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Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing

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Remember the Primary Goals of Outreach

Richard Cohen, in a book on peer mediation programs for grades 6-12 (Cohen, 1995), describes the essential goals of outreach. While the university setting is different from secondary schools and uses different terms for its personnel, the following primary goals still hold true. Your efforts should be designed:

  • To inform everyone in the school that the program is ready to serve them
  • To promote the concept that is fundamental to peer mediation: It is in everyone's best interest to talk out conflicts rather than fight them out. The number of referrals received--and consequently, the impact of the mediation program will have upon the school--is directly related to the degree to which students and staff understand this idea.
  • To remove any stigma attached with utilizing or being referred to the mediation program. Participating in mediation should be regarded as a sign of maturity, intelligence, and strength.
  • To educate the school community about the kinds of cases that are appropriate for mediation
  • To publicize the way that students and staff can avail themselves of the program's services. They should know with whom to speak when conflicts arise, how they can make referrals, and when and where mediation sessions will be held.
  • To establish a positive image for the mediation program. People need to see peer mediation as something that makes an essential contribution to school life.
  • To remind students, teachers, and administrators continually that the program exists. When interpersonal conflicts arise, people need to think immediately "Should this be mediated?' If you do not remind them, they may very well forget. (Cohen, 1995, pp. 123-124)

Outreach and Promotion Strategies

Program promotion is very important in the early phases of a new initiative. For this reason many programs establish a special outreach committee that assists the program coordinator in getting the word out about the program. Perhaps a subset of your planning committee may be willing to take on this new responsibility. It is also a good idea to find ways to involve members of your new mediator pool. After having participated in mediator training many in this group may be excited about mediation's possibilities and eager to have some cases to work on. Their enthusiasm can be infectious. While the target audience of your program will influence the style and tone of your outreach materials and methods (i.e. materials aimed at faculty will differ from those designed for undergraduates), the goal is the same--to make people aware of mediation, what it can do for them, and how they can use it.

The Use of Resolutions

Resolutions can be used at both the national level (for example the Association for Student Judicial Affairs passed one supporting mediation) and the local campus level to build awareness of the new service and endorse its use. Success with this approach requires being somewhat politically savvy, using your awareness of the procedures and norms of various bodies such as residence hall councils, student governments, faculty senates, or staff councils to make a good case. The program coordinator can provide a sample draft of a resolution endorsing the legitimacy and value of mediation and then assist in whatever way is needed to modify and pass the resolution. You will typically need someone from within the designated body to introduce the resolution and answer any questions regarding it prior to the call for a vote. Sometimes you can be present to support the passage by answering questions or making a brief report. In other circumstances it is best to let it be an internal affair. You'll want to check with individuals familiar with standard procedure in the body in question, and then do your best to be respectful and persuasive within the appropriate bounds. One example of a faculty senate resolution is available here. See some other examples of resolutions on our site in the new program incubator area.

Print Media

I am indebted to Ombuds Tim Griffin for many of the following ideas. All campuses have a variety of publications that are designed to target specific audiences. The student newspaper, one of the more widely read publications on campus, is a good place to target some of your early outreach efforts. You can often place ads in the paper at a reasonable price, or even better, get free coverage through feature articles or interviews on the service when space is available. Some papers have regular columns that would be happy to feature your program. In fact, you may even be able to get your own column for the mediation program if you have someone in your group creative and reliable enough to produce regular and interesting copy. Perhaps you could run a conflict resolution tip of the week, or a "looking for conflict" listing in the classifieds. One example of an interesting and fun approach is the "Dear Fran" column in the University of Waterloo paper where people supposedly "write in" with their problems, and "Fran Flanders" responds with advice. By using some combination of ads, interviews, feature stories and announcements, you can accomplish pretty broad exposure over the course of the academic year.

In a similar fashion, many campuses have newsletters targeting faculty or staff. Usually these publications don't run ads, but instead can offer you space to make announcements or place feature stories on the project. Provided is an example of the lead-in to a story in the staff paper Inside Info at the University of Georgia.

Other useful forms of print media include academic course catalogs and schedule of classes booklets, which on some campuses may include brief descriptions of student services. These may be one of the few documents that all students actually keep a copy of. Also widely distributed and regularly updated are campus telephone directories, which frequently include, in addition to phone listings, a section describing various campus services, or a "yellow pages" section where you can buy an ad for a reasonable sum. At Syracuse University, we encountered problem with the campus phone book during our first year, as the office that published it inadvertently left out our phone number. The creative solution we worked out turned out to be great for the program. The office producing the phone book agreed to pay for the printing of business card size yellow stickers promoting the service, and to provide us with mailing labels for every person receiving a phone book. Our job was to prepare and mail a letter through campus mail explaining the mishap and advising that people place the sticker on the front of their phone book to remedy the problem. As a result, for the next two years, the Campus Mediation Center was the first thing many people saw when they reached for their phone book. Perhaps something similar might work on your campus.

You will also want to check into student handbooks, employee handbooks, and faculty handbooks, as they commonly offer the opportunity to list a mediation service. This often can include a brief description of the service in sections devoted to services and resources for the respective clientele. Also, as time goes by you will want to look into incorporating mediation into the policy language found in these handbooks. This process can take some time, but is worth is as it helps to formalize and institutionalize mediation services. Sample policies referencing mediation are available at the Staff/Admin building.

Some campuses have included information in all of the materials distributed by residential life, or the off-campus housing office. Mediation may be a required step before requesting a room-change in the residence hall. Brigham Young University requires landlords listing their apartments with off-campus housing to include a dispute resolution clause in their standard lease stating that when problems arise, the landlord agrees to try mediation or arbitration, another service offered by the off-campus housing office.

Brochures, Cards, Flyers and Posters

Just about every program develops a print brochure describing its services which can then be handed out at presentations and placed on various brochure racks around campus available for the display of such materials. If you are not artistically inclined, you may wish to get some professional help designing and laying out your brochure, as the degree of professionalism in design and content of your brochure reflects heavily on the program.

In addition to brochures, you may wish to consider developing and printing a program card (in addition to your standard business card) that can be distributed by referral sources and members of your program team. If you print on both sides of the card, you can include some useful information (maybe tips for resolving conflicts, keys to successful negotiation, etc.) as well as the requisite contact and procedure information.

Other useful tools are flyers and posters. These can be posted on campus bulletin boards in classrooms, residence halls, kiosks, and academic and non-academic building hallways and lobbies, or placed at residence hall and other office counters, and handed out in person on a campus where there is a high level of pedestrian traffic. Some campuses even support placing such flyers under the windshield wipers of cars in campus lots, helping to reach potentially difficult target markets like commuting students and part-time faculty. Flyers are also good for stuffing in campus mailboxes, in folders provided to new members of the campus community during their orientation process, and in folders provided to students when they move into residence halls. While some flyers are designed to be information rich, providing information on how the services work and how they can be accessed, others are useful simply because they are eye-catching and build awareness of the existence of the service.

Variations on the idea of flyers include door-hangers that are distributed in residence halls and apartment complexes, and table-tents that can be placed on various dining hall and lounge tables.

Worldwide Web Pages

Similar to a print brochure, but potentially much more interactive and content rich (and updateable) is a worldwide web page promoting the program. Most colleges and universities now provide the necessary computer space to host a web page if you are able to find someone with the skills to develop and maintain it. Given the new software programs available for web design, it is not too difficult to convert text from your print brochure into a web page as a starting place. Many students and faculty are regular users of the web, and appreciate the ability to go quickly to your site if they have questions or want to introduce the idea of mediation to someone visiting their room or office. A few programs have developed online forms that interested parties can fill out if they want more information or want to make an appointment. Once you have developed your site, you can send an email message to staff and faculty announcing the availability of the site and providing the appropriate address, encouraging them to bookmark it for later reference.

As part of developing their brochure many programs get help designing a nice logo for their program that can be used for various purposes. The creativity of mediation program developers in this area has been impressive, with some web sites having animated logos shaking hands or talking or symbolically moving from conflict to accord. A few examples of program logos from campus mediation web sites are provided in our campus Welcome Center gallery.Others can be viewed here.

Another side benefit of having a web site is that it can provide a way for you to connect with other programs across the country. The Campus-adr.org site now has links to over 180 campus mediation sites across the country, making it easy to find and connect with others in similar circumstances. If you do develop a new site, please consider sending the information to us so that your program can be included as well.

Annual Reports

As your program develops a bit of a track record, you can use your annual report as a way to build awareness about the program. As ombuds Griffin reminds us,

An annual report should never be overlooked as a marketing tool. If developed with that goal in mind, it can serve the function of making the reader aware of the activities and services of the office in much greater detail than most other techniques. It could be sent not only to a few administrators, but also to local media (both on and off campus), student leaders, members of representative bodies (like student governments, staff councils, and faculty senates), department (academic and non-academic) heads, and others. [Griffin, 1993, paragraph 16]

For programs targeting commuter students, perhaps the best approach is to do a direct mailing of a letter, brochure or card to their homes. These students are much less likely to read materials posted or distributed on campus. While even a bulk mailing can be expensive, campus marketing research suggests that this approach is the most effective way to reach part-time and/or commuter students.

Promotional Items

Some programs have taken their logo or theme and had it printed on promotional items that can be distributed at various events or locations. Some of these items are serious and tastefully done, perhaps just including the program name and contact information, while others have been quite creative and even at times funny, perhaps appealing more to students than faculty or staff. Examples include items like pencils, highlighters, bookmarks, refrigerator magnets ("When We Listen, People Talk"), post-it notes ("Looking for Creative Solutions? Try Mediation"), coffee cups ("People Talk, People Listen, Things Change") or even match books ("Having a flare-up? Call mediation services!") and bumperstickers ("Mediators Do It Until Everyone Is Satisfied" or "Talk It Out: Shift Happens"). Some programs also use these type of items as part of a fundraising strategy by selling hats or T-shirts, or giving away items in a raffle.

Broadcast Media

Many campuses have radio stations and cable TV networks, often run by students. Many times the producers of these programs are interested in additional content for their shows and will be happy to invite some members of your group to speak. On one radio show at Syracuse University, we did a dramatic presentation of a conflict and then after a break, a mock mediation (abbreviated) that got good reviews. Some radio and cable stations will also help you develop short public service announcements that are then aired periodically during the program day. Some colleges also have professional video production facilities or film schools with budding student producers that will work with you to develop a short video to use in presentations. If your program includes a community focus, you may also want to look into booking an appearance on a Sunday morning talk show on one of the local TV stations, or on various radio talk shows.

Electronic Bulletin Boards, Kiosks, and Logon Notices

Many campuses now have Electronic Message Boards in high traffic areas like student union buildings that provide a steady stream of messages. A short message reminding people about the mediation center can often be included as one of the messages, usually by reservation. Some campuses also have computer-based information kiosks at high traffic locations. These kiosks often include a touchscreen that people can tap for more information. You may be able to get information on your program included there as well. A final electronic method is the logon screen that greets many people as they logon to their campus mainframe computer account. These initial screens often include announcements of upcoming events or technical information. At Nova Southeastern University, we had success using this method, but had an unexpected surprise as well. Our note said something like "Caught up in conflict? Call the Conflict Resolution Resource Service�" While we did get some cases using this approach, we also got calls from people looking for help because their printer wasnít working, or their computer kept crashing. They read our note as an offer of technical support, rather than mediation!

Presentations and Personal Appearances

Given the sensitive nature of conflict, a crucial element of concern by potential clients is the degree to which they feel the mediation service will be a comfortable, helpful, and confidential environment. These issues can be addressed best by a personal appearance or presentation by the program coordinator. No other media allows for the answering of questions, the establishment of personal trust, and such a complete sense of the person with whom the client may interact. The coordinator and members of the outreach committee should be prepared to offer a presentation of as brief as five to ten minutes or as long as an hour that covers basic information about the service. Possible venues for an appearance include orientation sessions for new students, staff, or faculty and various student "service expos" or activity fairs promoting a host of campus services.

Letters

Personalized form letters can be sent to department chairs, student government and organization presidents, residence hall staff and student governments, and those individuals across the campus charged with providing programming for the constituency you wish to reach. Examples can include the women's center, centers for minority students, and directors of non-academic departments like athletics, the counseling center, and the library. Such letters can make them aware of your availability as a presenter or participant at an upcoming program or meeting of their choice. Even if the letter fails to elicit a response, you have reminded an individual to whom others turn for advice about campus resources of the existence of the mediation service.

Letters explaining your service can also be sent to specially targeted groups of faculty or staff such as those charged with student advising duties. These groups have regular contacts with students, and often it is the recommendation of a respected faculty or staff member that moves some students to take action on issues that are troubling them.

Open House and/or Receptions

If your program has its own space, one way to build awareness of it is to sponsor an open house with refreshments and perhaps even musical entertainment. Another related approach is to host a reception for all the department heads, or department heads and staff in student affairs, or human resources, or whatever division is most relevant to your program. While these methods require some resources for food and beverages, it does give people a chance to network with each other, and get to know your program in a more intimate way relatively quickly. It is a good idea to include your advisory board members in this event as well, to help build legitimacy for the initiative and increase your ability to connect with the different attendees.

Dramatic Presentations

When possible and appropriate, a brief demonstration role play or skit can be quite effective at getting and keeping a groupís attention. One creative approach that we used at Syracuse University involved asking faculty teaching large introductory lectures for an invitation to present for 5-10 minutes on the mediation service at the beginning of class. We would then bring two "plants" from the service who would sit in the audience near each other, and who would begin to argue about a phone bill or some other matter in increasingly loud tones just as the main presenter was being introduced. The main presenter would say something like, "Excuse me, have you two got a problem? Iím trying to make a presentation here�", at which point one of the disputants would launch into a brief complaint about the other party in tones loud enough for the whole class to hear. This would pave the way into a brief presentation on the mediation service, and the kinds of problems it might address. The drama and surprise factor seemed to appeal to many students, and given the large size of the lecture hall, the planted disputants werenít immediately obvious as outsiders. Mock mediations can be presented in classes or staff trainings as well.

"Each One, Reach One" Campaigns

This approach requires the active involvement of your mediators and advisory board. You ask each person to make a list of five people they know who may not be familiar with mediation services. The campaign participants are then asked to seek out one of these people each day (or week) and explain the mediation service to them. If all goes well, by the end of the campaign, a 100 or more additional people will have received a personal introduction to campus mediation.

Syllabus Boilerplate Language

Another interesting method of spreading the word about mediation involves identifying classes that use small groups, perhaps in labs, or for small group projects or writing assignments. The program prepares some boilerplate language alerting students to the mediation service and encouraging them to use it if conflicts are disrupting their small groups. Faculty are then asked to consider including this language in their syllabus or in handouts explaining the small group assignments. Along these same lines, some campuses have freshman English courses where students are required to write daily papers. These papers frequently focus on problems and conflicts that students are experiencing. Working with the freshmen English faculty and the freshmen advisors to educate them about mediation and the mediation program can be helpful, if the program and faculty can together identify ways of providing appropriate information and referrals to students who need help with conflicts.

Marketing and Outreach is Important! Use your creativity and your connections and build a positive "buzz" about your program.

(This page is based on a pre-publication draft of a chapter from Bill Warter's book Mediation in the Campus Community from Jossey-Bass Press)