At 8 a.m. November 1, 2006, the Attorney General’s Office called our president, Maravene Loeschke, to inform her that they were holding a press conference announcing a major drug bust at Mansfield University.
She was, of course, invited.
The president called Terry, my news director. “I want to be there,” she said. “I want you and Dennis to pick me up at 10:30.”
I’ve been in the business a long time. Most presidents do not want to be part of a press conference about a drug bust on their campus. Actually, most PR people don’t, either.
We drove up to the state police barracks. I soon found out that when the Attorney General’s office does a long investigation which concludes in the arrest of a whole batch of drug dealing students, they want the taxpayers and general public to know about it.
They had displays of evidence, photos and press kits. The 16-month investigation was called “Operation Failing Grade.” The Attorney General’s Office had a dark sense of humor.
Mansfield University is located in north central Pennsylvania. Reporters from a 100-mile radius attended.
As a seasoned PR person, I watched in awe the precision with which the conference was conducted. A rep from the Attorney General’s office spoke about the investigation, the undercover agents, and purchasing $17,000 worth of cocaine, marijuana and Oxy-Contin. The DA spoke.
There were hand-outs, visuals, and each presentation was short, dynamic and to the point. You don’t just whip a production like this together . It takes work.
I’ve known presidents who would run to the other side of the state to avoid being part of an announcement like this. Others would simply send their PR guys to the front line. The Attorney General’s rep asked Dr. Loeschke just before the conference if she wanted to speak.
She nodded: “Absolutely.”
When her turn came, President Loeschke stepped up to the mic and spoke in an even, firm voice. “I want to thank the Attorney General’s office, the state police and the District Attorney’s office for all their work,” she said. She went on to say that these students were not representative of the whole student body and that the administration is committed to a drug-free, safe campus.
Now, I agree that Dr. Loeschke’s background didn’t hurt. She spent years as an actress and an acting professor. She also did impromptu.
And in this very difficult moment she was excellent. She was firm, confident, everything a leader should be in a moment like this.
But what she did next took me totally by surprise.
I’ll tell you about it in the next post.