When important news or sensitive stories arise, we often talk to clients about how to avoid leaks and how to manage their own messages and timing of announcements with respect for all audiences – including internal, external and media. In this environment, that includes a multi-platform approach, essentially breaking your own news over platforms you control, such as email, your website(s) and social media and working closely with journalists on a traditional media approach that fits the bigger strategy.
Such a plan was conceived and executed to perfection last week, I’m proud to say, by my alma mater, Syracuse University. For only the 12th time in history and first time in the modern age of social media, the University’s Board of Trustees hired a new Chancellor, after a search that lasted 10 months. The Chancellor of the University is the most significant figure in the University’s global community and one of the most high-profile leaders in Upstate New York. This is a big story in every respect for all of the University’s most important audience and the University broke it, its own way.
Early last Thursday morning, before 7 Eastern time, alumni received emails from the University’s Board Chair, announcing that Kent Syverud, Dean of the Law School at Washington University, had been selected as Chancellor. At the same time, the University released a comprehensive press release announcing a 1pm introduction on campus and put the news on its social media accounts. A short time later, a story provided to Syracuse.com (a local commercial news organization, essentially the web site of the local newspaper) appeared online including an interview with Syverud, which had been conducted the day before but embargoed.
This felt like the absolute correct approach from a PR perspective. All audience got the news in the way the University wanted. Kevin C. Quinn, the University’s Senior Vice President for Public Affairs told me the simultaneous announcement is exactly what was strategized. “Yes, that was our goal— to ensure that members of the full SU community – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends- had the opportunity to hear the announcement of our next leader at the same point in time,” he told me in an email.
What is also intriguing is that during the relatively long search process, there were no leaks, no rumors, no short lists and no “trial balloons.” I asked Quinn about that too. “Like most private universities, this search was a confidential one. I have never been directly involved in a search at a public university, although I understand some have public disclosure requirements that might apply to a search. I would really stress that the goal was not to keep anything secret just for secrecy’s sake, but was to try and make it possible that the full SU community could have the opportunity to hear of and learn about next leader at the same point in time,” he wrote.
Syracuse may be 1-2 in football so far this year. But the school is undefeated in big PR opportunities. Here’s hoping this approach is copied more often by organizations that want to break their own stories.