Tag Archives: university communications

7 Tips for Interviewing Sources Via Email

No matter what writing project I work on—an article for magazine, a blog post for a university website, or even researching to write a book—some sources just prefer to answer interview questions via email. While interviews in person or via the phone are usually preferable, you can still glean some great information from an interviewee’s email.

Use these tips to get the information you need from sources when interviewing via email:

1. Keep it short and simple. The cardinal rule of journalistic writing is important when interviewing via email. Keep the questions you email direct and concise so your source can easily understand what is being asked and doesn’t get confused.

2. Add simple prompts. To make sure you get some specifics, you can add a few prompts in parentheses after the questions to direct the source to provide the relevant details you need. So a question may look like this:

Tell me about your background (such as education history, past jobs, etc.)

or

Tell me about your childhood (your parents’ occupations, siblings, lifestyle)

3. Ask the same question in different ways. Sometimes the way you ask a question can make a huge impact on an interviewee’s response. A source may write a one-sentence (or one-word) response to one question, and write three paragraphs in response to another. If there’s key information you need from a source and you’re concerned he may be hesitant to share it, altering the way you frame a question when you ask it could yield better results.

4. Limit the number of questions. Focus your questions on the key information you need. Do research before you talk to the person (search for the source on Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) so you know the basics of his background. That way you can simply confirm the factual info you find quickly, and focus more of your questions on the meat of the interview topic. Also, make sure you don’t have such a long list of questions that it intimidates the source.

5. Always end with an open-ended question. Some of the best information I’ve gotten from email interviews comes when I ask this question: Is there anything else about X topic or your experience that you’d like to share? This is a great catchall question, so if you didn’t ask something specifically, but the person has more she wants to share, she has an opportunity to share it.

6. Follow up. Once you receive the interviewee’s responses, reply via email to thank her and let her know if you have any additional follow-up questions, you’ll be in touch. This is important because sometime a source may provide a short or incomplete response to an important question. You can send an email to follow up and ask for more specific details. For example, if he mentions an event he participated in, you could follow up and ask him what his role was in the event, where the event was held, the event’s official title, and when the event took place.

7. Give the interviewee a deadline. This may be the most important thing you can do. Everyone is busy, and your source is, too. If you give a source a deadline to reply, it gets your email on her schedule so she can plan her time accordingly. And if you don’t hear back from the source by the deadline, it gives you a good opportunity to follow up without sounding too pushy.

Remember, sometimes email interviews can be a really great thing—like when you’re working on deadline and the source has no appointment times in his schedule, but can write responses while waiting at the airport. Other times, it can create challenges—like when working on a profile of a person that requires a lot of background detail and personal stories to showcase the person or topic.

Use your best judgment on which story types or interviewees would provide good information via email versus stories or interviewees that may be best to speak directly to via phone or in person.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education and genealogy/family history topics. She is the author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

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Tips for Writing More Compelling News Stories for College Websites

Higher Education News StoriesI see this all the time. Universities who intend to showcase their school via “stories” on their website, who end up posting award, achievement, and event announcements instead.

It’s often a fine line between writing a dry announcement because the administration requests it and writing a compelling news story that will generate interest from media outlets and social media posters, as well as spark the interest of prospective students and their parents.

What can you do to rev up your news stories on your website and make them more compelling?

Start with the headline. Think about the stories you like to read online. What would be more interesting to read—a story with the headline “Student Receives XYX Fellowship,” or “XYZ Fellowship Winner Studies New Technologies for Wind Energy”? Use a more descriptive headline, but still try to keep it concise. The headline can help you focus the story.

Focus on people and their stories. Avoid writing about “things”—events, awards, etc. Instead, write about people. When a professor wins an award, don’t write about the award. Write about the professor. Who is the professor? What is the professor passionate about? What did she do to win the award? Why did the professor do what she did? What is unique or interesting about this professor, her teaching style or her research?

Find a fresh angle. The angle is key in writing compelling stories. Challenge yourself (or your staff) to identify what is unique or compelling (i.e. why someone else would care to read the article) and focus the story around that angle.

For example, if your college always posts the same story each year—perhaps a story on fall enrollment or a story on spring commencement—try to find new angles each year. For fall enrollment, tell the amazing story of one of your new students or create a photo-style feature of students moving into the residence halls and use captions to tell the enrollment story.

Differentiate between events and news. Know what constitutes a news story or a Calendar of Events listing on your website.

The headline for a recent “news” story on a college website was “Gospel Choir Christmas Concert.” This website also has an Events section on it homepage. Where should information on this concert go? Should the information have been placed in an Events listing instead of the News section? The headline isn’t very descriptive (for example, is it just announcing the event or is it giving you some other background or behind-the-scenes information about the event?).

If the main purpose of a post is to give the details of an event, consider posting it only in your Events section. If there’s a story behind the event you want to tell—perhaps how students are preparing for a concert—then the story would be a news story.


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative

College Marketing: New Insights on Student and Parent Digital Communication Expectations

Digital CommunicationHave you seen the latest Noel-Levitz E-Expectations survey results? The results were very insightful. Here are three findings that surprised (and pleased) me:

1. Nearly all high school seniors and their parents will open an e-mail from a campus they are considering. As a former college recruitment marketing professional, I often wondered if the e-mails we carefully and strategically crafted each year had an impact. It appears students and parents do at least look at the e-mails, as long as the student is already considering your school.

This is good news and validates all the time and attention spent on crafting these e-mails. And it reinforces the importance of e-mail communication with students and parents who have not only inquired, but also who have applied and been accepted to your college.

2. Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors use Twitter. Just a couple of years ago, I heard much debate on college campuses on whether it was time for the recruitment offices to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. At the time, only a small number of teenagers were on Twitter, and at smaller colleges (with smaller communication and marketing staffs) they wanted to make sure they put their resources where they would reach the most potential students.

This new stat means that if your college isn’t on Twitter, now’s the time to jump in. And if the recruitment and admissions team isn’t involved in your college’s social media, now’s the time to get them into the fold.

3. More than half of students and parents are willing to receive text messages from campuses. As smartphones have become commonplace (90 percent of high school seniors and 80 percent of parents have access to a mobile device, according to the survey), it seems students and parents are becoming more receptive to receiving communication from colleges on their personal mobile devices.

This finding is contrary to a commonly held notion that teens think of their device as “their space” and don’t want colleges or marketers to infringe on that space by texting them. It appears texting is becoming a more widely accepted method for colleges to communicate with students. If your marketing team hasn’t yet considered incorporating texting as part of your recruitment communication flow, now may be the time to start exploring it.

Did anything surprise you in the Noel-Levitz survey? Leave a reply here or message me on Twitter @DanasCreative.

Image credit: Kromkrathog/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.

College Marketing: How to Make a Case for Increasing Your Marketing Budget

Marketing BudgetBudgets. You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. Most higher education marketing professionals lament about limited marketing budgets, but somehow university magazines still need to be printed and mailed, marketing brochures still need to get produced, websites need updating or redesigning, and ads still need to be placed across multiple media platforms.

What’s a marketing professional to do to get more money in the budget? Here’s the approach I took at a university I previously worked for to get more advertising and marketing dollars for recruitment marketing. The approach took time, but it was well worth it when the extra dollars showed up on the budget lines.

Step 1: Save. No, we don’t necessarily mean save money. Save information you receive on places where you’d like to advertise or types of marketing materials you’d like to create. The information will come in handy in Steps 4 and 5.

Step 2: Track. Tracking results of marketing campaigns can sometimes be challenging, especially for small or understaffed communications and marketing departments, but track as much impact as you can. Use whatever data are available—event attendance; enrollment inquiries, applications, and deposits; donation increases; email opens and/or click throughs; web analytics; and more.

Step 3: Analyze. Using the tracking data, look critically at the current places you’re spending money and then ask these questions:

  • Do the things you spend money on have an impact?
  • Is the impact worth the cost?
  • Could you get a bigger impact by adjusting your approach or redirecting the money for a different use?

Also, look at costs for producing existing marketing pieces—consider graphic design, printing, and mailing costs. Ask these questions:

  • Can any printing projects be combined to save costs?
  • Could you adjust marketing piece sizes to reduce mailing and/or printing costs?
  • Could you create a template for certain recurring materials so future design costs are reduced?

Step 4: Plan. Take out the information you saved in Step 1 and use that with the information gained during Step 3 to determine which marketing opportunities (current and new) make the most sense for your institution and your goals. Use Excel to create a “wish list” of opportunities you want to pursue and their annual estimated costs. Be sure to include costs for marketing projects you do every year. For advertisements, remember to include the placement and the ad design and copywriting costs. For any printed materials, don’t forget to include estimated writing, editing, design, printing, and mailing costs.

Step 5: Show the numbers. Once you’ve got your “wish list” completed, use a little Excel magic to automatically add the annual totals. Then, compare it to what your current budget is. If it’s more than your current budget (hey, we can all dream!), can you make a strong case for those costs? What benefit will they provide the university? How will it increase brand awareness, impact recruitment, or increase donations?

If you can justify all the expenses on your wish list, you’re ready to present your budget plan to the administration. Start with your direct supervisor, make any adjustments as necessary, and then meet with a VP or decision maker about the budget in your department. Make sure you present the plan at the appropriate time of year (for example, before budgets are set for the following year, not right after).

Worst-case scenario is the administration will say no to a budget increase, but in the best-case scenario, your detailed plan will show them exactly what they’re going to get for their money and may increase the likelihood they’ll find some extra money to add to your budget. Happy budget planning!

Image credit: digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


About Dana’s Creative Services

Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.