Getting your news noticed

It used to be that all you needed to do was send a press release about your event or program to the local media outlets, and you could count on getting some coverage.

Boy, things sure have changed.

Today, news is immediate. Fewer people are getting their information from traditional news sources; instead they are turning to the Internet, social media, and other digital sources.

The news media and the public have limited attention spans. If they don’t catch your message right away, they are off to something else.

So how can you make sure your information isn’t getting lost in the sea of competing messages? Here are a few tips to help get your news noticed.

Make sure your information is newsworthy.

Help reporters cut through the clutter by providing them with information that is meaningful to their audiences.

  • Is your information timely? It should be about something that is happening now or in the future. Not history.
  • Is it local? News is about people. How does your information affect your neighbors?
  • Is your information useful? For example, can something be done now that could not have been done previously?
  • Is the information interesting?

Know your media outlets.

While sharing your message at a meeting could reach 50, 100, or perhaps 500 people, a story in a single newspaper, magazine, or website could reach thousands. To get your information in the news, you need know the reporter and what they are covering.

  • Make yourself media savvy — listen, watch, and read. Become familiar with the different types of media outlets in your geographic area. Learn what they cover and what regular columns and features might be the best match for your information.
  • Find out what topics are being covered so you can offer related stories.
  • Learn the names of local reporters and the subjects they cover. If you want reporters to keep answering your calls and opening your emails, make your news relevant to individual reporters.

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How to compose a photo to get your message across

If the cliché that a picture is worth 1,000 words is true, what is your picture saying?

Is it saying that someone has a telephone pole sticking out of her head? That your subject seems to have his eyes closed a lot? That your subject turns away from people when she is talking to them? Or that he doesn’t have any hands?

Chances are that none of these is the message you want to convey when you are snapping a photo, but often times that’s what they say. By spending just a few moments thinking of one of the most important subjects of photography — composition — we can turn even the most humdrum image into something visually appealing.


Before you start to shoot…

Look around the room and the area in which you are going to shoot. What is in the image? Do you want that trashcan in your photo? Or that car? What about the water bottle? Remember that everything in a photo is another piece of information for the viewer, so select what information you do – or don’t – want to convey. Too much clutter in the background distracts folks from the image you want them to focus on.


What is that coming out of your head?

Much like you look around the room to see what is in your image, make sure there are no odd looking shapes behind your subject. It not only distracts from the image, but a poorly positioned phone pole can look downright ghoulish. Simply moving a few feet to the side may solve this problem. Likewise, be sure not to cut off any body parts that make a person look odd.


Action! Or not…

If you are trying to show that your program is fun and engaging and hands-on, then why is everyone sitting down or just standing in a straight line looking at the camera? This is a chance to take good action shots to show your folks doing something. A bad action shot can be more interesting than a good grip-and-grin. You have to take a lot more of them to get one that works, but the pay-off is worth it.


Bend your knees!

Look for interesting angles to shoot from. Try from down low. Or up high. Or put the camera over your head and shoot blindly. The most boring thing you can do is to take a photo from exactly the same perspective all the time.


Be in control

If you are setting up a shot to illustrate a program, you have complete artistic license to manipulate the shot. Don’t like the way that person is sitting? Ask them to move! Think it would be better in a different part of the room? Ask them to move! The key is that you are the artistic director, which means you have to direct people to get what you want.


Back of your head

It is hard to emotionally connect to the back of someone’s head. So get in front of the people and make sure you can see their eyes and faces – it will make for a much more engaging, interactive shot.


Take lots of shots

The beauty of digital photography is that you can take an inordinate amount of images, so don’t be shy with your shutter finger. You can literally take 100 shots and only get one or two good ones. And always, always, always review your shots at the moment to see if you have what you are looking for.


And have fun!

Photography is an art and a very approachable one at that. So have fun with it, mix it up, and try new things. You’ll like what you see!

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Experts Directory serves as great resource for college and Extension

Need to find an expert for a story or article on agricultural productivity or animal genetics? Bioengineering or bioluminescence? Climate change or community development? Diabetes or drought?

Look no further than the new Experts Directory that contains detailed descriptions of almost 300 authoritative sources from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension. The college is home to world-renowned scientists who are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing the planet.

Experts Directory
Faculty members from the college and Virginia Cooperative Extension are working on issues ranging from agricultural productivity to animal welfare, bioengineering to bioluminescence, diabetes to drought, and climate change to community viability.

Members of the media, fellow scientists, and others can easily find the expert they are searching for using keywords, departments, subject area, or names.

A new Newsroom site also is available where you can learn about the latest news from the college, trends in agriculture, upcoming events, videos, research blog posts, and more.

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What is good design?

The stock answer is that good design is generally a combination of different qualities — what it does, what it looks like, and so on. But as our expectations of design change, so do those qualities and the relationship between them.

Designs should be complete but not cluttered. Good design should be able to tell a story at a glance without the reader getting lost in the overall look. Some designers like less detail, others like more.

But what really works on a broader scale?

Look at different images of products around you. Most are simple, well thought out designs. They tell a story at a glance or give a feeling with just a look. Simplicity is a great goal to use when trying to create a design. Corporate elements and product icons carry a lot of weight to get their point across easily. For example, everyone knows the Facebook icon, even though it is simple in both detail and its colors.

Some designs can be more complex. A design will be more detailed and complex when designing for a large audience where you need to show many possibilities for a particular product or image. Those designs are usually full of color and ideas but not so much that it overwhelms the viewer.

When designing an icon, use less color and less distraction. Remember the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you’re designing a poster for an event that has many uses, complementary colors and interesting design elements are the best options to get your ideas across.

In this new digital age of design, everyone has the ability to be a designer if they have a laptop and some software. And while opinions differ on what is good and bad design, remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Good design is what looks good today and will still look good in 20 years.

For more information and tips, check out these sources:

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Writing for the Web

14108561722_2a5c4984da_zWhat websites do you like reading? What ones do you glance at once and never come back to? Have you ever thought that your favorite websites might be just that because of the way the content is presented?

One of the biggest challenges for academic and educational websites is to inform, but not bog down, the website visitor. People are used to being able to quickly digest little snippets of information when they’re looking at a screen, rather than reading long paragraphs of prose.

Good content developed for your website also increases the accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO) of your website by tailoring the words to be concise and descriptive. Continue reading

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Make the most out of your Facebook page

Creating a Facebook page for your group or organization has many benefits: it makes your business available in Facebook searches, it allows you to connect personally with your followers, it helps you reach larger groups of people, and it gives you deeper insights into your audience. Your page serves as an extension of your business, so you want to make sure the page is set up to represent you well. Here are the basics you’ll want to pay attention to and how to get started with them.

Cover photo: This image sits at the top of your profile page and rests behind your logo/profile photo as a backdrop. The cover photo is a more flexible space and because of the larger size, you have more real estate to work with to be creative. Your cover photo could include brand messaging, campaign promotions, or images that represent your group.

facebook cover and profile photo

Profile photo: This sits on the bottom left of your cover photo and is how Facebook users are able to identify you. It’s a small thumbnail that is attached to everything you do on Facebook – from posting in a group, to posting on your own timeline. The profile photo also shows up on all of your posts. When choosing your profile photo, pick something that’s easily identifiable.

About section: The about section is a tab in the navigation bar that sits under your profile and cover photos. This section includes two sections. The first is your page information, which is where you can share details about your company or group. The second is milestones, which lets you share important events and the history of your brand.

Timeline: Your Facebook page gives you the ability to post updates for your followers. Posting on Facebook is a great way to build your audience and connect with them. These posts can be a mix of text, images, links, non-native video (like a YouTube link), native video (a video posted directly on the Facebook platform), and photo albums. Typically, photos and videos get more views than strictly text posts. Regardless of what you post, increasing your reach is directly related to sharing information and interacting with your followers.

Tabs: Tabs now sit in two places on your Facebook page: on the left side of your timeline and in the navigation bar under your cover photo. Tabs can be used to host apps, which can help a business extend their capabilities directly on their page, including running contests, connecting to your other social accounts, and more. To see what is available and choose apps to add to your page’s tabs, visit the Facebook App Center. The benefit of using tabs instead of directing a user right to a landing page is that the Facebook user is able to stay within the Facebook system and doesn’t navigate away from your page.

Insights: Visible only to the page admins, Facebook pages are set up with an Insights tab. This allows you to see the analytics of your activity on the page. These analytics can help you identify your audience more specifically, see what get the most engagement, and track the volume of your traffic and fan building activity.

Setting up these basics on your Facebook page and knowing where to find and how to use them will help you get your Facebook page off to a good start.

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A picture can (usually) say a thousand words

Images play a very relevant role in publications. When used with thought and care, they can evoke emotions in the viewer. Photographer Susan McConnell said good photographs make us feel. Strong feelings create appreciation, compassion, and urgency, which mold the choices we make as individuals and as a society.

Viva Virginia Master Class; string quartet members; music.

Graphics engage our imagination and heighten our creative thinking by stimulating other areas of our brain (which in turn leads to a more profound and accurate understanding of the presented material).

Choosing the right photo(s) is crucial when designing a publication, website, etc., while the wrong photo or a poor-quality photo can easily destroy the message. For example, an image of a dimly-lit classroom with the participants’ backs to the viewer would not be a good choice for a publication promoting a workshop or conference.

Writer Helen Stark says text gives our ideas a precision that we can rarely approach with images alone. Text also plays the central role in SEO (search engine optimization), being the only data we can say with certainty that search engines understand perfectly. Although text can be enough to invoke imagery without the use of pictures, a compelling image will usually engage the viewer more quickly.

Following is an example from the blog “Letting go” (Nov. 23, 2015) of how text can create an emotional response much like a photograph.

Apricot season in the countryside, calls from friends in the city asking where they can buy ripe red apricots. In a fortnight, there will be water melons and honeydew melons (our “spanspek” melons) ready for stalls along the roads through farmland. High summer, abundance and fullness, the wheat harvested, white crystal grapes swelling on vines, the deep shady embrace of old oak trees.

Without graphics, an idea can be lost in a myriad of words; without words, a graphic can be vague. Robert E. Horn, an award-winning scholar at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, said, “When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new and we augment our communal intelligence … visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’ — the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”

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Tips on making a noticeable — and usable — website

Congratulations! You have a website to promote your business, school, event, or other organization or activity. But what should you put on it? How should you organize it so that people can find what they need to find easily?

One of the most important things you need to know about visitors to your website is that they stay for only 10 to 20 seconds, unless given a reason to stay longer. This means that you need to put your important information up front and be as concise as possible.

Make sure to put the purpose of your site is noticeable at the top of the page – perhaps by making it bold, larger text, near or on top of a high-quality image, or in another eye-catching fashion. If people can’t tell why your webpage is useful in about 10 seconds, they’re likely going to leave.

If your website has multiple pages on it (and if you have a lot of information on it, it should!), make sure that you add navigation going either horizontally across the top of the page or vertically down the left side of the page. Also, make navigation labels as clear and concise as possible. Users should have a good idea of what they are clicking on.

Make pages as self-contained as possible. If you’re running an event, have a page for registration information, including how to register, how much it costs to register, when the registration deadline is, etc. If you have a schedule, make that its own page.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but generally if a user can look at a page and think, “Okay, I want the schedule, and this is the page with the schedule on it,” instead of, “Where is the schedule information on this long page with a lot of information?” They’re  more likely to find what they need and to not leave your page in frustration.

Finally, let’s talk about images. Images are good – if they are high quality and are of actual people. Users are likely to pay less attention to images that clearly have a model or are stock photos. Larger and better quality photos are better than smaller and/or low quality photos. Just make sure that if you add photos to your website, they don’t push the information people are actually looking for too far down the page.

And one final note on images: Never put text as part of an image. If you want to put text over an image, style your website so that text is placed on top of an already existing image. It both looks better and is more accessible to visitors with sight disabilities.

Hopefully by following these simple steps, you can get yourself off to a good start by creating a website that will both attract visitor’s attention and give them the information they are looking for quickly and easily.

For additional resources on this topic, you can check out the following websites:

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First impressions and fresh eyes

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This quote has been attributed to Will Rogers, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain — there is disagreement as to the original author — and has been used to sell everything from men’s suits to dandruff shampoo.

Regardless of who first said it, its truth is not disputed. The adage can be applied to job interviews, sales calls, and first dates.

It also applies to our writing. Whether it’s website text, a press release, a newsletter, or an email about an upcoming event, our written words are often the first way others learn about our college, our programs, and our people.

What first impression do we make if our material has typos or other errors?

Errors can be costly

According to Professor William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, errors can cause concerns over whether a website or communication — and the people or organization behind it — is credible and trustworthy.

If those reading your content find reason to doubt your credibility or competence, the result could be fewer people attending your event, learning about your research, or buying your product.

For example, Charles Duncombe, an online marketer in the United Kingdom, found that fixing a simple spelling mistake on a website accounted for a 100 percent increase in sales.

Put fresh eyes to work

We all make mistakes, but it’s hard to catch our own errors. One reason is because we’ve already looked at what we’re writing a dozen times, and we know what it’s supposed to say. That causes our eyes to skip over mistakes and instead see what we know should be there.

Psychologist Tom Stafford with the University of Sheffield, quoted in the Aug. 12, 2014, edition of Wired, says that writers don’t see their own typos because, “When you are writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task.”

In other words, when the brain is focused on the complex task of conveying ideas, it is difficult to see the individual letters, commas, and sentences involved.

That’s why it’s so important to have someone who is not familiar with the material — a fresh pair of eyes — review it for misspellings, factual errors, and grammatical issues.

Proofreading your own work

If you have to proof your own work, here are some ideas for helping you pinpoint errors:

  • Print it out. For most people, it’s easier to proof on paper than on a computer screen. Before printing, double-space the text.
  • Use a ruler. A ruler helps because it keeps the eyes from jumping ahead. Clear plastic rulers don’t work for this purpose. Another option is sliding a piece of paper in a contrasting color (a bright or dark color works best) down the page as you read line by line.
  • Read aloud. Turn on the white noise or go to a quiet location and read the text out loud. Or have someone else read it to you.
  • Change it up. Before reviewing, try printing it in a different font — something wider and different from what you usually use. And while you’re at it, print the text on brightly colored paper to make it stand out.
  • Back it up. Some people suggest reading a document from the end to the beginning. This trick might help with locating out-and-out typos (an extra letter or transposed letters), but it doesn’t help with grammar errors or homophone misuse (there, their, or they’re).

For more information about the science behind typos, check out Nick Stockton’s article in Wired, “What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard To Catch Your Own Typos.”

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Tell the world about your upcoming Extension event

So you and your Extension planning committee have met many, many times to go over the logistics of your upcoming event.

You know who will staff the event, what time you need to be there and have even figured out what kind of potato chips you’re going to serve.

And then, the week before, you call the Office of Communications and Marketing to ask if we can put out a news release about the event. Sadly, that is too late.

In order for our office to do the best job we can to promote your event, we need to be brought into the conversation long before said potato chips are planned.

Our office is working on about 200 different jobs at any given time, so we need to plan ahead in order to accommodate so many different tasks.

Another reason for this is once we submit a story to VT News, it can take a week or longer to get it out to in the Daily Email (which is sent to the local media outlets).

This is the best process go through to ensure we can help you publicize your event:

  • Specialist or agent drafts a news release describing the event, its target audience, and its logistical information such as time, location, registration details, etc.
  • Draft release should be submitted via the online project request system at least six to eight weeks prior to registration deadline.
  • Communications and Marketing will review and edit the release and return to faculty member for final approval.
  • After final approval, Communications and Marketing will forward the release to the VT News Bureau for distribution and publication on the Web.

If another state agency is the lead agency for an event, we will defer to that agency to do the release.

For other guidelines on having a release written on awards, new programs, or research papers, visit our news and publicity guidelines page.

We look forward to telling the world about your good news!

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