University of Virginia

In a Client’s Words: Working with UVa Intramural-Recreational Sports

By Communications, Marketing, Social Media

I am, of course, proud of all of my clients, what they learn, how they apply what they learn to every day work and how they follow through on the execution of a strategic communications plan. However, right now, I’m extra super proud of Carol Spry at the University of Virginia. Carol is in the Intramural-Recreational Sports marketing department and what we’ve done together is take that program from a very print-focused, traditional marketing world to a very social, web-friendly, responsive and interconnected (read: UVa student friendly!) platform, and Carol is right at the core of making all of that happen.

In this video, produced by the HR department of UVa, Carol talks about her job at the University. See if you can spot my cameo!

My UVa Job – Carol Spry from My UVA Job on Vimeo.

Nine Tenths of Crisis Communications is Stifling the Rumor Mill

By Communications, Crisis Communications

It seems the majority of the Charlottesville community is in violent agreement about the mishandling of the resignation of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan. I am continuing to focus on the communications gaffes; above all, the assumption that the Board of Visitors could “control” the message by releasing the news on a Sunday morning. As the lack of information perpetuates, now three days past the announcement, speculation abounds.

When releasing sensitive information to the public, it’s important to be clear, specific and as transparent as possible. The Board of Visitors’ failure to do this and satisfactorily provide the explanation of how the dismissal/resignation occurred and why has only served to fuel the collective imagination of the community. And boy do our imaginations run wild.

How much better it would have been, if the messages had been delivered in an organized, clear and cohesive manner. How much less damage control would University staff have to do, if clarity were employed, if planning of message delivery had been managed and a group effort was evident.

I’m not addressing here the obvious issue of the resignation not making a lot of sense . . . but rather the failure to appropriately communicate it to the world.

If you’re trying to avoid the extra work of putting out rumor fires, be up front with your information in the first place.

How UVa Handled the Announcement of President Teresa Sullivan’s Resignation

By Communications, Crisis Communications

On Sunday, June 10, the University of Virginia released the news that Teresa Sullivan, a president with just two years’ tenure, had been asked to resign. I talked at length with Coy Barefoot on WINA Newsradio 1070, Charlottesville: Right Now on the topic of how the news has been handled.

The challenge with releasing news such as this is that no matter what it’s going to be a shock. There are going to be questions that are either unanswerable or not available for discussion, based on legally binding arrangements among the affected parties. The decision to hold the press conference on a Sunday morning was smart; missing the Sunday paper news cycle and letting the community wrap their collective minds around the information before the opening of business on Monday sidestepped a lot of immediacy in the need to be reactive. Of course, a sudden dismissal of this kind can rock the reputation of a university and of a community that depends so heavily on a university as its major employer, and UVa should be mindful and careful to monitor its online reputation as discussion of Sullivan’s dismissal ensues.

In crisis communications, we urge clients to share news with transparency and reassurance, and the University has focused their messaging on the future: what steps the University is taking to recruit and place a new president. While explanations for the action are somewhat vague and unsatisfying to the community, it’s likely that very few details beyond what we know now will be revealed.

What do you think about how the University has handled the news?

From C’ville Weekly:

“Around 11:30am Sunday, students and faculty received an e-mail from UVA Rector Helen Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington announcing that Sullivan would resign on August 15. Sullivan, who was quoted in the e-mail, said she and the Board had “a philosophical difference in opinion,” but didn’t elaborate.

At an emergency meeting with vice presidents and deans later the same day, Dragas briefly discussed the budgetary hardships faced by the Board and implied a difference of priorities between members and President Sullivan.

“We have calls internally for resolution of tough financial issues that require hard decisions in resource allocation,” Dragas wrote in a memo summarizing the meeting that was posted on UVAToday. She said the compensation of UVA’s employees is continuing to decline, and the challenge of filling vacated spots is “truly an existential threat to the greatness of UVA.”

The Board still has personal respect for Sullivan, she wrote, but indicated it wants a leader who is more bold and proactive on tackling difficult decisions.

“We are living in a time of rapidly accelerating change in both academia as well as in health care,” Dragas said at a press conference on Sunday.

“That environment, we believe, calls for a different approach to leadership.”

Read more:

The Washington Post 

C’ville Weekly

The Huffington Post


Tweet, Meet, Eat and . . . History! Tweetup Friday, Sept. 16 at Noon

By Communications

A serious part of my Charlottesville cultural upbringing has been missing.

Confession: I have never been to The White Spot.

Upon learning this, my friend Coy Barefoot and I decided it was high time we meet for lunch and quickly turned our date into a full fledged tweetup, enhanced by a short, historical walking tour of The Corner at the University of Virginia.

Coy, an historian, wrote the book, The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia.

Me? I just want a Gus Burger.

Join us! Friday, Sept. 16, 2011 at noon.

Eat, Meet, Tweet and History

Scales, at Last, Tip Colleges and Universities into Social Media

By Social Media

This week, our youngest child graduates from eighth grade, goes on to high school and has nothing to do with us again till she’s thirty. As a graduation gift, she asked for a guide to colleges and universities so she can begin planning her future. You know; the future that’s still four years away. She’s a planner, that one. Since we have done this dance before with an older child, and due to the work I’ve done with universities providing public relations, marketing and social media support, I’ve kept close tabs on what online tools and communities are available for those beginning the search and navigating college admissions.

A tool I like a lot and our daughter spent hours playing with yesterday, is the college search query from College Board. Quiz-style, the user selects parameters important to them, e.g. public, private or no preference; distance from home; academic programs and more. The more strict you are with parameters, the narrower the results (our daughter had to loosen up her demands to get a few more search results).

We’re obviously a few years away from it, but I’ve been delighted to watch schools progress in their use of social media for admissions information. I did a very thorough review of college admissions blogs for a client at one time; the practice of engaging online has been widely adopted since then, to the benefit of students, parents and the universities themselves. Check out the Top 50 College Administration and Admission Blogs to get a sample of what’s being done.

My only hope is that, as our daughter begins to really focus on a smaller handful of schools, those she’s most interested in will have easily accessible information, clean websites and strong managers of social communities, available to engage with us and provide the answers we seek. I’m certain if that’s not the case, my frustration will influence her choice of colleges.

Cav Dog at UVa Photo Credit: Jeannine Lalonde

No post on this topic would be complete without a mention of Notes from Peabody: The UVa Admission Blog created, maintained and updated with humor, style and consistently helpful information by my friend Dean J and her trusty sidekick Cav Dog. Notes from Peabody has existed since 2005 — long before most universities recognized that blogging was a valid way to communicate with prospective students. I applaud Dean J. for getting out there ahead of the pack and for keeping up with an excellent blog for longer than it takes a student to earn a degree.