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Rider University: Managing Communications for a College in Crisis

Challenge: Several years ago, a Rider University freshman tragically died in a hazing incident at an unsanctioned fraternity party. Five months later, two University officials were charged in the death, believed to be the first time that university administrators were indicted in such a case. Rider faced intense interest from the media on this landmark case. The University had to be open with reporters doing their jobs, while protecting the privacy of the victim’s family, being mindful of the rights of the officials charged in the death, not endangering its legal strategy, and safeguarding the University’s reputation as a secure and healthy learning community.

Solution: Buchanan Public Relations worked side-by-side with the University’s President and its legal counsel for nearly two months, planning and implementing the University’s legal, media and public relations responses. We developed Q&A, prepared press releases, drafted statements for the University website, acted as the University spokesperson, and responded to media inquiries.

Results: All media coverage was factual, balanced and fair. As time went on, in letters to the editor and on blog postings, the sentiment emerged that Rider was not to blame. There were many expressions of support for the Rider community. Due in part to the measured manner in which the crisis was reported in the press, the charges against the school officials were eventually dropped.

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// // Commented by Jon Ericson, 29Feb2016 // // // //