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For Utah’s AG, the second visit to USU is the charm

November 9th, 2009 Posted in Opinion

By Storee Powell

LOGAN–For a politician, there’s not much worse than scheduling a speech and nobody comes.

That’s what happened to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff the first time he tried to bring his statewide identity theft tour to Utah State University.

“We came to Logan first on our statewide tour, and no one showed up,” said the attorney general, who also was running for Senate before pulling out last week, apparently because of poor advance work by his media staff.

A public relations student passing the empty Taggart Student Center Ballroom on that September evening alerted USU public relations instructor Preston Parker, who contacted the AG’s office. Come back, Parker said, and we’ll get the word out.

Shurtleff said yes.

Parker and his students jumped on the opportunity to do a real-life PR campaign, and went right to work putting information on Facebook, USU’s Banner, Twitter, in The Statesman, on the student Fusion radio station, and everywhere they could think of. They worked for three weeks preparing and advertising, going on local radio to talk up the event, and sending out news advisories and press releases.

“They only had fliers before,” said junior PR student Natalie Curtis. “Our goal was to spread the word in as many places as possible. If people don’t come it’s because they aren’t interested, not because they don’t know about it.”

Despite the short notice, no budget and limited detailed information from the AG’s office, the audience of 45 that showed up for Shurtleff’s return visit to the USU campus on Oct. 22 was the largest of the AG’s state tour.

So what went wrong the first go around? “The AG’s PR office sent press releases out the day of the event, which isn’t enough time to run a story,” pointed out PR senior Brittany Brown.

Scott Troxel, the AG’s deputy communications director conceded the point. “I don’t like to make excuses, so I take full responsibility for the lack of participation,” he said.

Troxel said getting people out to such an event is difficult because “it’s not a hard-hitting issue, though it affects a lot of people. Most people wouldn’t cancel their plans if they heard about it.”

Parker and his students were an excellent solution, Troxel said.

“Though it didn’t go as planned, it helped us form a relationship with professors here on campus, and gives students a real life opportunity to plan and execute an event,” he said. “I am happy to take the blame for the failure as long as I can be part of the success.”

For the JCOM students who resurrected Shurtleff’s visit to USU, the learning experience was more than just a classroom exercise.

“The experience of working on the AG’s campaign was helpful because it helped us realize that we are capable of doing professional work successfully,” Curtis said. “It made a future career seem less scary because we were able to carry out a successful public relations campaign better than Shurtleff’s professional, paid team.”

Brown also found the contact with political clients interesting. “We do a lot of business campaigns, but government experience is rare, and it is nice to see PR from this point of view,” she said.

For information on reporting and preventing identity theft in Utah, visit www.idtheft.utah.gov.

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