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State of the Union: RIT students react News hits, PR musings

One week ago, President George W. Bush was preparing to make a historic address to the United States Congress. Not only would it be the first State of the Union address Bush had to deliver to a Democratic Congress, but the first time a female speaker of the House of Representatives ever presided over a State of the Union.

Throw in hot-button issues like the war in Iraq and new health care and energy proposals and you’ve got yourself a media frenzy. When I walked into my office Tuesday morning, I had a message from a television reporter from WHEC-10 who wanted to get reaction from RIT students as soon as the President’s address concluded.

That’s easier said that done. The rigorous quarter system at RIT keeps students plenty busy. Plus, in the little free time many students have, they’d prefer to listen to their iPods or play video games as opposed to watch the President deliver a speech.

But after making numerous phone calls and sending out a ton of emails, with the help of colleague Susan Gawlowicz, some folks in Student Affairs, and RIT’s Student Government, I was able to find 10 students willing to sit together, watch the State of the Union, and then comment on it upon its conclusion.

I called WHEC-10 to confirm—only to find out they wanted to cancel. Visiting Nazareth College would fit better into their travel plans that evening, I was told.

Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled.

But then colleague Mike Saffran gave me an idea. Because it was already set up, he suggested I pitch the story to another station. He suggested WROC-TV reporter Katrina Irwin.

We hit the jackpot.

Irwin said I called at the perfect time. Her story for the evening had just fallen through and she was scrambling to find another one. I met Irwin and 10 RIT students in our office’s
conference room in Building 86 at 8:30 p.m.

The story ran that evening at 11 p.m. and during the following morning’s newscast. It gave us an opportunity to highlight bright and engaged RIT students who demonstrated how deeply they care about the country and the world they live in.

It wasn’t how I planned to spend my day, but it worked out pretty well—thanks to Mike’s creative thinking. That must be why Bob Finnerty refers to us as TEAM UNS.

  1. Silandara
    Feb 01

    That's awesome work, John. How frustrating, though. I know how hard it is to round up a group of students for something like that -- especially getting them all together at the same time. And then to be cancelled on. Ugh. It's good to know I left Student Affairs in good hands. :)

  2. Mike Saffran
    Feb 01

    The successful outcome highlights the symbiotic relationship that we, as media relations specialists, have with reporters. You, John, had a timely, prearranged, tailor-made-for-television exclusive news event. All it lacked—after that ‘other station’ backed out at the last minute—was a reporter to cover it. For her part, Katrina needed a timely, newsworthy story to substitute for the one that fell through. It’s almost as though it was meant to be.

    Why Katrina? I suggested contacting her simply because she has been one of the better local reporters with whom we deal. So, why not give her the first crack at the story? Without mentioning any names, we wish certain other reporters better understood the relationship. If it happens to be a positive story for RIT, that’s all the better from our perspective, of course. But whether good, bad or indifferent, we’re here to help. We’re not your adversaries.

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