When I first read the leaked PR memo to current (still?) UAB president Ray Watts, my reaction was along the lines of, "well, yeah." I didn't get the shock or outrage, because to me it was the next logical step.
It's not that I have sympathy for the devil, but I do understand his current predicament.
Now let me explain. I've worked in the field of corporate and public relations communication for some time now, which is to say, I've long since died inside. Though I like to believe I use my powers of bullshit for good, I've glad-handed too many politicians to have much of a defense. Forgive me.
So to repent for my sins, I'm going to do the public at large a favor by translating this soulless robot speak, revealing its true intent. Some of what you read may be shocking, because public relations is really just the art of burying bodies in plain sight.
Feel free to follow along with the full text here.
Now that the votes have been cast we are focused on defining your support and using your position to show how you are moving the university forward.
Basically, we can't do anything about the fact that the university as a whole has lost all respect for you, Dr. Watts. So, instead let's focus on the people that do support you. It's a small group that basically consists of the people who hired us to represent you and their direct reports. Luckily they sound like important people, which the general public tends to fall for, so that should inspire some confidence. Not much, but some.
Today we have... a strong statement from you...
Something we wrote because you tend to say dumb shit.
...excellent video clip that will be provided to television media...
An out of context clip with great lighting and a slightly warm tint (which elicits a positive psychological reaction) that will be shown on TV because most local media will use anything given to them since they are on tight budgets and can use the production time elsewhere. Also, people believe anything they see on TV.
...email from Dr. Watts to all internal constituencies. This will be similar to quote used this morning.
Because it's also written by the PR firm. It's similar to this morning because repetition breeds acceptance, and we don't feel like starting from scratch. This is meant to rally the troops. It will only work on the few people who fundamentally need to feel like the place they work is a positive environment, but that's good enough.
Moving forward... direct communication with a targeted group of leaders to discuss the challenges facing higher education...
Try to salvage some of those donations by making people with money believe you care about there individual causes.
Work with the media who want to be balanced...
Only share information with media members who are willing to sacrifice their integrity for access.
Begin paid tv and radio campaign for two to three months as an initial phase to begin driving positive message about UAB. We are now in a political war and the people creating our paid messaging are experts at this type of effort.
We are in a screaming match, and the people with money tend to be the loudest. These people also tend to inhabit a certain demographic that tv and radio advertising experts have been duping for decades. We won't bother with internet efforts, because that is a more democratic communication medium, and we want to eliminate negative responses to our bullshit.
Begin enhanced telephone communication program...
They mean land lines. Like I said, "a certain demographic."
Schedule small focus groups and public opinion research with constituents to gain insight into their opinions in a way that separates fact from emotion.
Do some old fashioned face-to-face research with people in the community. Not only will this help us know what the lowest common denominator (i.e. majority) think, but we will then confront these same people with hand-picked facts that they won't be prepared to refute. This will encourage participants to carry our messages into the community. Their status as a participant will qualify this message to others.
President Watts getting out on campus in different areas.
A few hand picked appearances at events with a positive connotation. If this is a sporting event, he will be awarding or giving away something.
[hand written] Video - Who is Ray Watts
Who we want you to believe Ray Watts is.
Jan. 15 Karen Brooks' statement...
"We support this guy because he is doing what we asked him to do. Here are some good things that would have happened with or without him."
We must make adequate investments to excel in athletics...
We aren't miracle workers. You need to spend some cash on the remaining athletic programs or else nothing we say will mean jack. Seriously.
UAB has invested $6.65 [million on athletic facilities in the last year] ranking us 12 out of 14 schools.
Despite actively trying not to spend money on athletics, you still spent more than two others schools in your own conference who didn't feel it was necessary to cut major programs. Let's not say this out loud because it's probably the most damning argument for your incompetence.
Football facility improvements requested by Coach Clark include a turf field, indoor practice facility, and football administration & student athlete facility, all totaling $22 million.
Honestly, this is a great price for all of that. It sounds like a lot, but all of these items would have been amortized over at least a decade, and could have easily been offset by improved athletic performance and related donations. But just say $22 million dollars and leave it at that. It makes it sound much worse than it is because people associate things like this with what they know, and very few are responsible for millions on a regular basis.
Between football operations and priority facilities upgrades requested by Coach Clark the new five-year cost at UAB are $49 million.
Again, sounds like more money that it really is at this level.
UAB Strategic Plan... [handwritten] - talking points
When asked what you will do with the leftover money from football, first talk about getting more money like that will be easy. Use the figure $1 billion dollars because it is both a round number and unfathomable. Next mention actual educational initiatives. These are usually hard for people to quantify success or failure, so promise away. Always lead with "People" as your primary focus point. It makes it look like you care.
UAB CAMPAIGN PHASE 1
This is my favorite page because it shows that the same university claiming money problems is spending $600,000 on the FIRST PHASE of a PR campaign. That's more money than would have been needed to cover the cost of attendance scholarships cited as a main reason for cutting football.