Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

An Unfortunate PR Lesson Emerges in the Desert

Amid the dark cloud of horror and sadness that engulfed our nation upon last weekend’s unspeakable tragedies in Arizona, there lies a glimmer of pride.  Chaos had erupted and a nation sat on the edge of its seat, eager for even the slightest tidbit of news.  In the blink of an eye, Tucson had become the center of the universe, and the University of Arizona became the public face of one of the most gripping news stories in recent history.

It’s not every day a university’s public relations department manages communications for a crisis of this magnitude.  Every media outlet in the nation simultaneously descended on the U of A, which was thrust into the spotlight because many of the victims of Saturday’s attack, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were being tended to at the university’s medical center.  With the whole world watching, U of A’s PR team masterfully managed a torrent of information (and disinformation), and executed a crisis response that has impressed an entire industry of its peers.

Around-the-clock press conferences.  A dedicated news wire.  Constant twitter updates.  And a team of all-star doctors equally adept at addressing the media as they are at saving lives.

As an alumni and former employee of the U of A public relations department, I couldn’t be prouder.  (If you saw our recent bowl game, you’d know we haven’t had much to be proud of lately.)  Especially when compared to the efforts of the Pima County Sherriff’s Department and the un-corralable rantings of its top cop.

I’m also proud because, as a veteran of many crisis situations, I understand the challenges U of A’s PR team faced and know that it did things the right way.  It was able to respond so quickly and successfully (on a Saturday morning no less) because it followed rule number one of crisis PR:  Be Prepared.

In my time on the U of A PR staff, planning was a key component to everything we did.  Its current PR team had a strategy mapped out well in advance for incidents just like this and many others…and it showed.

U of A’s motto is “Bear Down.”  Kind of fitting given the performance of its leadership in recent days.  It’s also a great bit of advice for the rest of us PR pros as we lament dusting off our crisis communications plans.

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