Sunday, August 12, 2018

Marquette Paid PR Firm Big Bucks to Counter Negative Publicity Over Attempt to Fire Warrior Blogger

We recently got an e-mail from an academic outlining an exchange he had with a public relations firm hired by Marquette to deal with the negative fallout from the university’s attempt to fire us. He explained:
FYI - see below. I received a very odd email from Marquette’s PR firm re: your case a few months ago. I had forgotten about it, but was reminded when I saw the recent court ruling. Anyway, I’m not sure why they contacted me, but thought you should know.
The e-mail exchange started with this message from an executive at the Edelman firm:
On Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 1:58 PM, Diaz, Ricky wrote:

Professor, I hope you are doing well. Because of your background and previous commentary on doxing, I thought you might be interested in a recent development happening at Marquette. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court has agreed to hear a high profile case in which a Professor (and later, George Will) doxed a student and it led to terrible consequences. Marquette is looking to connect with experts such as yourself interested in doxing to discuss the case and I think you would find it to be fascinating given your background.

Please let me know if you’d like to talk with Marquette and I could put you in touch with a few folks at the University to speak with directly about the case. Look forward to hearing from you,

Ricky
Of course, the claim that we doxed Cheryl Abbate is a flat out lie. Webster’s defines “doxing” as
. . . to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge.
In fact, we published zero “private information.” We did link to a toxic feminist essay on Abbate’s blog. Her e-mail address was elsewhere on the blog (not on the page we linked to). But it could also be found by a simple google search. If your e-mail address is all over the web, it’s not “private information.” Nothing in our post suggested anybody should harass or even contact her.

Even more bizarre is the notion that George Will doxed Abbate. All he did was mention her name. Did the editors at the Washington Post allow doxing? Marquette’s position is apparently that Marquette Instructor Abbate must somehow never be named.  But in the wake of our post criticizing how she told a student that he was not allowed to oppose gay marriage in class, since “you don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments,” she went to a philosophy blog to attack us.

Back to the E-mail Exchange

From: <[redacted]@redacted.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, March 6, 2018 3:08 PM
To: Diaz, Ricky
Subject: Re: Doxing

Is Marquette’s administration seeking my legal and/or crisis communications advice?
Diaz’ response:
From: “Diaz, Ricky”
Date: March 7, 2018 at 9:33:13 AM EST
To: <[redacted]@redacted.edu>
Subject: RE: Doxing

Hi, [redacted]. Specifically, Marquette is interested in giving you a briefing on the case that’s headed to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. They would like to ask for feedback on the case, particularly the privacy/doxing issues at play and any other reactions you have. Media coverage of the case will likely increase as the oral arguments get closer, and the school feels that the public doesn’t quite understand doxing or the consequences. While there’s no specific ask or commitment after the initial briefing at the moment, they are trying to build relationships with people such as yourself who may be able to shed light on these issues to media or other groups down the road if there’s interest.

Please let me know if you’re interested in an introduction to the University’s team.

Ricky
The professor didn’t respond, explaining to us that:
I really didn’t understand what the controversy was all about when Edelman contacted me or why they chose me — considering the email’s author is a VP at a major PR firm, he doesn't seem to express himself very clearly. I was also kind of annoyed that a highly profitable PR firm apparently expected me to do free work for them . . .
He gave us permission to publish this exchange, but instructed us not to publish his name, since there are “too many crazy, vindictive SJWs [social justice warriors] out there.”

The Edelman Firm

If you are an institution that has done something really evil, or really stupid, and are trying to manage the resulting firestorm, Edelman is the firm for you. Which is not to say they don’t do legitimate PR work. Their website shows a lot of PR work for a lot of interests, and it’s impressive until you remember they are as good at puffing their own work as they are puffing their clients.

But two things are similar to what they did for Marquette. First, a PR disaster when a crock-pot explodes, burns down a home and kills a man. Edelman claims:
Thrust into an unexpected firestorm, we cooked up a strategic recipe for Crock-Pot® to extinguish the misdirected hatred, defend the brand and playfully remind the world that #CrockPotIsInnocent.
Then there was the bad PR when Samsung released a defective smartphone.
Twitter had become a hostile environment for the brand after the Galaxy Note7 recall, so we couldn’t let this go. This was our chance to stand up for anyone who’s ever received an unwanted picture. Within minutes, we responded with a savagely simple reply: The microscope emoji.

We knew the one-character tweet was a clever retort, but we didn’t predict the viral sensation that followed: More than 80 news stories worldwide — all from a single emoji.

We had already identified that we could rebuild trust with our community by being “real” and transparent after the Note7 recall. After all, millennials expect more from brands; they’re drawn to those that take risks and feel human. Our strategy had become confronting negativity head on, in real-time.

Unfortunately, you never know what the Internet will serve up next. So we stacked our team with community managers and strategists who not only deeply understood Twitter, but could act on the unexpected quick. They knew what to look for, and how to react to it with brevity and incisive wit.
In fact, they have an entire division devoted to “crisis and reputation risk.”  And the fellow who wrote the professor (Ricky Diaz) identifies himself as expert in “crisis communications, research, digital, media relations and public affairs.”

Interestingly, a Google Advanced Search of edelman.com shows no mention of the work they did for Marquette.

Wikipedia has a long list of Edelman’s clients. Some of their work involves legitimate activities supporting controversial policies (eg. the Keystone Pipeline), but at other times they seem to have used questionable tactics (setting up front groups claiming to be grassroots support for their clients).

How Much Did it Cost

Of course, neither Marquette nor Edelman is going to say how much the campaign against this blogger (which included an attack website, ads on Google, an ads in major newspapers) has cost them.

But some public information comes from another case: Michigan State’s response to sexual abuse accusations against former Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. According to NPR:
Michigan State University spent more than $500,000 to keep tabs on the online activities of former Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s victims and journalists covering the case, according to the Lansing State Journal.

The public-relations company Weber Shandwick billed the university $517,343 for more than 1,440 hours of work tracking social media in the month of January, the Journal reports.

Michigan State’s Office of Communication and Brand Strategy monitored social media and news media activity involving the Nassar case previously and concurrently with Weber Shandwick, the newspaper notes.

“The firm billed for work done by 18 different employees, whose hourly rates ranged from $200 to $600 per hour,” the Journal writes. “Five of those employees billed MSU for more than $50,000, including one who billed for $96,900 and another who billed for $120,893.”
Weber Shandwick is a major PR firm, but apparently no more prestigious than Edelman, so it is almost certain that Marquette got billed at similar rates.

The Total Cost

We can add whatever Marquette paid for the services of Edelman to the legal fees the university paid, which were in the range of $750,000 to a million dollars, according to informed sources.

Then there are lost alumni contributions. We have no way to estimate those, but literally dozens of alunni have told us that they discontinued contributing to Marquette because of our case.

And while the attempt to fire us may have increased Marquette’s reputation among a politically correct fringe, it has doubtless hurt it among parents who actually want a Catholic education for their children. That is, hurt it among the sort of parents who might prefer Marquette to a much less expensive state school, or an overtly secular private college. But now they have no reason to.

All because of Michael Lovell’s rigid, authoritarian jihad against this blogger.

Updated 8/13 with information on Diaz.

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4 Comments:

Blogger CS said...

Beside its rejection of traditional Catholic belief, the administration at Marquette seems a bit, you know, stupid, which makes one curious to know whether there is now a move to fire President Lovell to make way for someone not only a bit brighter but, maybe, a real Catholic?

12:37 PM  
Blogger Alan L. Gaudynski said...

This is very sad when Marquette has a faculty full of experienced public relations experts.
I never understood why they did this when the expertise they could use was so near. When they changed the mascot from a Warrior to the Gold, it was another PR disaster. Thank God, the "Gold" moniker only lasted a few weeks before we became the "Golden Eagles." When things like this come along, it wouldn't hurt to have an informal focus group of PR faculty to shed some light on how to react to some of these steps and missteps.






12:58 PM  
Blogger R Finn said...

It looks like the cost of Lovell's recklessness keeps going up. He spent a lot of someone else's money that could have gone toward causes that would benefit the university. I suspect the university lost some prestige along with the wasted money. This is the sort of thing that trustees frown upon. What a shame.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

PR Firm had a puff piece in the Milwaukee Magazine so we feel sorry for Lowell.

https://www.milwaukeemag.com/marquette-university-president-michael-lovell-opening-up-about-childhood-trauma/

My grandfather would being rolling over in his grave and I am so ashamed of what MU has become under prior admins, but Lowell takes the cake!

3:42 PM  

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