Category Archives: university

Huge Shift in PR Speed, Responsibility & Accountability

In the previous post, I outlined our strategy for the president’s announcement about possible changes on campus.

Shortly after our announcement, a faculty member friend expressed concern about announcing the news on social media, feeling that the news was detrimental to the university.  She appreciated the administration’s transparency but felt we should be more cautious in what we “share with the outside world.”

Her concern is  legitimate.  In the mad rush of last minute rewrites to hit a 10 a.m. deadline we inadvertently posted the president’s letter to the campus community on our News site  instead of  the news release.  But the release exactly reflected the letter.  The information was the same.  But there was, to some,  the perception of sharing inside information.

I told my colleague  that in today’s  social media driven world, as soon as someone says something, whether it’s true or false,  it becomes public. People share and comment on it, spreading it whether it’s true or false.

As a PR department, we do have a need to be truthful, accountable and swift.

So it’s crucial to get the the institutional announcement out as quickly as possible.  In doing this, we own the news on this matter; we are the originators.

This was reinforced  when a reporter with a local daily tweeted our news with a link to our announcement.   The reporter had to do no work at all.  This is an ongoing, major  shift in journalism.

Gone is the the buffer of “according to PR spokesperson. . . .”  The reporter simply links our story — the source.

We are no longer PR Departments .  We are multimedia production agencies, creating news stories and distributing them to the understaffed journalism profession quickly and truthfully.

This is a huge responsibility.

More on this in the next post.

If you missed my previous post, check it out to see how we successfully minimized the sting of our announcement about possible campus changes.

Fox Interview Will Flourish in the Classroom

Lauren Green’s interview with Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth will live forever in college courses in both a positive and negative way.
The negative, of course, is how to begin an agenda-laden interview and then awkwardly and totally lose control.
I’ve been a PR director in higher education for 35 years. I’ve known professors of every type. Some of my best friends are scholars. Most of them have Ph.Ds. Some are cool and some are social misfits.
I’ve also dealt with journalists of all ages, types and backgrounds. And I started my career as a journalist.
So let’s begin with the fact that Green’s question about why a Muslim would want to write a book about Jesus is a fair one. “Why” is always a first question. On a recent Fresh Air episode Terry Gross asked the same question but she allowed Aslan to answer. He explained that he grew up a Muslim, turned to Christianity, then returned to the Muslim faith. Gross’ question and Aslan’s answer set the tone for a substantive interview that enabled Aslan to talk about Roman history, politics, insurrection and the man responsible for creating the revolution.
Green didn’t allow that and it became clear that there was an agenda. She continued to ask how he, a Muslim, could presume to write about Jesus.
Aslan explained that he has a Ph.D in religious studies and has studied and taught it for 20 years. It was a clear, cool explanation that could have been addressed to a confused high school student. It was clear that with each stumbling question, Green was becoming frustrated and angry, not a good thing when you’re a journalist.
When Green pointed out that many scholars disagreed with Aslan’s premise about Jesus, Aslan almost gleefully answered that this was what scholarly debate is all about. He is, of course, correct. I’ve seen scholars debate. Yes, they can get heated, sometimes about seemingly small things, but debate is at the core of all scholarship and always has been.
Green’s most embarrassing moment as a journalist should have been when she accused Aslan of hiding the fact that he is a Muslim. Aslan calmly zeroed in with a clear, concise attack (and yes, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing), when he pointed out that he states his religion on page two of Zealot and that he has made it clear in every interview he’s ever done, challenging her to find one in which he has not stated it.
That effectively ended the interview, making it painfully clear that this professional journalist had not even opened the book and that her staff/producers had done no preparatory research.

The Green/Aslan interview will be taught in college courses for years to come. Journalism professors will use Green as an example of what not to do in an interview, especially when you lose control of it. PR professors will point to Aslan as a prime example of the importance of staying composed and professional while under fire and the importance of reiterating key points (“I have a PhD. . . . I am a scholar . . . I write about all religions”).
In the end, the goal of attacking a scholar on the basis of his faith and staying with an agenda at the expense of a true conversation did five things on an international scale:
-it damaged the interviewer’s credibility;
-it made a scholar a celebrity;
-it instantly drove Zealot to number one on the bestseller lists;
-it created a renewed discussion about religion and scholarship;
-it made a lasting contribution to the teaching of journalism and public relations.

Keep College President Searches Quiet

Social media has forced upon us two things:  transparency and immediacy.

This is not always good.  Especially in the area of college/university presidential searches.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve seen a couple presidential searches over the past few years.  One  was accepted as president at a larger university.  We all knew it before he returned to campus.

Another president went through the final interview process and we knew about it as the interview took place.

This is not fair to anyone.  Trying to better one’s self is a natural flow in the career world.  If the campus knows your president is interviewing somewhere, it compromises him or her in a lot of ways.

Some would argue that at public institutions, total transparency is needed for taxpayers.

I disagree.   There are no hard figures but I have a feeling a lot of presidents do not apply for other jobs  because of this justified fear of being outed.  That’s not fair to the current institution where the fit may not be right or fair to the interviewing institution where the match might be perfect.

If it’s a public institution it’s not fair to the taxpayer — the parent — who may not be getting a president who is best for the university and its unique needs.

I don’t think this is as big a problem for provosts, deans and even development professionals.  They’re expected to search for positions at larger institution or a college presidency.

It is a problem for a sitting president searching elsewhere.  It says, for whatever reason, the president is not happy with his or her position at your university.  Morale goes down among students, faculty, staff and alumni.  Fairly or not, the president, who has been a cheerleader/fundraiser/parent/leader figure, is instantly deflated to lame duck status.

Higher education has a lot of creaky spots in its body.  This is one area that could be brought into the 21st century.  Let searches for college presidents be discrete.  Students, faculty, staff and alumni can and should be represented.

But a presidential search can be done quietly, discretely and with some class.

Public searches have no place in our instant message age.

Everyone loses.

University President: I’m Leaving Part 2

Social media was maturing six years ago when our previous president was a finalist at another college. Before he made the three-hour trip back to Mansfield after his final interview, we all knew about it.
Unfamiliar with social media, he was shocked that his private matter was very public.
When our current president, Maravene Loeschke was a finalist at a college in the south, a reporter called me at 4 p.m. to ask some questions. Her interview was being blogged in real time.
There are very few secrets anymore. And lag time has shrunk from maybe a week to a few minutes.  If you vocalize a thought, the world hears it.
That a few people at Towson and Mansfield University were able to keep President Loeschke’s candidacy a secret is admirable.  The synchronization of a   joint announcement was professional and swift.
Four local reporters asked to interview Loeschke about her time here, and then it was over.
There was a time when there were a lot of reporters. No more. The few left are  happy to use the official announcement.  Then they’re on to the next story.
A president leaves, a president is named.
Next story please.
I love Maravene Loeschke. A former actress and acting prof,  she’s  great in front of a camera, in the TV studio, excellent at improvising.  But she is a president and they come in and move on.
I and my assistant were dealing with other matters as well: an anonymous accusation that the dorms being constructed; an annual festival that is  important to the university and community; other things that are important to admissions, retention, public relations and community relations.

Within eight hours, the president story was shoved downward by other news.

Today, stories are local and universal.  Sometimes both.  There is very little in between.

But they do have one thing in common:  they flare fast, burn hot and cool quickly.

In the wired age, life goes on, just a lot faster.

***

Language peeve:  The only outlet that got Steve Jobs’ death correct was Apple, saying “Steve Jobs has died.”  Why do we persist in saying “Joe Blow dies?”  The process of dying may be long or brief, but when act is over, it’s past tense,  and so are you.  The language should reflect that.

Visionary Marketing, Ethics, Student Blogs. . .

Being on my back in a brace for possibly three months has been an interesting experience.  It can be solitary confinement or temporary liberation.  Like anything, the quality of your reality is a state of mind.  I’ve had a lot of time to research, read and realize that no matter how much time one has for the Web, it’s like going through stars in a galaxy only to find there are a million more galaxies.

You can get lost in space on the Web.

But in all my explorations I did stumble upon one of the best articles I’ve read on the Web, marketing and the direction things are taking.  It’s long but Bob Garfield is one of the visionaries in his field.  It’s worth your while to read. We’ll see if facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg takes his advice.  I wonder if any of us will take his advice?

And then there’s the post on the PR Junkie blog about Sara Palin’s writing style and what it reveals.  it begins “Call it amoral or disgusting, perhaps even illegal, but thanks to a group of hackers. . . .”  Both the post and the responses are thought-provoking and  should be of interest to PR folks and anyone dealing with the Web, communications and privacy issues.

Thanks to my news director who forwarded this to me, I see there are other pros in the field who occasionally use the term douche bag.  This editor found himself in the middle of a controversy.

Finally, Kyle has a good post on first year student blogs at Wofford. I’m wondering, Kyle, and others who have student blogs, if you could give an update on how you choose students, how much you monitor content (I’m all for letting them write what they want, within reason) and what the results are.  How do you measure the success or effectiveness of each blog? I’d like anyone who deals with student blogs to weigh in on this one.

There’s Still An (Important) Audience for Print Media

I had a good reminder today about audiences and media. Before our bimonthly trustees meeting ,a trustee came over and said his subcommittee had talked about how we needed more publicity to acknowledge the fact that our chorus and jazz vocal group had earned two gold medals and a gold diploma at a recent competition in Austria.
It was, indeed, a huge accomplishment. They were competing against more than 400 groups from 93 countries. Nearly 20,000 singers were involved. Earning one gold is a huge accomplishment. Winning two is nearly unheard of. Taking an additional gold diploma was beyond even the directors’ wildest dreams.
The conversation with the trustee was amiable and I told him I agreed with him,
But it wasn’t over, as I was to find out after the meeting.
We had gotten a fair amount of print coverage, as well as headlining it on our news site and publicizing the blog that one of the choir students posted while over there. We’re also making it the cover story of our alumni magazine summer issue.
After the meeting two more trustees came over with their concern that we find more ways to publicize — in the print media — the victory.
One trustee had a contact at his city’s newspaper. Another trustee suggested hometown releases. I emphasize that it was a friendly but earnest discussion. Our trustees understand alumni and constituent relations. They know the important of PR in recruiting. They care about higher education and they care about our university or they wouldn’t give up evenings and afternoons studying reports and attending meetings.
Our trustees are successful professionals — judges, bankers, teachers, retired CEO’s, and doctors.
And they read the newspaper to get their news.
On my walk back to my office, I was having the same thoughts I had 25 years ago. How can we do more hometown releases?
It’s this steady tension between the traditional and the progressive that is fraying the nerves of PR folks across the country.
Newspapers continue their steady decline and I continue to give presentations about how communication is changing and moving with avalanche force to the Internet,
The bottom line is that print still has an audience.
In this case, it’s a very important one.

I’d be interested to hear the experiences of others in the higher ed field.

Newspapers as Agenda Setters. Who Follows in Their Wake?

For this guest blog I asked Dick Jones of Dick Jones Communications for his thoughts on newspapers as the agenda setters and who sets the agenda as they continue to lose circulation. Here’s Dick’s response:

While most people no longer get their news directly from newspapers, the papers retain an important role as the agenda setters of the news.  That’s why it’s still essential for college and university publicists to get their stories into the newspapers.

At the local level, your TV assignment editors are taking many of their cues for the day’s news coverage from the stories in the morning newspaper—at least the stories that they think have some “visual” potential.  The stories that do not have video appeal turn up in text on the station’s website.  Zoning ordinance changes make bad television.

Too few local radio stations retain independent news operations anymore.   Where local radio news still exists they are reading wire stories (many of which were re-written from newspapers) and cribbing shamelessly from the local newspaper for others.  Sometimes this is done with attribution.  Not always.

Bloggers commenting on the foibles of the school board may have attended last night’s board meeting.  More likely, however, they read about it in the morning newspaper.  Or if they are commenting on a national issue, such as the relief efforts in the China earthquake, they got their info from a Google search which turned up a host of stories from newspapers and wire services.

It’s not much different at the national level.  The producers of the network television and cable news programs are scanning their agenda-setting newspapers for story ideas.  These include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA TODAY.

More often than I can count in my career, a big broadcast score has resulted after the story was covered by a national agenda-setting newspaper or a major wire service.   One of the more recent examples is a professor who wrote an op/ed for The Chicago Tribune about Presidents Day in February.  After it appeared he was interviewed on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

So newspapers still matter even though fewer and fewer people read them.  That’s one reason why the collapsing economics of the newspaper business is  a concern.  If the newspapers go belly up who will be the agenda setters?

Something will fill the vacuum, of course.  Something will serve as the agenda setter for the news.  Something always has; always will.

As media relations professionals we will have to find whatever it is and successfully pitch them.