Kent State’s latest PR problem is in the comic pages! What would you recommend?

As PR professionals, we all know the importance of monitoring mainstream and social media for mentions of our clients. But does your monitoring system include the comic pages?

Don’t ask my students that question. They don’t read “dead tree” versions of newspapers, and they surely don’t bother with the funny papers. In fact, most will tell you the comics aren’t the least bit funny.

Crankshaft6But when today’s edition of Crankshaft mentioned Kent State, one of my Baby Boomer colleagues fired off an email alerting me to the “PR problem” it could create. “What should be do about it,” she asked?

Rather than post my response, I’m asking the ToughSledding faithful for some feedback. What would you do?

The Backstory. Crankshaft is a strip about about a crotchety old bus driver, Ed Crankshaft, who lives with his daughter and son-in-law in a small Northeast Ohio town. The strip is a spin off of Funky Winkerbean and was created by two Kent State grads, Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers.

Long story short, Crankshaft’s granddaughter, Mindy, has just graduated high school — but barely, it seems. Her lack of focus and poor grades has parents, Pam and Jeff Murdoch, wondering if Mindy has a future beyond flipping burgers.

Crankshaft1

Yep. Little Mindy — she ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. So what will her future hold? A life of servitude at White Castle? Jeff and Pam ponder her fate:

Crankshaft4

But then…good news from the mailman in today’s strip!

Crankshaft3#

If you follow the Crankshaft story line, you know that Mindy’s admission to Kent State is — well — not good news for those who embrace academic standards. Mindy is an underachiever and a below-average student. And for too many years she was precisely the type of kid associated with our university.

Admissions standards have stiffened over the years, which has led to better quality students. But we all  bristle at that old saying from the 60s and 70s: “Kent Read, Kent Write, Kent State.” Arrgh! It even hurts to key it in, and I’m sure a few administrators will be pissed that I mentioned it. But it’s one of the demons Kent State battles as we try to build more positive perceptions of the university.

Let’s not sugarcoat the issue. Kent State has some highly regarded programsone of which I’m proud to be a part of. But our overall public image is so-so at best, and most high school seniors see Kent as a “second choice” to in-state competitors Ohio U, Miami U and Ohio State.

The admission of Crankshaft’s Mindy Murdoch, though it’s only in the funny papers, adds salt to an old wound. It reinforces a perception Kent State has been trying to escape for decades.

So help me out. Tell my colleague, and anyone else who’ll listen, what Kent State should do to combat this PR problem in the comic pages. I’ve already told her, via email, what I would do. But I won’t share it until I hear from you.

Any Crankshaft fans out there? How about Kent State fans? How about students currying favor with the old professor? Alumni who need job leads? Anybody?

25 Responses to Kent State’s latest PR problem is in the comic pages! What would you recommend?

  1. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hmm. Here’s a thought. Maybe Mindy will go to Akron. Screw the Roo! And Mindy, you turncoat!

  2. Well, at least Kent still ranks above YSU (You Screwed Up, as my daughter calls it).

    Seriously, in my world (which includes two college-age children, one who will start at Kent in the fall), Kent’s image is not as bad as you may believe. And I’m not sure the comic strip reader would actually understand the Kent slam that you perceive — but instead read it as the grandpa’s jibe (gee, you can read).

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks, Susan. So this may be a case of the insiders reacting to something they can see, but others cannot. So the question Susan raises for us: Is this really a problem?

    That’s a pretty solid question for any PR professional to raise — whether at the junior or senior level.

  4. Blair Boone says:

    You answered your own question in the second paragraph: prospective students don’t read dead-tree papers or comics. So there is no PR problem for your target audience. They’re the primary decision makers in choosing a college, so it just doesn’t matter what Crankshaft says.

    Then you violated a cardinal rule of PR: if no one notices, don’t draw their attention to it.

    The Boomers aren’t important here, shocking as that is to our tender sensibilities. People in our cohort better start getting used to not mattering a whit. The world has moved on, and we’re going to be deadwood if we keep asserting the importance of unfunny stuff written on dead wood. And we should cherish this interval of irrelevance, because once we start jamming up Social Security and Medicare, we’ll go from ignored to despised in about two seconds.

    To paraphrase your mantra: “We just don’t matter.”

  5. Bill Huey says:

    But wait, Bill, it gets worse: In the next episode, Mindy’s going to major in PR!
    And then she graduates, and goes on to establish her own highly successful entertainment PR firm, and is interviewed by Matt Lauer-another KSU alum–on the “Today” show about how she went from burger flipper to spin diva.
    If you’re really upset, ask the president’s office to write to these guys and say the university will revoke their degrees if they write another unflattering word. BTW, it only says, “Kent,” which could be Kent Community College.
    After that, relax and enjoy the summer!

  6. Mike Keliher says:

    As Blair said above, if no one notices, don’t draw their attention to it. And even if enough of the people you’re interested in have noticed this, just about any response that could reasonably be made will likely run head first into the good ol’ “Lighten up; can’t you take a joke?” reaction.

    And that’s more trouble than the comic strip.

  7. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for the levity, Bill. Not sure Mindy could cut it in our program, but we’d certainly give her a shot.

    As for Matt Lauer, he’s a graduate of Ohio University (my alma mater), not Kent State. But he didn’t earn that degree until he’d earned the anchor’s chair at Today and returned to clean up a few pesky requirements. We had a similar story at Kent State with CNN’s Carol Costello a few years back. Both Matt and Carol served as commencement speakers at their own graduation ceremonies — and that made for some great network publicity in both cases!

  8. Bill Huey says:

    That’s right! Ohio U. Please pardon. I’ve never visited either, and tend to get them confused.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      True story. Was just on a phone call with someone who learned I’d been at Ohio U in the early 1970s. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he told me in reference to the school’s party-till-drop reputation of then and now.

      “You may be right,” I told him, “but I don’t remember much about those years.” Of course, when I was at OU, the admission standard was a simple one: You got a pulse?

  9. Amanda says:

    This isn’t changing any opinions; as you said, the target audience is unlikely to even notice this (I didn’t). If Peter from Family Guy graduated cum laud from KSU, you might see some kind of response from the younger generation.

    And the school isn’t the most selective – that’s a hard fact. People know that before coming and intelligent people still choose Kent – it’s what you make of your time here. If you squeak by with a 2.0 in a less rigorous major, as many do, you’re not going to see the same success as one of our fabulous, hard-working JMC grads.

    College Fest 2009 showed the contrast of students here — those who give it the easy/party school image, and those who worked hard on their own ambition to report it. They all went to KSU- who would you hire?

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Amanada,

      Great point about students making the effort to take all of what Kent State has to offer. I don’t think any of those students were in the paddy wagons on College Street last spring. We produce some stellar performers here, but you know it comes at a price, don’t you🙂

      Anyway, if Mindy Murdoch shows up in Franklin Hall next year, I’ll count on you to keep her on the straight and narrow!

  10. Tessa says:

    I have to say Bill, this definately got me thinking. As someone who came to KSU from out-of-state to begin with, I chose my school based on my intended program’s accolades-not because of Kent’s “party school” rep or to take the “easy road.”

    I definately have to agree with Amanda though, College Fest ’09 is going to be the reason that “undesirables” appear on KSU’s campus next semester, not a comic strip. A PR problem this is not. There are worse things that could happen…And they have, but it doesn’t make me any less proud to be a product of Kent State.

  11. Bill Sledzik says:

    I’m gonna let this go another day until I chime in with my counsel for Kent State. BTW, I’m certain neither Tom Batiuk or Chuck Ayers intended to slight Kent State with this cartoon. Both have been real supportive of KSU over the years, and KSU Press published Tom’s book, “Lisa’s Story.”

  12. Bill Sledzik says:

    OK. It’s been 48 hours and this post has run its course. And you’re all pretty damned smart. Those who commented seem to agree that there’s but one course of action: Do nothing. And I’m with you.

    Reasons have been spelled out. Prospective students will never see this cartoon. They don’t read comics and they don’t read newspapers. Parents and others who influence college choice may see it, but will they connect the dots? Will they remember that Mindy is none too swift? And even if they do, will they care?

    Raising a stink over something so innocuous, as Mike points out, only brings it to people’s attention and shows your institution lacks a sense of humor.

    So, welcome to Kent State, Mindy Murdoch. And if you’d like to be a PR major, drop by and see me. But I wonder if you could introduce me to Abby Spencer over in the Judge Parker comic strip. I have dreams about this woman, and I don’t care if she’s married to some hotshot lawyer.

  13. mediatide says:

    OK, first, you just addressed a comic strip character directly!

    Second, getting into OU in the 70s required more than just a pulse…The check to the admissions office had to clear, too!

    Third, Batiuk might have thought he was doing Kent a favor by dropping the name in without paying attention to the scenario.

    Fourth, every school is what it is. PR problem? Try teaching at a branch campus! And the only time I get emails from UC’s PR dept. is when a student gets mugged.

    Fifth, why am I posting so late? I just finished the final edit on The Sledzik-Curran Social Media Project 25-minute composite video. It will export to the MPEG format overnight.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Both Tom and Chuck are big Kent State supporters and have been for years, though I doubt anyone under 40 reads the strips very often. Kent is featured frequently in Crankshaft and Funky (T-shirts mostly) and it’s been good for the school — always positive. But hey, I needed something to write about, and that dummy Mindy got her acceptance letter that day. What can I say?

      I’ll be sure to check out the video. Send a link. I will promote it shamelessly on Twitter.

      As for addressing a comic strip character directly, I do that all the time. And for my fantasies about Abbey Spencer, blame that on Judge Parker’s illustrator, Eduardo Barreto. Abbey is hot, hot, hot!

  14. David Murray says:

    A university’s reputation is a fickle mistress.

    I went to Kent 20 years ago because I was from Hudson, and Mindy-like in my high school performance. “If you can’t go to college, go to Kent,” was the prevailing line back then.

    I went to Kent, had a good experience–that is, was able to find at least one compelling professor per semester to help me invent an intellect–and went off to Chicago, where Kent was held in much higher regard, esp by MY target audience: would be Boomer employers.

    Why?

    May 4, I think.

    In Boomer brains outside Ohio: Kent equals campus anti-war protests, Berkeley equals anti-war protests, Kent equals Berkeley and a Kent graduate equals a potential Allen Ginsberg.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      You must have had a stellar logic professor, David. The way you turned May 4 into Allen Ginsberg is masterful! Not sure Kent State has produced a Ginsberg just yet, but we did produce two successful cartoonists in Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers, plus two bloggers with serious attitude. You’re the other one! See you at Ray’s Place real soon, I hope!

  15. Christine Isenberg says:

    I’m just happy that people still read comics printed on dead wood! I’m one of those boomer Luddites who still loves to hold a real, honest to goodness newspaper in my hands. I get my news online, on my IPhone and on the radio (SIRIUS, XM and Public) but I can’t start my morning without a cup of coffee, the Akron Beacon Journal and the comics! (OK,I’m old and irrelevant, so what?🙂 )

  16. Stacy says:

    I know I’m chiming in kind of late, but I’m a Kent State grad who’s about to receive a master’s from U of Akron. Between the two schools, I know I was in the best PR program and the best poli-sci program in Ohio. I know I’ll be employed as long as I want to be.

  17. Bill Huey says:

    Before the shutters close on this thread, I’d like to point out that the first to confirm and break the story of Michael Jackson’s death was The Los Angeles Times.
    That’s right: dead-wood media.
    Are we perhaps being a bit hasty here?

  18. Leah Koyiet says:

    Bill. We need to thank Mindy coz if she hadn’t gotten her acceptance letter to KSU, this discussion wouldn’t be happening. Can you believe it, from this incident (and i live in Kenya) I do not feel any negative about KSU. Infact, i would now like to know more about it. You have also added another publicity channel to my list (comic strips!!)that clients may be advised and am sure that we can be able to control the dead wood on the comic strip. Danke! Danke! Danke Shun!!

  19. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for joining the thread, Leah. Maybe this can lead to a revival of the funny papers. Lord knows the world could use a few more punchlines!

  20. Jeff says:

    First, most students look more into universities than the funnies. (I’ve worked in a high school guidance office, in a high school in NE Ohio.) Also, Kent State is -mostly- just as selective as any other state school in Ohio. Most students applying to Kent could easily get into Ohio State or any other school. They come to KSU because we have what they want.

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