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Crisis Communications/ Reputation Management

Preparation, anticipation and quick and effective responses were key to success crisis management.

Faculty and Staff layoffs

Jefferson Community & Technical College laid off 14 percent of its staff one day and 14 percent of its faculty just two weeks later.  Over the course of budget planning, College leadership met with all  faculty and staff. They knew layoffs would happen but not the details - who and when.  When the day came, we addressed it proactively with media, timing a news release with the first meetings with staff. College leadership met individually with every staff member, leaving or staying, to quell early rumors.

Active Shooter Report (False Alarm)

The College routinely practiced evacuation and shelter-in-place drills so when they message was sent about an "Active Shooter,"  people responded quickly and without panic.  SWAT and numerous other first responders descended on campus in a terrifying but relief-inducing display of strength and confidence. After the scene was cleared, we worked with police to meet with news media; our spokesman was a faculty member and former interim Louisville police chief. We followed up with in-person and email communication to key stakeholders. We brought in counselors when needed.  Note: The 911 call was made by security officer convinced, wrongly, she heard gunfire.

Story: College to use eminent domain to close homeless shelter

The Courier-Journal reported on Page A1 that Jefferson Community & Technical College planned to use eminent domain to prevent a homeless shelter from opening across the street. They quoted a state senator who advocated for such action; an action the college did not support.  The College had been attempting to purchase the property was outbid by the shelter.  The community outrage was swift and loud.  I met with the newspaper editor and reporter who refused to issue a clarification so we began a series of meetings and interviews with other news media and met with key stakeholders. In a later move, the College purchased all the property around the shelter for future expansion and gained tremendous positive coverage.

Rumor: College to close camp for special needs children

The College acquired property from owners of a camp for special needs children that recently closed.  Following a poorly worded news item, many associated the College with the camp closure, even though the parcels of land were different and the timing was off.  To compound it, the camp owner refused to discuss the closure. We managed the fallout by working with the area news media, who included maps of the proprieties, and we wrote to or spoke with every individual who took the time to contact us. We demonstrated the actions were unrelated.

Pregnant student stabbed in campus parking lot

In a horrific act of violence, a young women 4 months pregnant was stabbed in the campus parking lot in a domestic situation. She and the baby survived. Thanks to a good working relationship with news media, who were in contact with police, we were able to obtain details of the situation quickly. We confirmed the victim was a student and Student Affairs immediately reached out to her family.   We followed up by updating safety procedures and parking lot cameras, and widely communicating safety protocols. The student eventually return to class.

Reporter Bias

PIma Community College had significant issues, including accreditation concerns and sexual harassment allegations against its Chancellor.  It also had a small but vocal group of community members who made it their mission to close the college and it was this group of detractors who had the reporter's ear.  While coverage of the negative issues initially were fairly reported, the bias in coverage became quickly apparently.  By pointing out bias, sometimes line by line, to the editor, we were able to shift coverage. 

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