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"Classics and Public Information & Media Relations: How to do it better"

Michael Fontaine

Cornell University

Outreach, it seems to me, is a simple numbers game. If we want to have maximum impact, we have to reach the maximum number of people and let them know who we are and what we’re doing.  

To that end, I suggest the SCS redirect its efforts away from labor-intensive projects that cannot scale, such as visiting individual high schools, and toward the largest possible venues, audiences, networks, and distributors. What does that mean in practical terms? 

It means in the first instance going after Hollywood movies and TV documentaries. Think of what Gladiator did for the profession, or what Passion of the Christ could have done if we’d bothered. In 2009 several of us appeared as talking heads on an awful History Channel documentary about Greek Mythology. It was translated into many different languages and screened around the world. I still get emails about it—the most recent one came just yesterday. We should find out who makes, edits, publishes, or solicits the contents of these shows and make pitches to them. 

In the second instance it means cultivating national radio programs (e.g. NPR) and those few magazines that have gigantic circulations (e.g. AARP The Magazine, c. 22,000,000/monthly). For example, Princeton University Press has just released a new translation of Cicero’s De Senectute in a boutique edition. The SCS should seek to spread the news of that translation to all of those turning 65 who might be interested in it—that is one demographic we have never sought to reach before, and new people are joining its ranks every day. Beyond that, there are specialist audiences for everything—they are bound to be curious to read an ancient take on their favorite hobby (or illness, relationship problems, etc.).

In the third instance it means leveraging social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, and not only through the SCS accounts but in tandem with the university or college accounts that we work at. Our universities are eager to show off what we faculty are doing. They should be partners in our outreach because they will engage the ranks of our alumni; we only have to do a better job of letting them know what we are doing.

In the last instance it might mean being a little less inflammatory, that is to say, more conservative, about the political positions we take or assume in public. I hope that we will have time to discuss this point in particular at our panel in Toronto.

Session/Panel Title

New Outreach and Communications for Classics: Persons, Places, and Things

Session/Paper Number

4.5

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