When you earn front-page coverage 4 times for one story — and all within a 2-week period — it’s usually bad news. Such is the case with Kent State, and I can’t let it pass without comment.
It began with this story on March 10. Internally, KSU announced plans to hire East Coast marketing firm 160over90 to help redirect the university’s brand. The cost, just north of $100K, is small change in the scheme of things.
Nothing was released to the media, but emails sent to 4,000 employees tend to get around.
When the media called with questions about the deal, Kent State’s commanding generals went into secrecy mode – as has been their pattern. It was 3 days before they shared the contract with the inquiring reporter, and the version they sent was redacted to obscure information on expenses and markups — all routine stuff in any client-agency contract.
This early stonewalling led to a second front-page story, then an editorial, then a third story and then a 4th front-page story – each underscoring the university’s unwillingness to comply with Ohio open records laws.
This is no longer a story about a small consulting contract. It’s a story about secrecy in a major public institution. I’ll spare you the obvious rhetorical questions.
Some members of the president’s cabinet probably see the Akron Beacon Journal is being combative — you know — “out to get them.” They likely view those annoying freedom-of-information requests as petty. But they are anything but petty. You see, journalists depend on open records to do their jobs as government watchdogs. The laws that guarantee information access serve us all and aren’t subject to selective compliance.
By the end of her first year President Warren will probably make some changes in the cabinet she inherited. And as those new generals take their seats around management’s table, let’s hope at least one of them embraces transparent model of public relations.
This post isn’t meant to criticize Kent State’s PR professionals. I know and respect them all, and quite a few have passed through my classrooms over the years. But this time it appears that no one in the ivory tower sought their advice. And if they did, they ignored it.
Let’s hope the advocates of secrecy are shown the door. And let’s hope their replacements prop that door open to let the sunshine in.