickly as the world around them and wanted a solution that would keep pace with both technology and changing trends. With the dedication of their DCM team, they have excelled with their results. In fact, their excitement about the results of their expertise marketing strategy has spread throughout the institution.
“I feel like we’ve gotten a lot more of our experts participating in our Expert Center,” said Robbins. “They’ve seen our releases or a colleague on the news and want to be featured too. It has expanded our reach internally and increased their engagement – a big win.”
Having experts ready and engaged with a proactive communications team will make all the difference when it comes to timely news or relevant stories. Becoming a destination for experts and media alike means being prepared to take advantage of any and all opportunities. The team at Augusta has truly embraced expertise marketing and its benefits for the institution. As they look to the future, they’re excited to refine their content, grow their roster of expertise and continue to generate impressive results. As a top 50 nationally ranked university, they will no doubt keep moving up.