PR Headaches & How to Treat Them

Media Relations in a Crisis

College and university campuses are small, self-contained communities with their own roads, parks, recreation facilities, and often campus police. And if you work at one, you’re also quite aware they can be intensely political places, with loads of controversy, protest, and debate. The pettiness and intensity of academic politics may well make academia the most challenging environment in which to manage communications and media relations. You’re dealing with hundreds of intelligent, opinionated faculty, all of whom will fight to the death for academic freedom and free speech. You also have tens of thousands of students, most of them active on social media millions of times a day and fearless in the controversial things they may say. And complex governance structures mean that president, provost, union leadership and board chairs may all make public statements, and may not always be in complete alignment of perspectives. And then there is the mainstream media, who finds your campus a convenient, concentrated source of much conflict and controversy, and will pounce on a story opportunity.

Campus public affairs, advancement, and media relations professionals, and the senior leadership team, recognize how critical public perceptions can be for the institution’s brand and reputation. Rankings, enrolment, fundraising, government negotiations, corporate partnerships — all can hinge on perception, and all can be significantly affected by negative press. How we prepare for crisis communications, and how well we respond when the crisis breaks, will determine whether the incident causes momentary interest or ongoing, relentless outrage.

Ken Steele is Canada’s leading higher education monitor and futurist. He co-founded Academica Group, created the Academica Top Ten, manages Eduvation Inc, co-authored Canada’s first book on enrolment management, and hosts a weekly webcast, Ten with Ken, that reaches thousands of subscribers on a dozen platforms. Ken has been a public affairs professional for more than 20 years, managing a small agency, serving on the board of the International Association of Business Communicators, monitoring the media for hundreds of colleges and universities, and offering workshops on effective media relations for higher education.  Ken brings his unique perspective and insight to a broad range of audiences, from faculty and instructors, boards and senior administration, to information technology staff, concerned parents, and Canada’s most powerful corporate CEOs.

Ken can present a lecture or keynote on media relations, or develop a custom workshop for your campus that will help professional communicators — or leaders without formal training — more effectively manage a PR crisis and prevent a minor headache turning into a major institutional migraine.


This blog on COVID-19 Crisis Communications might provide useful background for participants.

Here are some PR-related episodes of 10K, for a sense of Ken’s approach and as potential examples to share with participants in advance:






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