In a bid for more subscribers through a national e-mail blast on Wednesday, PR News touted its “expert opinions” on communications and crisis management, among other things, through what a Wichita State University spokesman calls a “cheap shot” at the Shockers.

The PR group now needs a little crisis management help of its own.

The e-mail, which was about how to “score big” in the business, has a subject line that says “Don’t be like Wichita State.”

“Really, that’s the approach you’re going to take to generate business?” asks WSU spokesman Joe Kleinsasser. “It’s just a marketing attempt gone awry. Is it the end of the world? No. But it’s unfortunate.”

His day began with a couple of e-mails from his counterparts at Wake Forest University and Princeton University alerting him to the slam against the school and its beloved Shockers.

“And, yes, I am unsubscribing from their distribution list,” one said after saying how much the slam annoyed him.

It’s a sentiment others locally and nationally are echoing.

“We think this approach is mean-spirited and beneath contempt,” wrote Barth Hague, WSU’s associate vice president for university relations and chief marketing officer, in an e-mail to PR News about playing on the Shockers’ “heartbreaking loss.”

“Whoever is responsible for writing it is reflecting your organization in a very poor light. We’ve received multiple e-mails from peers around the country who saw it and were unhappy about it. Several of them said they unsubscribed from your distribution list because of it.”

He added, “We request a full and formal apology.”

Hague received a response from PR News, though the organization’s vice president for marketing, Amy Jefferies, didn’t respond to him by the correct name.

“Hi Beth- I am truly sorry for this oversight on our part and any stress this has caused you. A very important lesson has been learned by my team for future promotions.”

She added, “Are there any PR News products I can offer you and your team free of charge– Guidebooks, a PR News subscription or conference attendance?”

Without correcting her mistake with his name, Hague thanked Jefferies for her note and the offer of freebies and replied that “at this stage, having just been insulted by your organization, free products are not something we’re interested in.”

He also suggested what he thought would be an appropriate apology – sent to the same e-mail group that received the Shockers slam – but has not received a response as of yet.

Nor has PR News responded to a request for comment from The Eagle.

However, the Wichita PR community has a lot to say about the slam via a series of e-mails, texts and conversations.

“I thought I was getting PR punked!” wrote Katie Grover of Fidelity Bank. A “livid” Grover wrote, “For being in the marketing/PR field, they should know better than to potentially upset individuals in the target audience. Unless they think people in Wichita, Kansas don’t know anything about PR/marketing.”

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Angie Prather wrote, “Since it’s highly unlikely that any PR professional would ever deliberately choose to insult an entire nation (ShockerNation), I’m assuming that they actually intended to use this campaign: BE LIKE WICHITA STATE.” She went on to list many reasons people would want to be like the Shockers.

“PR News is a product of that Eastern Establishment that can’t quite grasp that anything worth happening doesn’t make it past the Hudson River,” wrote Al Higdon, co-founder of Sullivan Higdon & Sink. “Their dismissal of the fact that Wichita State’s achievement is totally unique in the history of college basketball is not at all consistent with what quality PR practitioners inherently know: Before opening mouth, figuratively or otherwise, it’s best to do your homework and have an insightful grasp of the issue at hand. In this case, PR News is one and done.”

Denice Bruce of the KU School of Medicine – Wichita is opting to do what PR News possibly should have considered, and that’s to keep her mouth shut – mostly.

“Not sure my response would be considered a good example of PR. But then, neither is that subject line.”

Tammy Allen of Allen, Gibbs & Houlik wrote a restrained note to PR News while canceling her subscription.

“I was so mad when I was writing the email that I was shaking,” she wrote.

Allen references how Shocker inside players Chadrack Lufile, Kadeem Coleby and Darius Carter could help the PR News copywriter understand how that subject line made people feel.

“There was some discussion about whether the copywriter or person who approved the email . . . should be left alone in a room to discuss the matter with Lufile, Coleby and Carter.”

Carol Skaff of Cohlmia Marketing asked, “What’s wrong with these people? It’s puzzling how a so-called communication organization could be so obviously tone-deaf…not only about its constituents but about its own purpose for being, which is to create positive relationships with constituents, not drive them away.”

Dave Franson of the Wichita Aero Club wrote, “Their subject line sends a glaring message– ‘Don’t look to us for advice on how to relate to the public. We have no class!’”

Greteman Group’s Deanna Harms wrote that she’s sorry PR News resorted to such a ploy and is “sorry to see it used by a professional publication that promotes best practices and high ethics.”

“I hope to be like Wichita State. To walk away with head high regardless of a game’s outcome.”

Teresa Veazey, president of the Kansas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, says PR News calls itself “a daily intellectual hub.”

“Maybe the way they want to teach us or help us learn is to create their own … PR crisis to manage.”

She says she’s disappointed in the lesson, though. “I’m disappointed, and I’m embarrassed that this kind of a situation comes from a PR organization,” Veazey says. “PR News is supposed to teach us how to do our jobs better. Are they going to learn from their own mistake?”

The Wichita Eagle
Carrie Rengers

© The Wichita Eagle, 2014