The controversy may be local to Washington, DC, but its PR lessons are certainly universal. The University of Maryland recently announced construction of a new school president’s house, and adjoining event facility, as a 14,000 square foot addition at the tune of $7.2 million.
The construction strikes a wee negative chord, as students and other school stakeholders have criticized the project. They argue it’s too expensive, sends a bad signal in otherwise difficult economic times, and really stings since the University just cut eight athletic teams over budget concerns (and this from a school that really, really loves its sports). It’s such a negative narrative that even newspapers across the pond have picked up on it.
In response, the University’s foundation wrote a letter to the Washington Post editorial board, arguing that the project will be funded completely by private donors and boost fundraising capabilities, thus allowing the property effectively to pay for itself and ultimately benefit the student body.
Ok, but… even if all that’s true, here’s the problem. Knowing the construction might likely become a lightning rod of criticism, the University made many basic, glaring PR errors in the process:
1) No statement on the University’s website that communicates the value of the project.
2) No statement on the University’s Facebook page that communicates the value of the project.
3) No statement from University President Loh that communicates the value of the project.
Perhaps we’re missing a direct statement that (ahem) communicates the value of the project? (If so, let us know.)
Add it up, and you get an awful image of the school administration’s priorities, not to mention a serious PR black eye.