rector dragas

How Bad PR Tactics Can Damage the Industry

By Communications, Crisis Communications, Public Relations

I’m concerned. The whole situation with the ouster of UVa President Teresa Sullivan by, among others, Board of Visitors Rector Helen Dragas has turned into one of the biggest PR headaches I’ve ever seen a university battle. And then . . . news that Dragas has hired PR firm Hill + Knowlton to represent her and “burnish” her image was released.

As a PR professional, is this a job my firm would take? Hell, no. We’re firmly in the camp of taking only clients who agree to be transparent; who have a prayer of repairing damage done; who  agree to and act on recommended counsel.

That being said, witnessing how Hill + Knowlton is handling the work concerns me further. Evidence of their counsel, thus far includes:

  1.   A letter to the editor published by Dragas’s sister; not an entirely credible source in mending the Rector’s reputation.
  2. Some suspected blog lurking and commenting from unidentified sources offering support for Dragas, sometimes out of context.
  3. A terribly written statement (that was, later, translated into plain English by Waldo Jaquith, underscoring the lack of clarity and, yes, SPIN, the firm is attempting).

I’m puzzled over how a firm could allow their client to walk, unescorted from the Rotunda to her car at 3:00am, facing media and protesters and enabling this:

“As reporters urged Dragas for comment, she replied, “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.” — as reported in The Hook

A responsible firm with a client in this kind of crisis should be glued to her side for the duration of the engagement. I can’t imagine letting a loose cannon like that out of my sight for a minute.

Come on, Hill + Knowlton; either have the guts to fire an indefensible client or bring your A game and get her to do the right thing. You’re giving the public relations industry a bad name.