Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs Joel Curran said the public relations department has vastly improved since 2013 through the reorganization and addition of staff members, specifically focusing on media relations, social media and content development.
“There was no real modern architecture built around the evolving nature of communications and higher education,” Curran said.
The University has paid $996,566 since 2013 to hire Edelman — a marketing and communications firm — to prepare materials in anticipation of the release of the Wainstein report.
“At this point in 2013, the investigation was underway and the public relations department was understaffed and unequipped with resources to tend to daily operation activities while preparing to address the Wainstein report,” Curran said.
Curran said the University has greatly reduced the need for Edelman since the department completed its new set of executives by hiring Director of Media Relations Jim Gregory in Feb. 2015.
“We called upon Edelman to help us because we just simply didn’t have enough people to handle all the things that we had to respond to during all of 2014,” Curran said. “We couldn’t stack up fast enough, and we needed help.”
Curran said the costs of public relations at UNC are in line with the costs at other universities and that it’s important to consider the costs of marketing and advertising that extend beyond public relations when assessing these figures.
Lois Boynton, a public relations professor at UNC, said it can be difficult for organizations to deal with the expectations of public relations officials to be accessible and responsive. She noted a growing demand for constant information sometimes exceeds departments’ capacity to efficiently engage with the public.
Curran said it was important to expand the content side of the department. Before 2013, Curran said, there was only one person in the department with video capabilities.
The department now has a videographer and studio manager, along with multimedia and video content producers. These additions have allowed the University to produce and publish four times the number of videos compared to two years ago.
The department has also added social media staffers. Boynton said social media is attractive because it caters to a platform many of the University’s constituents are comfortable using. But, as with any source of media, it poses some problems for public relations departments.
“The extent of how we are going to monitor the nontraditional media and the social media becomes a real issue in gauging which problems to address and how soon this should happen,” Boynton said.
Andy Thomason was the editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel in 2012-13 and covered University news for three years before that.
Thomason said during his time, the public relations department facilitated contact with former Chancellor Holden Thorp and acted as a liaison between journalists, administrators and experts at the University. He discussed social media’s role in facilitating communication with Thorp.
“In emergencies, if I really needed him, I would just DM him on Twitter,” Thomason said, saying he knew Thorp used Twitter consistently.
Thomason also said the accessibility of administrators varied based on the individuals in the position.
Curran said the department’s newly organized staff is now able to handle issues or crises that occur on a daily basis in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with the team prior to Chancellor Carol Folt’s arrival.
“The reality of it is that we were not able to have a great impact on that kind of media swell,” Curran said. “However, we started to reorganize; we started to use resources where we could, and that did help a great deal.”