UC Davis 'Apologizes' For The Reputation Management Industry's Hyperbole And Your Misunderstanding
from the mmmm-no dept
A week or so back, we had some fun discussing the 2011 incident in which campus police for UC Davis calmly pepper-sprayed the shit out of some seated students, because young people are scary. We did this specifically because news had just come out that the school had paid nearly $200k to a reputation/SEO management company to try to obscure this bit of history from these here internets. Because the Streisand Effect is a cold-hearted mistress, instead of burying the incident, the internet began discussing it yet again, all while having some fun pointing out that UC Davis’ efforts were equal parts misguided and cynical.
As the backlash grew, it was only a matter of time before embattled UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi publicly apologized for the whole thing. She has now done so. Let’s take a look at how she did.
“The university’s identity has been shaken by a series of highly publicized missteps,” Katehi said in a statement released late Monday amid calls for her resignation. “Some were my own doing. All occurred under my watch. For that, I sincerely apologize.”
This, as any good PR professional will tell you, is a good start. As a leader at the school, Katehi takes full responsibility for these transgressions, even for things that may have only occurred under her watch, but also including some that she personally enacted herself. Then she apologizes directly for them. Nicely done. The only way you could possibly screw this apology up now would be to-
But because of the importance of philanthropy to UC Davis and the need to make sure those searching for information about the university get a complete picture, we needed to do a better job telling the world about the university’s extraordinary achievements. So we did what any organization in a similar situation would do ― we sought to strengthen our communications capabilities. We invested in key staff. We added $800,000 to our Strategic Communications budget to cover increased costs for health care and retirement benefits. Another $800,000 was allocated for new and existing employees to work on social media, web development, videography and news. Finally, we also increased the Strategic Communications budget — still comparatively modest for a university of our size and reach — with a one-time, $1 million allocation for a statewide advertising campaign highlighting our contributions to California agriculture.
-fall into the PR quagmire in which you respond to a controversy by trying to divert attention from it to all of the good things you do. I like to call this the “trains run on time” tactic, the fictional retort of those supporting Mussolini’s fascist government. Sure Mussolini was a dictator who locked up or murdered dissidents, expunged freedom from his country, and allied himself with Adolph Hitler. But his trains ran on time! Or, sure we tried to cover up the pepper-spraying of non-violent students through a sneaky attempt at SEO manipulation and gaming search engine results. But look at what we did for California agriculture! This tactic rarely works, because the positives are not related to the negatives, making the whole thing an attempt at excuse-making and evasion.
But I’m sure her statement will get better from here-
In hindsight, we should have been more careful in reviewing some of the more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims in the written proposals of our outside vendors. What might be accepted industry hyperbole in the private public relations world falls far beneath the high standards of a public institution of higher learning.
Damn, we had it wrong this entire time. UC Davis didn’t screw up! The reputation management industry did, with it’s hyperbolic claims that the school bought into and paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars for. So, in other words, that apology at the top is really sort of unnecessary, because it’s these companies’ fault, not UC Davis’. The taking of responsibility has been obliterated by later doing the opposite and shifting blame onto the vendor. Not good.
But it’s not like she lied or anyth-
But I assure you: none of our communications efforts were intended — or attempted — to erase online content or rewrite history. At UC Davis, we live with the lessons of 2011 every day. We are a better university because of it. And we succeeded in providing the public with a fuller understanding of everything UC Davis has to offer.
Oh, for Christ’s sake, that’s exactly what the school was attempting to do. Not by deleting content, but by burying it beneath links to all that agricultural goodness and whatnot. Hell, the vendor’s own proposal, which UC Davis signed up for, states that its work will include:
“-online branding campaign designed to clean up the negative attention the University of California, David and Chancellor Katehi have received-“
“-to expedite the eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results-“
Eradication and erase are close enough that I’m comfortable in calling the Madam Chancellor a complete liar. And that this statement wasn’t so much an apology as it was a dedicated effort at digging the hole UC Davis currently finds itself in even deeper. Stop digging, Chancellor. For the love of the universe, just stop.