Rutgers PR spokesman talks crisis control

Mark Dipaola

Quinnipiac University welcomed Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor last Thursday to reflect on last year’s Don Imus controversy, and share with professionals and students his expertise in handling crisis in the field of public relations.

The presentation, which was sponsored by Southern Connecticut’s chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, (PRSA) was held in the Lender School of Business’s Mancheski Executive Seminar Room.

Trevor described, in length, his work as Senior Director of Media Relations for Rutgers University during April’s nationwide furor over inflammatory comments made by radio shock jock Don Imus about the university’s women’s basketball team. Trevor has filled the position since 2004.

“I think the most important advice I can pass along to those of you here who are professionals or anyone who’s interested in a communications career, is to stick to the fundamentals,” Trevor said. “Anytime you’re in the middle of a major crisis, it’s very easy to lose sight of the basic rules of PR that we follow every day.”

Trevor emphasized the importance of being well prepared, and making productive use of staff members during crisis situations. It is important for managers to consider the personal needs of their staff members and the toll such scenarios tend to take on them.

“Make sure you manage your staff effectively, properly, and even sympathetically,” he said. “If you allow everybody to jump in immediately, I guarantee that in 16-24 hours everybody’s going to be exhausted, and then you’re going to start making mistakes.”

When Trevor learned of the incident the day after Imus’s comments, the story was not yet a nationwide controversy. However, awareness of the issue quickly heightened as various media outlets sought comment from the players who had been targeted.

According to Trevor, it was the women’s basketball team that decided to hold a press conference, in which they requested that they meet with Don Imus.

“They wanted to respond to what Don Imus said,” he said.

The team eventually accepted an apology from Imus, promising to move toward forgiveness. The players did not call for him to be fired, Trevor said.

“I think in many ways, that was the most important part of the controversy, which was knowing when it was time to say, ‘this is over’,” Trevor said.

Throughout the controversy, Trevor and his staff focused the media’s attention on the accomplishments of the team, in order to portray the players as courageous, dignified student athletes. An important fundamental of PR, Trevor said, is to “maintain perspective”.

“In a crisis people often get caught up in the moment, and sometimes you run the risk of devoting time and energy to other people’s agendas.”

The event received positive feedback from members of the audience, which was comprised of both PRSA members and nonmembers.

“I thought it was interesting to learn about different sectors of public relations,” said Kim Bartlett, who comes from New London.

Evelyn Gard, the president of the Southern Connecticut chapter of PRSA, praised Trevor’s commitment to looking out for his staff members, especially in the midst of a crisis such as the Imus controversy.

“It was very informative,” she said. “People need to keep up their routines and get enough rest.”