11 Nov Come on Maryland, is a Move to the Big Ten Really That Bad?
It was revealed last week that last year, just before announcing they would be leaving the ACC and moving to the Big Ten in 2014, the University of Maryland hired an outside public relations consultant to help them pitch the move to their constituents.
Per an article on SBNation.com, “Expecting most fans to be hostile to their decision to move to the Big Ten Conference, administrators at the University of Maryland built a public relations campaign to pitch the school’s realignment.”
On the face of it, this doesn’t seem so terrible – and is actually a pretty smart move. While most Marylanders don’t really seem to care what conference they are in for football, many hold deep seeded feelings about Maryland playing North Carolina, Virginia and especially Duke, during men’s basketball season. The University of Maryland leadership knew that losing these rivalries would upset many and felt that some PR help was needed to get the buy-in they wanted to support the move.
Sadly, what started as a smart and strategic move to understand what the likely response was going to be and in turn craft strong, consistent messaging that highlighted the positives to the university (largely, more money) turned sour when it was revealed that university officials, “placed comments on boards and media sites to help balance” out the negative comments.
It also turns out that while the university and their hired PR consultant smartly thought through how to release the news and which reporters might provide the most favorable coverage, they unfortunately went too far and reached out to reporters who were critical of the move to criticize them for their coverage of the story.
While the SBNation.com article would have you believe that hiring an outside PR firm to help the university pitch the move to the Big Ten is the problem, I disagree with that. I applaud the university for having the forethought to realize that the move to the Big Ten would likely be a hard sell to their fan base. Hiring a professional PR consultant to help craft messaging and highlight the positives was a smart move. Even thinking through which reporters are most friendly and would have the platform to share the news with as large an audience as possible is smart.
However, when university officials began commenting on articles and message boards without revealing their true identity things got shady. Also, criticizing the way in which a journalist covers the story is not something I would ever advise a client to do. As long as the journalist is not saying anything untrue you unfortunately have to accept the way they choose to tell the story. A journalist’s job is to report the facts and the fact in this case is that many Marylanders were pretty upset to be leaving the ACC.
So what do you think – was the University of Maryland wrong to commission a PR campaign to pitch the move or did they just undertake some shady tactics?
–Also, in the interest of full disclosure, as you probably know by now, I am a Big Ten girl and my only interest in Maryland (and Rutgers) joining the Big Ten is that now I’ll actually be able to see my beloved Badgers play football and basketball a little bit closer to home!