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I am a mathematics professor, and recently I invited (using my own grant funding) a speaker to campus give a lecture on popular math. As I expected, he gave a wonderful talk that any undergraduate could have enjoyed.

I decided to try to publicize the event widely, and I failed in a big way. Our Director of Public Relations (whom my chair urged me to contact) and one of his subordinates were very helpful, and they gave me a large list of people (with their e-mail addresses) to further get in touch with.

But, then, I then e-mailed these people individually, and wrote messages tailored to their job positions, and ..... nothing. Nobody even wrote back. It was humiliating. Ultimately, these efforts were all useless; it was essentially only people in my department that got back to me or helped me publicize the event.

I have been stewing about how incompetent our administrators are, but I wonder if this is foolish on my part. Might I have gone about this in a different way? (Perhaps admins rely on the phone and don't check their e-mail?) Or perhaps I was naive or presumptuous to attempt this at all? I hate to admit this, but I have been wondering if I should bother in the future.

  • It's a sad fact that it's hard to get people to care. I had this happen to me as well, and it's disappointing, but then at the same time I've got these e-mails from others and I've ignored them. Maybe the best thing to do is to try to make personal content with some of these people so the next time something like this comes along you're not just anonymous@myschool.com. You can return the favor by promising to rally attendance for their events in exchange. – Dave Kanter Oct 25 '16 at 23:42
  • Who were these people you were invited to contact? Faculty or administrators at your own institution, nearby institutions, community members, ...? – Nate Eldredge Oct 25 '16 at 23:50
  • Administrators at my own institution. – Anonymous Oct 26 '16 at 0:19
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    To further clarify: What did you ask for in your emails? Did you ask the administrations to help you announce the talk? Did you ask them to announce the talk? If the latter, do you have any reason to believe that they did not announce it? Why should these people have responded to your email? Also: Did you provide any material to announce/publicize the talk (like an abstract or a poster)? – Dirk Oct 26 '16 at 14:19
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    Watch closely how big events in film/show industry are announced. That's a HUGE machinery behind to make it work. No reason to be disappointed, just adjust your expectations for the future. Location plays a role. Who you know personally plays a role. Repeated events play a role. Clubs you may be part of play a role. There are so many distractions on various media with which you are competing. If you got some audience at all, you already are successful. – Captain Emacs Nov 3 '16 at 15:41
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Not sure which of these things you already tried, but here goes (note you don't have to do all of these -- I'm just brainstorming here):

  • create flyer (letter sized)

  • create poster (not sure of exact dimensions -- I think it's about 11 x 17, somewhat glossy)

  • ask the people on the list you were given to put up copies of your flyer (attached to your email)

  • put flyers and posters up on bulletin boards and in elevators

  • involve students in your publicity efforts

  • get an article in your campus newspaper and your town or city newspaper, in advance of the event

  • do direct outreach to target relevant sectors of the community

  • liaise with relevant student organizations

  • plan to serve refreshments, and mention them in your flyer and poster

  • arrange a back-up larger venue in case your publicity efforts have too good an effect

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+50

I'm not sure if this will be helpful to you, but I think there are generally several good (empirically tested) strategies for publicising events of wide interest.

Mailing lists. The administrative services at your university (whether at departmental or university-wide level) should have various mailing lists which split all available university email addresses into different partitions. So, using these mailing lists, you should be able, at least in theory, to send emails to, say, all undergraduate students, or all students taking particular courses, or all people from a certain department, etc.
There are also, depending on your field (definitely in mathematics), various public mailing lists, to which sometimes hundreds of people subscribe.

Newsletters/digests. Don't know how common these are, but both my department and my university send weekly digests of interesting events on campus, among which various talks, seminars, lectures, etc. Many people read them.

Social media. I don't really use social media, so I can't tell you much about how the publicising is done, but I know that people (especially younger people) do rely on it to get informed about different events. I believe Twitter is more widely used for such things, but I can't tell you for certain.

Notice boards. This may be a UK thing, but a lot (most?) of the events on campus are advertised on the notice boards in common rooms and areas throughout the campus.

Web pages. My department has a web page (on the intranet, so not available to the general public) which lists all upcoming events on campus which may be of interest to the people here. Universities also often have searchable lists (generally available to everyone) of upcoming events on campus, e.g. http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/whatson/ .

Lectures. If you think the event may be of interest to your students, you may advertise it before/after lectures. Even put this information on Blackboard or whatever.

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What you did was an incredible thing to do and you shouldn't feel humiliated at all. What you did is what lacks in education these days and it's a shame you couldn't get the support needed. On the other hand, you probably held your hopes to high and thought it would grow faster than it normally does. I've taken part of a few independent iniciatives inside my school and what I noticed is that the best way to publicize your event is through the people that attend to it. If they like it, they'll absolutely tell other people and it will naturally grow. It might take some time, but that's just normal. For that, you need to create a regular schedule with the lectures, so people know when to find it without too much effort. Maybe you can turn it into a weekly round table with a lecturer every last week of the month to make it less expensive?

Another thing that might help you out is to use your own students to back you up. Create something that will instigate them to go to the lecture, hence raising the numbers of your audience. Maybe you could give and extra point for each student that attended.

Lastily, as nice as it seemed, I don't really think that Director of Public Relations was professional at all. I mean, he is the Director of Public Relations, he should be in charge of creating the announcements or at least answering you the very same question you are asking here. If I were you, I'd return to him with specific problems you need help with and inclusde him in the process. You do the math, he does the talking.

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