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Bring It On: Communications Considerations for Campus Leaders

For those of you who have participated in media training with me, you know that when I talk about bridging statements (or authentically navigating from the question asked to a response you feel comfortable giving) I share that they are as useful in everyday life as they are with the media. And my go-to follow up line is to say I’ve used bridging statements with my daughter for years and knew the tactic was effective when she started using them on me without me realizing it. Little did I know she recognized their utility.
My daughter invited me talk to her high school cheer squad before school started. The school was hosting media day for all of the varsity sports and she wanted her squad to be prepared should any of the reporters talk to them. She also thought the team should have a social media primer before school started (she’s been privy to too many of my stories of students and student-athletes forgetting they are representatives of the institution even while on social media) and asked me to spend some extra time with the captain to ensure she was doubly prepared.
Then she said something awesome (as if all of this wasn’t awesome enough!). She asked me to teach the team how to use bridging statements so they could turn a negative into a positive among their peers if anyone talked about cheerleaders disparagingly, asked about turnover from last year to this year or raised any topic the girls knew they shouldn’t talk about.
And her instincts for the team’s needs were correct. The girls didn’t really need media training, they just needed a way to bridge away from the trivialness of high school hallway talk and instead share how well the squad came together this year. They wanted someone to listen to their fears and help them manage their own insecurities about facing an unknown situation. Perhaps most importantly, they wanted to hold their heads high as they walked down the halls because they have worked really hard as a team.
So, what does this have to do with higher education? Well, it allows me to beam as I discuss my daughter J and it also serves as a great reminder of why media training is vitally important in our day-to-day lives on campuses.
The reality is that when we media train our cabinet members, presidents and board members we prepare them to deal with the media. But even more importantly, we also prepare them to answer tough questions from those closest to them and teach them to participate in tough conversations across campus with their heads held high. In other words, we listen to their fears and help them prepare for an unknown situation.
It usually means a lot of communications planning needs to be done for that situation, but it also means that the emotional preparation can’t be left to the last minute. You need enough time to help them prepare for addressing those questions you know they will be asked and those you both dread most. Oftentimes, campus communicators are afraid to put the really tough questions down on paper. Do it. Even if it’s painful, I always err on having my presidents hear the worst questions from me than be blindsided by the media or someone on campus with a question that we knew was coming. And if the situation is too close to them personally to face those blunt questions, then prepare a secondary spokesperson and find as many ways as possible to include them in your plan. You may need to have a team approach to protect the institution and your leadership.
And if they are taking hits because they are doing their jobs, provide them with examples and data related to campus successes that allow them to hold their heads high. It’s important for them to remember why they are taking these responsibilities on and to think about the students we all serve.
Finally, please don’t tell my daughter that I wrote a blog entry about her—even if she listens to me, she still thinks I’m mortifying. Even if I have moments of sage wisdom, some things never change.