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January 9, 1997

Public relations, publications to be rejoined under new administrator

In an effort to improve Pitt public relations and marketing, the administration will merge the University's Office of Communications and Department of University Relations and hire a new administrator to oversee those operations.

Pitt has retained a New York City-based executive search firm, Heyman Associates, Inc., to recruit candidates for the new position, to be called the director of University communications.

The new director will report directly to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. According to the job description, the director will "develop, coordinate and direct all of the University's communications and public relations activities. This would be accomplished by creating and implementing an effective strategic communications plan that maintains a high level of quality visibility for the University." Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said he hopes to name the new administrator this month.

Jim Masuga of Heyman Associates said, "We've been told [by Pitt senior officials] that this is a high priority for the institution, and we've been told to leave no stone unturned. We are talking with potential candidates from the for-profit and non-profit sectors, from the academic and corporate worlds, from the media. We're looking for a top-notch communicator and a leader of communication enterprise." Heyman Associates specializes in executive head-hunting in public relations, corporate communications, media relations and investor relations. In recent years, Masuga said, Heyman Associates has consulted in searches for public relations executives for such companies as Bayer Corp., Federal Express and Mastercard International and for such non-profit institutions as the New York City Blood Center, the National Organization for Women's legal defense and education fund, and the University of California-San Francisco.

Pitt's search comes one year after a panel of prominent educators, hired by the Board of Trustees to do a comprehensive review of the University, issued a report that praised Pitt overall but criticized a number of its operations, including public relations.

The panel, led by psychologist James L. Fisher, wrote that "Nearly everyone agrees that Pitt's public relations have been miserable over the past few years. Of course, not even Svengali could put a positive spin on some of the public relations disasters that have afflicted the University recently." The so-called "Fisher Report" called on Pitt's administration to embark on a "carefully considered campaign to market Pitt effectively" and improve relations with potential benefactors, politicians and business persons, the local community and the news media.

Currently, Pitt's Communications office is headed by Director of Communications Ken Service, who reports to Chancellor Nordenberg. Service and his four-member staff are responsible for most of the University's non-medical media relations. (Media relations for Pitt's six Health Sciences schools and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are handled by the UPMC News Bureau. A few of Pitt's non-medical units also employ their own media relations and publications personnel, as do the four regional campuses.) The University Relations department is led by Mary Ann Aug, assistant vice chancellor for University Relations, who reports to the vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement. Among its other duties, the 27-member department produces University recruitment and promotional publications (including Pitt Magazine), videos and web sites. The department's editors, writers and designers work with Pitt departments to produce promotional and marketing materials.

Chancellor Nordenberg said: "The units that I'm intending to combine under the new director [of University communications] will be Ken Service's unit and Mary Ann Aug's unit.

"For some time now, I have believed that there would be advantages to us if the marketing and publications aspects of the Institutional Advancement office were broken out and combined with media relations," Nordenberg said. "This is a good time for us to do that. It will free the new leader of Institutional Advancement [Carol Carter, who will start work Jan. 21] to focus more clearly on fundraising and alumni relations. And it will give us an opportunity to think about media relations, publications and marketing as a whole and decide how it is we want to attack our problems and deploy those people." Ironically, until the mid-1980s Pitt's non-medical media relations and publications/marketing activities were combined within the University Relations department (formerly called News and Publications), under a vice chancellor for Public Affairs. The units ended up where they are today through a convoluted series of reorganizations.

The latest re-shuffling grew out of the January 1994 hiring of Leon Haley as executive director of Public Affairs. That job, as originally envisioned by then-Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor, would have resembled Nordenberg's concept of a director of University communications, reporting directly to the chancellor but with even larger responsibilities. In addition to overseeing media relations and publications, the Public Affairs executive director would have been responsible for community and local governmental relations. O'Connor saw the coordination of those activities under one administrator as a key to polishing the University's tarnished public image.

But by the time he hired Haley, O'Connor had decided to limit the executive director's oversight to community and media relations, leaving publications under Institutional Advancement. In August 1994, O'Connor added Student Affairs to Haley's duties and promoted him to vice chancellor. (The Fisher Report later would criticize the consolidation of Student Affairs and Public Affairs as a "positional anomaly" that was "looked on with great dismay by students and faculty alike.") By summer 1995, O'Connor had resigned and Nordenberg was interim chancellor. That fall, Nordenberg assumed direct supervision of media relations. Haley remained as vice chancellor until he resigned Aug. 1, 1996. He remains at Pitt as a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Pitt has launched a search for a permanent vice chancellor for Student Affairs. Robert Gallagher is interim vice chancellor. Despite the negative publicity the University has received during the 1990s, the job of Pitt communications chief is widely viewed as a plum position, according to Masuga of Heyman Associates.

"We're finding that the University of Pittsburgh is seen as being a very attractive institution, and this position is being viewed as an excellent opportunity," Masuga said. "There are certainly plenty of very talented people out there. It's a question of anticipating the likely fit between candidates and the institution."

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 9

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