When the worldwide media fixates on a topic, why not ride the wave?

University media-relations units have been doing this for years: Pitching stories that tap into the spirit of the times in the hope that positive news about your institution will appear in tomorrow’s headlines.

This ride-the-zeitgeist tactic encourages coverage of our institutions beyond the fallback cycle of higher ed “news”: back-to-school, college rankings, football season, March Madness, spring break, graduation speeches.

Savvy institutions are discovering new ways to lasso the zeitgeist — and to harness the power of buzz. Check out these examples from admissions publications, alumni magazines and Facebook campaigns:

All politics is local

Admissions  Magazette

You’ve heard all about Super PACs, tax plans, unemployment figures, birth certificates and even family pets riding atop cars. In the run-up to the presidential elections, no angle on national politics is left unexplored.

At Nazareth College, the election frenzy inspired a local spin on politics. A cover story in the admissions magazette featured Occupy Wall Street activists and poli-sci poll monitors, along with quick facts about campus leadership and student government.

Bold graphics telegraphed the topic at a glance, and the publication hit mailboxes when Election Day coverage was at its peak.

Let there be Glee

Timing is everything when you piggyback on a pop culture trend. Before a certain comedy about singing high-schoolers and evil gym teachers crested, St. Ambrose University ran this Glee-inspired ad as part of a Facebook ad campaign.

StAmbrose_Gleeudents interested in the performing arts were one of 25 target audiences for the campaign, which generated 179 million impressions and drove 18,000 prospective students and alumni to the university’s website.

Playing off pop culture is fun for both audiences and creative teams, but be careful. Pop culture tie-ins work best when the communication tools have a short, fad-friendly shelf life. If the same campaign ran today, you’d probably bypass Glee in favor of something more buzz-worthy.

Living off the fat of the land

Every day there’s a new headline about the nation’s expanding waistlines. But with so much conflicting info about diet and nutrition, it’s tough to remember what you should be consuming. Is it more red wine and less pasta — or is it the other way around?

Tulane Medicine’s well-timed cover story cuts through the nutrition clutter. The article spotlights Dr. Gourmet, a Tulane physician whose website attracts millions of visitors for nutrition facts and healthy cooking tips.

The piece also describes the center for culinary medicine’s teaching kitchen, the first ever at a med school. Tulane’s residents and physicians work with actual chefs to learn healthy cooking tips they can pass along to patients.

Learn more

Zehno offers custom training and workshops in content development: Find out more about content development and coaching services.