How to Find and Tell a Good Story: Part 1

Posted: May 4, 2015

The most basic definition of a story is “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.” That being said, those of us in the marketing world take a slightly different approach. Our definition of a story is an account of real people and events told to share information and build valuable connections.

There are countless resources available, from books to blogs, that list the essential elements of a story. Some will argue that it needs a beginning, middle and end. Others will insist that a story needs a hero, a challenge and a moral. For the purposes of this blog and telling stories in higher education, we’d like to add that every story should support the institution’s brand and leave the audience with a memorable message about the value of the higher education experience.

Great Stories in Higher Education

Many people think of higher ed marketing content as online ads, colorful postcards, website forms and flashy viewbooks. While all of these contribute to your overall marketing efforts, none will be effective without a meaningful story to build a strong connection between the audience and your institution.

We believe that content based on compelling and brand-driven stories is the key to creating meaningful interactions and relationships with the people you are trying to reach. For example, beyond just bringing in more prospective students, the best content will attract the right students who are the best fit for the unique offerings and experience at your school.

In my opinion, the most encouraging aspect of telling stories in higher ed is that you will never (and I don’t often use absolute statements) run out of amazing things to say. Colleges and universities make an impact in the lives of students, alumni and community members every single day. Futures are shaped, discoveries are made and individuals are improved through the experience of advancing their education. Take a look at the Wake Tech Community College brand story as an example. Being able to share these successes with the world is an awesome opportunity and a privilege.

How to Find Them

With limited budgets and resources, it can feel overwhelming to constantly find the next best story. Below is a list of people and departments that may be able to help. Chances are, these groups will love the idea of having their story told. With the right connections, you’ll have great stories ideas lining up at your door.

  • Student Organizations – Most campuses have a central hub for all student activities. This group will have a master calendar with updates about upcoming events. In addition to a detailed schedule, they will be able to share information about recurring and past events to help give your story a bit more context. If there are certain organizations that are particularly prominent on your campus, contact them directly and ask for updates on what they’re planning next.
  • Athletics – The athletics department most likely already has someone covering their newsworthy people and events. That doesn’t mean you can’t double dip, but there are other opportunities to tell great stories about the athletes on your campus. Reach out to club teams, intramural groups and community programs where your students may be contributing. You’ll probably find some all-stars out there that are just waiting to be discovered.
  • Campus Dining – People love to eat. That is a fact. Most campuses are constantly offering new dishes, catering big events and opening more dining locations. If the Food Network and Cooking Channel can make it big, why shouldn’t you feature stories about dining events and locations on your campus?
  • Alumni – Whether you’ve got thousands of undergraduate students walking across the stage or just a handful of PhD students celebrating the completion of their thesis projects, you’ve got people that are going on to do great things. Keep in touch and they’ll surely be willing to tell their story a few years down the road. If nothing else, alumni events make for some some awesome photos and giveaways.
  • Faculty – As a higher ed marketer, you have the unique opportunity of having access to experts in a variety of fields. In addition to this expertise, faculty members are extremely proud of the work their students are doing. Prompt them with a few questions and answers will come flooding in. For example, what projects are your students working on? What are their research focuses? Have students produced amazing projects in the last semester? Have they nominated student work for conferences or awards?
  • Arts – If you’re campus has a world-renowned theater department or an award-winning marching band, you probably feel like you’ve got this one covered. Let’s think outside the box. Do any of your faculty members participate in a community improv group? Are students from the school of education helping teach an elementary art class? What about the garage band that is constantly getting noise complaints from their neighbors, but just might make it big one day?

Now that you’ve got some story ideas lined up, stay tuned for Part 2 of this series to explore different ways to communicate information to your audience.