Sunday, April 12, 2009

Time to apply some CPR to ASU's PR

Officals at Arizona State University say they always intended to honor President Barack Obama when he delivers the commencement address next month. Just not with an honorary doctorate degree. Instead, an important scholarship will bear the President's name.
The way the whole public relations snafu played out, I can't help but think the scholarship announcement simply was a knee jerk reaction to the bad press the school received from every corner of the country. Had ASU President Michael Crow and his doctorate committee really intended to do that from the get-go or was this just a way to save face?
Probably only a handful of insiders really knows what the dynamics were among ASU officials after news broke that ASU would not bestow Obama with an honorary doctorate degree.
Their explanation for the snub? Obama hasn't amassed a sufficient body of work to warrant the honorary degree.
C'mon. This is the first Black President of the United States. Through his childhood and career, he's survived poverty, racism and the brutality of a national political campaign. He's brought hope to millions of disenfranchised Americans. He's brought a sense a calm to a world that is reeling from the brink of economic catastrophe. That's a pretty impressive resume, even though there are bound to be failures down the road. Hey, he's human.
Still Michael Crow is not sufficiently impressed. He's one of the most powerful college presidents in the country and he's known for calling the shots. But this time Mr. Big Shot has missed the target. Perception is everything and Crow completely misjudged the public outcry that would surface when he and his minions decided to withhold this high, but largely symbolic, honor.
How many people who have received honorary doctorates really deserve them? A few, yes, but not usually. In this case, giving Obama a doctorate should have been a no-brainer. It's a matter of goodwill and public perception.
Remember when Jennifer Aniston accused Brad Pitt of lacking a sensitivity chip? I'm wondering if someone here in Tempe could use a sensitivity transplant. That might be just what the doctor ordered.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Leadership said...
    Whatever the internal dynamics, (and I really don't want to know), this decision is absolutely about "perception."
    And perception.
    That said, when this event passes, I know from experience that ASU's Media Relations Office is being tested by press queries worldwide to the point of being a "Case Study" for future students/administrations.
    I mean, its staff makes or facilitates the public "statements," but they do not make policy.
    I'm quite sure this is a miserable time for them. We're talking grim.
    Being the middle-people between policy and press interest, and all.
    Wearing the 24/7 "On-Call" pager. Around-the-clock pressure.
    I bet the stress levels are high.
    But I don't ask you to pity them.
    This global attention is what they signed up for, whether they knew it or not.
    Me? I've been on the frontlines of some of the highest-visibility issues of our time. I'm quite comfortable and proven in high-risk, high-visibility situations, from the Space Shuttle Challenger incident, the end of the Cold the Columbine tragedy.
    What I really what to know is whether these Media Relations "flacks" were on their own...or did college leadership bring in some big-league consulting support and at what cost?
    The real question is: If not, why not?
    Put another way: if you had to "grade" ASU's positioning and key messaging on this issue in the media worldwide what would it be?
    I thought so.

  3. The staff at ASU Media Relations is a group of competent, talented, wise and witty professionals who know and understand not only public relations, but journalism. After all, most of them are formal journalists. They are all far from being "flacks" as Leadership would like you to believe. And it's especially rude to call someone a "flack" if you don't even know them. Have class, please. As someone who has been in the ASU trenches, I can tell you the media relations team always performs the best they can with the information they have and their goal is to provide accurate news and information to ASU's constituents. I believe they accomplished that in this situation and all others. So, don't put the blame on the messenger if the message is not what you want to hear.