Communication in contrast: I’m laughing, but I shouldn’t be

rave_logo.gifI was awakened the last two mornings around 5:30 courtesy of my Kent State “Rave Alert.” In both cases, it was a text message announcing cancellation of classes at our Ashtabula campus, so it didn’t affect me this time. By last week’s alert about a snow day here at the Kent campus did. These are welcome pings, even when they disrupt my sleep.

The university implemented the text-message alert system last spring in response to safety concerns following the Virginia Tech shootings. When I polled students in my classes about the proposal, most insisted they would never surrender their cell numbers — never. Almost certainly, the evil geniuses of the administration would sell the numbers to spam marketers or use them to promote career fairs. “No way,” I was told.

Isn’t it refreshing to see, after all these years, that college students still don’t trust “the man”?

Of course, Kent State has sold not one number and sent not one spam text using the system. The university uses Rave sparingly and only in true emergencies that affect the campus community — weather problems, power outages and the like. And we’re thankful that none of those alerts has involved violence or other life-threatening chaos.

Simple communication that breaks through the clutter and makes a difference in people’s lives. Wish it were all that easy, eh?

images-1.jpgThe shootings as NIU prompted a second round of anxiety on campuses, and prompted our campus safety forces to update the emergency management plan. Unfortunately, they elected to distribute a copy to all of us via email. Here it is in handy (accck!) pdf format — all 36 pages of it! emergencypland7.pdf

I joked on the faculty listserv thatimages.jpg an emergency handout will only help me if it fits in my wallet. Invoking the words of Chief Martin Brody, a colleague responded: “You’re gonna need a bigger wallet.”

It’s too bad this communication will fail, because our safety folks have invested a lot of time in the project, and their message is important to us all. What’s needed here is just a little PR counsel and some good old fashioned, face-to-face in the form a safety “roadshow” that hits every department on campus.

F2F campaigns are labor intensive, but they break through. This pdf will not — assuming it even clears the spam filters. I offer this message not as a criticism of our outstanding safety forces, but as a reminder of PR’s critical role in community well being.

3 Responses to Communication in contrast: I’m laughing, but I shouldn’t be

  1. letterhead says:

    A great eample of how a sharp new technology could be sharper still. If the school is going to the trouble of collecting data, it should be silcing the information in a way that facilitates relevant communication — i.e., effective communicators should be able to sort sub-audiences by relevance… in Kent’s case, by campus. That way you won’t be getting messages (like the one about Ashtabula) if they don’t apply to you.

    Interesting that PR students don’t want to surrender their numbers. Healthy skepticism, or cynicism? And I wonder if the response would have been the same before taking courses in PR…? 🙂

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Good point, Letterhead, and I suspect we’ll refine the system over time. It’s a package that KSU buys from Rave, and I’m sure it has limitations.

    As for the students, I think “cynical” probably is a more apt description, but it has nothing to do with their taking a PR course. At least I hope not. While we do showcase “worst practices” to show how companies mismanage PR, we teach a brand of public relations that’s based on symmetrical communication and solid ethical values.

    The trust gap between students and administration is real. Consider that only about one-fourth of KSU students have signed up for Rave Alerts (something I learned yesterday at the “You Too” conference). Sadly, the current administration isn’t doing much to close the gap. They pretty much personify “the man.”

  3. mediatide says:

    letterhead:

    One of the problems that a big state university has is knowing what is relevant for each community member. For instance, some faculty teach at more than one campus. Students often take classes at multiple campuses. Employees at one campus might have business at another campus on certain days.

    We have the same situation here at Cincinnati. My main teaching duties are at the Clermont branch campus, but I also teach at another branch campus and on the main campus. I’m also a doctoral student at the main campus.

    Each faculty, staff member, and student would have to fill out a form to state what type of information they would need, and they would have to update it in case that information changes. Sometimes it’s more practical to just to send everybody everything.

    BTW: We have a similar setup with Cincinnati Bell, and have similar signup rates. I bet other universities have the same problem.

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