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Baltimore Sun Uncovers Massive PR Effort to Positively Frame Maryland’s Move to Big Ten

PIA request unveils emails to strategically place positive comments about move on blogs, stories
By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun

The University of Maryland anticipated most fans would initially react "emotionally and negatively" to last year's decision to join the Big Ten Conference. So the school sought to influence the debate with a plan to lobby media pundits and plant positive comments into fan message boards.

Scores of documents and emails, obtained by The Baltimore Sun in response to a Public Information Act request, detail a public relations strategy that was as secret as the Big Ten negotiations themselves.

Maryland announced on Nov. 19, 2012, that it would depart the Atlantic Coast Conference after 60 years and join the Big Ten, effective in July 2014. It, as school officials predicted, led to fans expressing sadness and anger over losing popular ACC-related traditions such as facing rivals Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

The public relations campaign was meant to help turn the tide in favor of the move. It included hiring a corporate communications consultant to help shape the message and also working to prevent news of the negotiations from getting out before the move was imminent.

"So far, this is unfolding just as we expected," Brian Ullmann, the university's assistant vice president for marketing and communications, wrote in an email to deputy athletic director Nathan Pine on Nov. 18, one day after negotiations on the impending move were disclosed in the media. "We knew that in the absence of our messaging during this initial stage, most fans would react emotionally and negatively. That has occurred and clearly the message boards and comments sections skew heavily negative. Several of us placed comments on boards and media sites last night to help balance it out."

Read the entire story here.

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