U of A Receives National PR Award for 'Best Crisis Management'

Long, athletics public relations and university relations recognized

Thursday, August 01, 2013
Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of athletics

Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of athletics

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas has earned top honors for “Best Crisis Management” in the PR Daily’s 2013 Nonprofit PR Awards.

The award is for the U of A’s response to the Bobby Petrino crisis in 2012, and reflects the way  Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of athletics, working with the public relations professionals in the athletics department and office of university relations, handled that crisis.

“The way Jeff Long explained his decision to fire a popular coach exemplified leadership skills and drew nationwide praise,” PR Daily said in announcing the award.

In April 2012, Jeff Long held two news conferences, five days apart: the first to announced he was suspending Petrino, the university’s popular football coach, pending an investigation; the second to announce the results of the investigation, and his decision to fire Petrino. From the beginning, Long worked closely with his associate athletics director for public relations, Kevin Trainor, and the university’s associate vice chancellor of university relations, John N. Diamond.

Both times Long was bucking public opinion: in the days following Petrino’s suspension more than 17,000 people joined a “Save Bobby Petrino!” Facebook site.

Before the second news conference, Long worked extensively with Trainor and Diamond to lay out the case for his decision. They took an unconventional approach – at least in terms of sports: They decided to provide the facts needed to convince fans and observers, through commonsense and workplace principles, that Long had only one respectable option: to fire Petrino immediately. In announcing that decision Long said, “Our expectations of character and integrity in our employees can be no less than what we expect of our students.”

The news conference was carried live on most Arkansas television stations as well as ESPN and Fox Sports.

The response on campus, in Arkansas and across the nation was overwhelmingly positive:

  • Fox Sports' Thayer Evans, said the decision made the University of Arkansas "a shining example for the rest of college athletics to follow.
  • An independent statewide public opinion poll found that 84 percent of respondents agreed with Long’s decision.
  • A national foundation and its board chairman donated a combined $1.25 million to the university’s athletics program in recognition of Long’s “courageous leadership.”

At the close of 2012, Long was named both “Arkansan of the Year” and “Arkansas Sportsman of the Year” by two statewide newspapers. He was  also a finalist for Sports Business Journal Athletic Director of the Year.

One year later, public regard for Long remains high. In 2013, he was named as one of Under Armour’s Athletic Directors of the Year.

PR Daily is an online publication presenting news, advice and opinions on the public relations, marketing, social media and media worlds. It is produced by Ragan Communications Inc., publisher of corporate communications, public relations and leadership development newsletters that deliver practical advice, real-world solutions and field-tested strategies for today’s corporate communicator.

Contacts:

Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations
479-575-3583, voorhies@uark.edu

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