The art of publicity: a guide for faculty

I love faculty-sponsored events. I love lectures, talks, informal chats, slide shows, the works. Because I’m a student with the 10-meal plan and the B2 pay scale, I don’t have enough to eat, but I can’t afford to eat out. And so I make up the difference with faculty receptions.

I gleefully attend any and all lectures, knowing that I will come out with armloads of cookies, cheeses, crackers and imported beer. How can I get away with this behavior? Well, first, because I cough and then touch everything on the plate. . .but more importantly, it’s because I will be the only student there.

Why? Because Williams departments can’t publicize worth a darn. It’s as if the faculty takes an almost masochistic joy in having under-attended events. And maybe that’s the case; it’s been my nagging suspicion for years that certain departments only bring events to satisfy themselves and not their students. . .well, that’s a rant for another time.

But for those poor naive professors who plan events and actually desire an audience with a median age of below 50, its time to do a little deprogramming. There are a lot of faculty myths about events promotion that need to be deconstructed and destructed. So pay attention; class is now in session:

Myth #1: Advertising in the Weekly Calendar is sufficient.

Much of the faculty seems to believe that if you put a blurb in the Weekly Calendar, students will flock to the advertised event. The error in this logic is the assumption that any student reads the WC. Nobody reads it but faculty; they’re the only ones who have time! It’s 50 pages long, and only a small percentage of the events listed seem to have any relevance for students at all. Keep advertising in the WC (faculty and off-campus folk still peruse it) but not just in the WC – your event will get lost in the shuffle.

Myth #2: Students appreciate all-campus mailings.

This fallacy goes hand in hand with Myth #1. The logic here seems to be, though students might not take the time to read the WC, they will certainly stand up and take notice at bulk mail thoughtfully slipped into their box. We might, if these missives were in some vague semblance of an eye-catching format. Instead, they go the way of credit card applications and management consulting literature, into the blue bin.

Myth #3: Daily Messages is a handy day-of reminder.

I, and most students, joyfully hit the delete key when the DM appears at midnight. It’s a great idea – offer a quick blurb of the event, and students can click the link if they wish to know more. But for this to work, one must use a program like Eudora, which allows hyperlinks. Granted, I could copy and paste the links into my browser, but I’d rather just delete.

Myth #4: What about Mascot?

Only freshmen use it at this point. And the odds are that it’s only going to be here for the year. Anything Mascot can do, WSO is already doing or can do better, so why bother?

Myth #5: Design doesn’t matter.

Use a little creativity in your signs and flyers. Every Music Department flyer and poster looks exactly the same from further than a foot away. This is stupid. The entire point of advertising is to attract attention. If this week’s poster is indistinguishable from last week’s, you’ve failed, period.

Myth #6: It is bad to poster.

I don’t understand this one at all, and I’ve gotten this from a number of profs now. Apparently the logic is that postering isn’t worth it, because you can only hang posters on certain surfaces and not on doorways and it takes too much time and blah, blah, blah, etc. This is just bizarre. Postering is one of the best ways to get students’ attention. Poster away until your head spins. If the custodians rip one down, put two up.

Myth #7: It is bad to all-campus e-mail.

Why faculty are so eager to mass snail mail and not mass e-mail is a mystery to me. You’re not wasting anyone’s money or time, and if we’re not interested, we’ll delete it. If we are, it will sit in our inbox as a nice reminder every time we log in.

That’s enough negativity for now. Lets look at what should be done. Follow these rules, and your event will be a hit.

Rule #1: Remember the Williams Advertising Trinity: DA, Poster, All-Campus E-Mail

The object of advertising is not just to attract attention to an event, but to impress the event into our collective consciousness. Hit us where we eat, where we live and where we check our mail. Give us no choice but to attend. Posters should go up at least a week before the event, DA announcements the entire week of the event and all-campus e-mails the day before (not the day of). These are the most important places to advertise; everything else – Weekly Calendar, Mascot, Daily Messages, skywriting – is good, but secondary.

Rule #2: Get innovative with the design.

Sawyer Library’s flyer in the frosh orientation pack was the only one that attracted any attention, because it parodied The Blair Witch Project. Love it or loathe it, you noticed it. SAC and Cinephiles movie schedule bookmarks are elegant, convenient and purple. Look at WCFM’s program guides and SAC’s posters. That’s some wild eye-catching action. Be daring. In this day and age, you can’t afford not to be.

Rule #3: Get the entire department behind the event.

The Religion Department brings impossibly esoteric speakers, many of whom are utterly atrocious lecturers. But we come anyway, because every professor in the department pushes the event. We know they’ll be there. We know they want to be there. We know they want us to be there. So we come. Meanwhile, the only people who show to English Department readings are Creative Writing students desperate to meet published authors. No one else even knows, because the professors don’t tell us.

Rule #4: Better yet, involve the students.

We may not be smarter, but we are cannier when it comes to what’s going on. Get our input. Poll us as to which speakers to bring. Involve us in poster design. Ask us where to advertise. Recruit us to table, poster and spread the word. You’ve got paid assistants and TAs; use them. Even better, use them in pairs. Tabling and postering alone suck, but tabling with a friend is great. Of course, you still have to pay the assistants, but it’s a small price in comparison. And the results are worth it.

Rule #5: Miscellany: Food and Space

I really, really, really like receptions. If you’re having one, advertise it. And pick the right room for the event, because the wrong room makes even a hit look bad. If you’re going to get fewer than 75 people, don’t book Goodrich unless you need a light show. Inviting us to the Faculty House would be pretty neat too.

Rule #6: You’re here to serve the students, not the other way around.

We do not have a duty to come to faculty-sponsored events. But since we shell out $30,000 a year, you have a duty to bring events for us, the students of the department, rather than for the heads of the department. Make us want to come, and we’ll come.

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