When the drug bust press conference was over, Terry, my news director, President Loeschke and I walked outside. It was a sunny, warm November day. I saw a female TV reporter who was my intern years ago. I gave her a hug and we talked about the more innocent days when she was a student.
The Attorney General’s office arranged to march the students out, slowly, one-by-one, past for the media. As a PR professional, I admired their skill.
They had thought of every detail.
So did our president. “Where will the students be coming out?” She asked.
“Over there,” Terry said, pointing to a side door. “The police are going to escort them down this way, then turn left and into the vehicles.”
She nodded. “Then I want to stand right there.” She walked to a spot where the students would be coming around a curve. “I want to be here where they will have to face me and see how incredibly disappointed I am.”
I’ve been in the news and PR business for 30 years and thought I was I was pretty hardened. But a shiver went up my spine. This woman had been president of MU for only five months and here she was handling a drug bust press conference as presidential and human as a person can be.
She had gone on camera thanking the Attorney General’s Office for its fine work , reiterating that our university does not tolerate drugs. And now she was personalizing it. Hers was the last face each student would see before entering the police vehicle.
The students began passing by. A couple glanced at her and looked away. One student made jokes. The rest saw her and looked down in shame and humiliation.
On the PR side, the moment made for some hard-hitting photos. What parent couldn’t relate to this woman, alone, arms folded, watching one of her students, his head down, being led to jail?
She stood for higher education, leadership and values, and they had let her down. They had let the university down.
It was classic.
Dr. Loescke’s response – going on camera and thanking the Attorney General’s office, her insistence on placing herself in a strategic position to face the students and force them to face themselves – turned a negative moment into something universal, positive, and most importantly, human.
We drove back to campus. The afternoon was spent answering media questions and I thought at the end of the day it was over.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
More in Part 3.