Effective communications with the media are critical to Wilson’s ability to carry out its mission and promote continued support for the College.
Effective media relations best serve the College by:Informing members of the public of what we can do for them
- Promoting the College’s achievements, activities and events of significance
- Expanding the general visibility of the College
- Ensuring that accurate information is conveyed to the public regarding incidents and issues of a controversial and/or sensitive nature
The director of communications and media relations manager, along with the president and appropriate members of the Cabinet, serve as official college spokespeople and convey the official college position on issues of general college-wide impact or significance or situations that are of a particularly controversial or sensitive nature. Inquiries from the media about such issues should initially be referred to the director of communications and/or media relations manager.
Depending on the specific circumstances, the president or the Cabinet may designate another college administrator to serve as spokesperson on a particular issue.
In cases of critical significance to the College, the director of communications and/or media relations manager will work with the president and other college officials to draft a statement to detail the known facts of the situation and summarize the College’s position.
In the event of a crisis or emergency situation, the director of communications and/or media relations manager will handle all contacts with the media and will coordinate the information flow from the College to the public. In such situations, all campus departments should refer calls from the media to the Department of Communications.
Dealing with the Media
Members of the faculty and staff are free to respond to requests from the media regarding their areas of expertise. In such cases, the media relations manager should be notified as soon as possible to inform her of the contact. Such notification can be particularly important if follow-up inquiries are made with other College personnel to ensure a coordinated, consistent College response. Media inquiries should be referred to the media relations manager if they involve issues with college-wide significance and/or are of a controversial or sensitive nature.
The Department of Communications in the Advancement Office promotes the College through press releases regarding special accomplishments, events and activities, programs and plans. All news releases intended for off-campus or external audiences should be routed through the media relations manager.
Since positive media solicitation is an integral element of the College’s communications program, any ideas for articles or pieces that would positively portray the College, its work or its community should also be directed to the media relations manager or communications director. Likewise, the Department of Communications should be notified as soon as possible about negative occurrences that are likely to rise to the level of a news story.
Guidelines for communication with the media when the issue is non-controversial and limited to the faculty/staff member’s area of expertise:
- Obtain the name of the person calling, the name of the media organization, a telephone number (preferred) and/or email address and, if available, the anticipated time of release of information in print or broadcast. This information should be included when the notification is made to the manager of media relations.
- The best approach with the media is to be prompt, helpful and honest. All contacts from the media should be returned as soon as possible, in deference to reporters’ deadlines. At the most, a call should be returned within a half-day. If that is not possible, the media relations manager and/or director of communications should be asked to handle the call.
- Make sure you understand each question from the media before answering. If you cannot answer the question, or are uncomfortable providing a response, take the reporter’s number and advise him/her that someone who can provide the information will contact him/her as soon as possible. Then follow-up by contacting the media relations manager and/or director of communications.
- Do not offer speculation or gossip. Do not answer a reporter’s question with “no comment.” Do not be condescending or underestimate the reporter’s intelligence, but do make sure the reporter understands your responses. Provide your telephone number and/or email address for follow-up questions.
- Remember that in responding to the media, you can be seen as representing and speaking for the College. Personal opinions should be clearly and carefully identified as such.
- Issues that should not be discussed with reporters are: 1) legal issues, 2) student academic or health records (see below), 3) personnel issues, 4) questions that involve College integrity, such as ethics or issues that may result in harm to others, and 5) a campus crisis or emergency. Refer all such inquiries to the director of communications and/or media relations manager.
- Any media inquiries that involve information about specific students should be directed to the vice president for student development. Such inquiries will be handled in strict compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This federal law protects the confidentiality of a student’s education record. Information that may be given includes information found in a directory: the student’s full name, local address and telephone number, dates of attendance and degrees, honors and certificates received, class level (e.g., freshman), and academic major(s). Grades may only be provided to the media if a student wishes to release the information in connection with an award or scholarship.
- Any media inquiries regarding Wilson College faculty or staff should be referred to the Department of Communications. Only public information may be provided without the employee’s written approval. Public information is the following: verification of employment, name of job title/position, full or part-time status, name of department, department address and telephone number, employment starting date, salary/grade, rank.
Crisis communications can have a lasting impact on institutional reputation and public support. How well we convey our message to the public greatly depends on what is reported to the news media. This is especially true in a crisis. Because of the emotions that usually accompany crises, images formed from crisis reporting are especially important in shaping long-lasting public impressions of the institution.
In the event of a major crisis on campus, the Department of Communications should be alerted as soon as possible so that an official communications plan can be put into place to disseminate timely, accurate information and to ensure that inquiries are routed to the appropriate sources. Some general guidelines for handling media relations during a crisis are as follows:
- Don’t panic.
- NOTHING is “off the record” so remember that anything you say could wind up in the news.
- NEVER say, “No comment.” If you don’t want to talk to a reporter, simply say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking with you” and direct them to the Department of Communications.
- The rights and well-being of the people affected are paramount to all other considerations. If you are in a position to do so, minimizing loss of life or injury should be your chief concerns.
- Maintain the good reputation of Wilson College.
- Show that you care.
- Provide accurate information. If you don’t know the details, don’t guess or assume; refer inquiries to a communications professional or official spokesperson.
During a campus emergency, faculty, staff and students have a right NOT to speak with the media. The media has the same access to campus as any other member of the community, so it is important, especially during a crisis or emergency, to be vigilant about what you say and who you are saying it to. Any situations where individuals feel a reporter has abused their rights should be reported to the director of communications and/or media relations manager.
The director of communications is responsible for the development and dissemination of all College communications in the event of a campus emergency. This includes internal communications with students, faculty and staff, as well as communications with the media. The priority will be maintaining timely and open communications with the media, providing complete and accurate information that has been confirmed about the emergency situation and the College’s response to the crisis at hand. Communications with the media will be frequent throughout the duration of the emergency situation. The Wilson College Web site will be used as a key medium for updating our campus community and the public on the details of the emergency situation and actions we are taking to address all related issues.
A media center will be established in the event of a widespread campus incident/disaster. The media center will include workspace for media personnel, electricity, telephones, Internet connections, campus and community directories and maps. A media pool of representatives from print and broadcast media outlets may be appointed to establish rules of conduct for the media.
A communication information center may also be established, if a high volume of incoming telephone calls are expected.