Friday, March 25, 2011

WMU Gift: A "Good Crisis"?

Earlier this week Western Michigan University announced an anonymous $100 million gift to support a new medical school.

If you are in public relations, you might be thinking this is a great day to be in the profession. Such a positive announcement to make. A day of "good" news. The coverage was great, including stories in the national media such as the Wall Street Journal as well as the obvious local stories on MLive.com (including both the Kalamazoo Gazette and Grand Rapids Press) and the higher education trade publication Chronicle of Higher Education.

It's all good, right?

Sure. But it also could be considered a case of crisis communications. We always assume crises are related to negative and dangerous situations, such as natural disasters or tragic criminal activity. They get most of the attention and are labeled as crises. But a "crisis" has been defined as instability, a turning point, a sudden change. That could be good or bad. In public relations terms, crises are defined for the purposes of crisis communications as sudden scrutiny by the public and/or the media.

By those definitions, even a sudden GOOD event or turning point could be a "crisis." As evidenced by the swift coverage  from local to national media, WMU had to deal with sudden scrutiny. That meant having a good plan to unveil the announcement on their schedule, and being ready to handle the inevitable follow-up conversations, such as speculation about who the donors are, the impact on other medical schools, the need and capacity in Kalamazoo for a medical school.

WMU has been handling it all well. But this episode  is a good reminder that PR people can't sit back and enjoy after releasing "good" news. We need to always be in "crisis" mode in terms of planning communications, monitoring response, and being ready to follow up, even when the news is good.

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