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PR firm’s insult to team draws Shocker Nation’s ire

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014, at 8:03 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, June 25, 2014, at 5:53 p.m.


Cleanthony Early's dunk from two views

Wichita State University's Cleanthony Early had a monster dunk against Kentucky during the first half of the Shockers' game in the NCAA Tournament on March 23, 2014, in St. Louis. Wichita Eagle photographer Jaime Green caught the dunk from two angles, a camera placed underneath the goal and another in the stands. (video by Jaime Green)

In a bid for more subscribers through a national e-mail blast on Wednesday, PR News touted its “expert opinions” on communications and crisis management, among other things, through what a Wichita State University spokesman called a “cheap shot” at the Shockers.

The public relations group now needs a little crisis management of its own.

The e-mail, which was about how to “score big” in the business, has a subject line that said, “Don’t be like Wichita State.”

“Really? That’s the approach you’re going to take to generate business?” asked WSU spokesman Joe Kleinsasser. “It’s just a marketing attempt gone awry.

“Is it the end of the world? No. But it’s unfortunate.”

His day began with a couple of e-mails from his counterparts at Wake Forest University and Princeton University alerting him to the slam against the school and its beloved Shocker men’s basketball team.

“And, yes, I am unsubscribing from their distribution list,” one said after saying how much the slam annoyed him.

It’s a sentiment others locally and nationally are echoing.

“We think this approach is mean-spirited and beneath contempt,” Barth Hague, WSU’s associate vice president for university relations and chief marketing officer, wrote in an e-mail to PR News about the reference to the Shockers’ “heartbreaking loss” Sunday to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

“Whoever is responsible for writing it is reflecting your organization in a very poor light. We’ve received multiple e-mails from peers around the country who saw it and were unhappy about it. Several of them said they unsubscribed from your distribution list because of it,” Hague wrote.

He added, “We request a full and formal apology.”

Hague received a response from PR News, though the organization’s vice president for marketing, Amy Jefferies, didn’t respond to him by the correct name.

“Hi Beth – I am truly sorry for this oversight on our part and any stress this has caused you. A very important lesson has been learned by my team for future promotions.”

She added, “Are there any PR News products I can offer you and your team free of charge – Guidebooks, a PR News subscription or conference attendance?”

Without correcting her mistake with his name, Hague thanked Jefferies for her note and the offer of freebies and replied that “at this stage, having just been insulted by your organization, free products are not something we’re interested in.”

He also suggested what he thought would be an appropriate apology – to be sent to the same e-mail group that received the Shockers slam – but has not received a response.

Nor has PR News responded to a request for comment from The Eagle.

However, the Wichita PR community had a lot to say about the slam via a series of e-mails, texts and conversations.

“I thought I was getting PR punked!” wrote a “livid” Katie Grover of Fidelity Bank.

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Angie Prather wrote: “Since it’s highly unlikely that any PR professional would ever deliberately choose to insult an entire nation (ShockerNation), I’m assuming that they actually intended to use this campaign: BE LIKE WICHITA STATE.”

“PR News is a product of that Eastern Establishment that can’t quite grasp that anything worth happening doesn’t make it past the Hudson River,” wrote Al Higdon, co-founder of Sullivan, Higdon & Sink. “Their dismissal of the fact that Wichita State’s achievement is totally unique in the history of college basketball is not at all consistent with what quality PR practitioners inherently know: Before opening mouth, figuratively or otherwise, it’s best to do your homework and have an insightful grasp of the issue at hand. In this case, PR News is one and done.”

Tammy Allen of Allen, Gibbs & Houlik wrote a restrained note to PR News while canceling her subscription.

“I was so mad when I was writing the e-mail that I was shaking,” she said.

Carol Skaff of Cohlmia Marketing asked, “What’s wrong with these people? It’s puzzling how a so-called communication organization could be so obviously tone-deaf … not only about its constituents but about its own purpose for being, which is to create positive relationships with constituents, not drive them away.”

Greteman Group’s Deanna Harms wrote that she’s sorry PR News resorted to such a ploy and is “sorry to see it used by a professional publication that promotes best practices and high ethics.”

“I hope to be like Wichita State. To walk away with head high regardless of a game’s outcome.”

Teresa Veazey, president of the Kansas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, said PR News calls itself “a daily intellectual hub.”

“Maybe the way they want to teach us or help us learn is to create their own … PR crisis to manage.”

She said she’s disappointed in the lesson, though.

“I’m disappointed, and I’m embarrassed that this kind of a situation comes from a PR organization,” Veazey said. “PR News is supposed to teach us how to do our jobs better.

“Are they going to learn from their own mistake?”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.

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