PR Roundup: Commencement Crisis, Boy Scouts Rebrand, Media Consumption Habits

college students walk on a campus

This week's PR Roundup looks at Higher Education's current commencement and communication crisis, the rebranding of the Boy Scouts and a new survey on media consumption habits of Washington, D.C. policy insiders.

Higher Ed’s Commencement Crisis

What happened: Many U.S. universities have made headlines the past few weeks due to student protests calling for a cease fire, amongst other concerns, in the Hamas/Israel conflict. But now these same schools are making headlines as they cancel commencement ceremonies. 

This week Columbia University, which has been at the center of much media protest coverage, announced cancellation of its main graduation event on May 15 amid concerns over security. The University of Southern California also canceled its main stage ceremony back on April 25, among other institutions.

Students and their families have voiced their displeasure with these decisions. After all, this is also the class that missed its first year of college on-site due to the COVID pandemic. Graduating senior Alexis Ishmael told NBC News of her disappointment. 

“It's been a tough time—I think it's been demoralizing,” Ishmael said. “Campus morale is so low. It's just sad.”

Communication takeaways: These very public decisions come at a time where higher education is under intense scrutiny for how it responds to student protests. The need for proactive communications with students and their families is essential for not only the current, but future reputation of the schools. 

Phil Singer, founder and CEO of Marathon Strategies, says transparency is crucial.

“Universities need to clearly show that while they support peaceful demonstrations, the safety of students and faculty is paramount,” Singer says. “This, however, is not going to be the last time schools deal with unrest on campus, and leaders need to prioritize preparation for what comes next. Today students are protesting the Israel-Hamas war, but other issues like climate change and the cost of higher education loom large.”

Singer notes several tactics schools can use to prepare for such crises. 

“First, identify vulnerabilities by carefully vetting executive leadership, partners, and investments,” he says. “Second, showcase their work and values to a broader audience by diversifying their communications strategies beyond statements and press releases.”

And Marathon Strategies understands the problems plaguing academic institutions. The agency recently launched its DefendED initiative, a higher education crisis communications practice, along with a study showing that negative media coverage of academia has increased 1200 percent since 2014.

Survey Suggests Notable Changes in Policy Insiders' Media Preferences

What happened: It’s important to understand the impact of your work on all audiences—even those that may not always be directly affected, like politicians and policy insiders. Every move of an organization touches an aspect of public affairs and constituents. 

Avoq (formerly Subject Matter and Kivvit agencies), an insights-based national advocacy and communications firm, released a new study on the media habits of 200-plus policy makers and insiders in Washington, D.C.. The survey provides a better understanding to what sources these insiders trust most, where they turn for policy or breaking news and media consumption preferences.

The data shows that policy insiders’ daily media preferences are shifting, highlighting a decline in daily use of several media sources: news websites, search, newsletters, X (Twitter), Facebook and cable news. However, three sources saw an increase in consumption: LinkedIn, Instagram and podcasts. Other insights include:

  • 65% of insiders read e-newsletters daily, despite a decline in interest from the previous year..
  • 74% of policy insiders use LinkedIn at least once per day.
  • Republicans show greater intensity in usage, generally. This year, Democrats notably lag behind Republicans in intensity of media usage, except when it comes to podcasts. 

Communication takeaways: According to Dianne Mikeska, Partner, Strategic Planning at Avoq, it’s important for PR pros to diversify their media placement strategies

“Whether you intend to reach the policy audience or not, these findings are a reminder to communicators not to be lulled by the 'tried and true,'” Mikeska says. “We must remain flexible and curious about our audiences—their preferences, behaviors and especially their motivations. From this trending data we have an indication that a greater mix of touch points might be necessary to reach this niche audience.”

Boy Scouts Rebrand

What happened: This week the Boy Scouts of America announced a rebrand. The organization will change its name to Scouting America. 

According to a press release, the rebranding reflects “continuing efforts to welcome every youth and family to experience the benefits of scouting.” The announcement also comes as the group celebrates the fifth anniversary of welcoming girls into Cub Scouting and Scouts BSA programs, which serve more than 176,000 girls and young women.

“Though our name will be new, our mission remains unchanged: we are committed to teaching young people to be Prepared. For Life,” says Roger A. Krone, president and CEO of Scouting America. “This will be a simple but very important evolution as we seek to ensure that everyone feels welcome in Scouting.” 

According to The Associated Press, this change comes several years after the organization sought bankruptcy protection in 2020, after being named in 275 lawsuits from more than 80,000 men. The men claimed to be victims of sexual abuse as child and teen scouts. 

Krone noted the rebrand would promote a much more positive environment.

“Scouting America provides a welcoming, safe environment where youth can become the best version of themselves by learning from and respecting each other.”

Communication takeaways: Lindsay Nahmiache, Co-founder and CEO of Jive PR + Digital, says the transition represents a significant evolution for the organization. 

“While the name change may take some getting used to, it reflects a modernization and inclusivity that aligns with the values of today's society,” she says.

She also notes what legacy brands need to focus on when undertaking a rebrand

“[They] should prioritize authenticity, transparency, and a clear communication strategy to ensure stakeholders understand the rationale behind the change and feel connected to the new identity.”

Nahmiache says its essential to bring customers along for the rebranding journey, through its history and future goals through clear storytelling.  

“People want to be part of the story and understand the bigger picture thinking.”

Nicole Schuman is Managing Editor at PRNEWS.