Once upon a time, college newspapers were best known as a forum where aspiring journalists could gripe about university administration, air the Greek system's dirty laundry, and uncover where that money from the perpetual tuition hikes actually went.
While most of that still may be true, recent business developments show that college papers are also providing a formidable marketing opportunity in the ever-changing media world.
Two weeks ago, MTV Networks - through its MTVU division - announced that it would acquire Y2M: Youth Media & Marketing Networks, the parent of College Publisher, the largest interactive network of online college newspapers in the US. Currently, College Publisher reaches more than 5 million college students around the country via 450 on-line publications.
Even traditional college media are getting a stamp of approval. The Tallahassee Democrat, owned by newspaper giant Gannett, bought The FSView & Florida Flambeau, the student newspaper of Florida State University. The acquisition marked the first time that a major chain had bought a college newspaper.
While the situation is a bit unique in that the newspaper was an independent entity prior to the sale, the fact that corporations are paying attention to - and dollars on - this segment of the media signals that it's one that marketers should be keeping their eyes on.
"The MTV deal is sort of the cherry on top of what has been a few years of increasing interest in college-campus media," says Samantha Skey, SVP of strategic marketing for Alloy Media & Marketing. "It probably makes it even more clear that campus papers are a critical piece of the pie. If MTV could provide their clients with a full-service solution using just TV, I'm sure it would."
From a marketing point of view, college newspapers have always offered a targeted way to reach a highly desirable demographic. And despite the prevalence of blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and more, it appears that students are, in fact, still reading those publications.
A recent study conducted by Y2M showed that 77% of college students surveyed read the print edition of their campus paper at least once each month, and 57% read it online.
"The student media is a powerful and direct channel to reach students," says Matthew Farlie, cofounder and director of business development for Collegiate Presswire, which sends out roughly 700 press releases a year to 850 student papers around the country. "For advertisers and marketers looking to reach a purely student demographic, it makes sense to do a PR campaign and advertising in the campus newspapers."
Farlie adds that the increased interest in college media may be indicative of the overall trend in niche media.
"Clients these days are much more aware of targeted newswires and their power in reaching this demographic," he notes, adding that a few years ago clients would wait for their news to "percolate" down through major media to collegiate media. "With such a high readership demographic, it allows marketers to really focus their news and advertising messages on the audience they're trying to reach, rather than take a roundabout way to try and reach them."
Yet, Ron Spielberger, executive director of College Media Advisors and an associate professor of journalism at the University of Memphis, says that PR pros are not taking full advantage of the college media market.
College publications typically serve as a paper for the community as well, he notes, so they are often in the same boat as small-staffed papers in that they can benefit from content and story leads supplied by PR firms, especially if that news has a local angle. Even in the digital age, something black and white and read all over campus could provide a surprising boost to most any campaign.