Updated June 2020
Effective communications with the media are critical to Montana State University Billings’ ability to carry out its mission and promote continued public support for the university. Effective media relations best serve the university by:
- informing the public of what we can do for them
- Informing the public of the impact they can have on our students through donations, volunteering, sponsorships, attending events, attending open forums, etc.
- promoting the university's achievements, activities, and events of significance
- expanding the general visibility of the university
- ensuring that accurate information is conveyed to the public regarding incidents and issues of a controversial and/or sensitive nature.
The director of University Communications & Marketing serves as the official university spokesperson and conveys the official university position on issues of general university-wide impact or significance or situations that are of a particularly controversial or sensitive nature. Inquiries from the media about such issues should be referred to the director of University Communications & Marketing. Examples of these issues include, but are not limited to health and safety, administration changes/updates, academic changes/updates, etc.
Depending on the specific circumstances, the Chancellor or the director of University Communications & Marketing may designate another university administrator to serve as spokesperson on a particular issue.
In cases of critical significance to the university, the director of University Communications & Marketing will work with other university officials to develop a "position paper" to detail the known facts of the situation and summarize the university's position.
In the event of a crisis or emergency situation, such as public health and safety, changes affecting the university as a whole, etc., the director of University Communications & Marketing will handle all contacts with the media, and will coordinate the information flow from the university to the public. In such situations, all campus departments should refer calls from the media to University Communications & Marketing.
Members of the faculty and staff are free to respond to requests from the media regarding their research, scholarship, teaching, or professional expertise. In such cases, both the director and communications specialist in University Communications & Marketing should be notified as soon as possible to inform him/her of the contact. Such notification can be particularly important if follow-up inquiries are made with other university personnel to ensure a coordinated, consistent university response. Media inquiries should be referred to the director of University Communications & Marketing if they involve issues with university-wide significance and/or are of a controversial or sensitive nature.
Since positive media solicitation is an integral element of the university's communications program, any ideas for articles or pieces that would positively portray the university, its work or its community should also be directed to University Communications & Marketing. In a similar manner University Communications & Marketing should be notified about negative occurrences that are likely to rise to the level of a news story.
Guidelines for communicating with the media when the issue is non-controversial and limited to the faculty/staff member's area of expertise:
- Obtain the name of the person calling, the media organization and, if available, the anticipated time of release of information in print or broadcast. This information should be included when the notification is made to University Communications & Marketing.
- The best approach with the media is to be prompt, helpful and honest. All contacts from the media should be returned as soon as possible, or at a maximum within a half-day or in deference to reporters' deadlines. If that is not possible, an alternate employee (if appropriate) or the director of University Communications & Marketing should be asked to handle the call.
- Make sure you understand each question from the media before answering. If you cannot answer the question, or are uncomfortable providing a response, take the reporter's number and advise him/her that someone who can provide the information will contact him/her as soon as possible. Then follow-up by contacting the appropriate media specialist or the director of University Communications & Marketing.
- When speaking with the media:
- Do not offer speculations or gossip.
- Do not answer a reporter's question with "no comment."
- Do not be condescending or underestimate the reporter's intelligence, but make sure the reporter understands your responses.
- Provide your phone number and/or e-mail address for follow-up questions.
- Remember that in responding to the media, you are representing and speaking for the university. Personal opinions should be clearly and carefully identified as such.
- Issues that should not be discussed with reporters are:
- 1) legal issues, 2) personnel issues, 3) questions that involve university integrity, such as ethics or issues that may result in harm to others, or 4) a campus crisis or emergency.
- Refer all such inquiries to the director of University Communications & Marketing.
- Any media inquiries that involve information about specific students should be directed to the office of University Communications & Marketing who will collaborate with the Vice Chancellor for Student Access and Success. Such inquiries will be handled in strict compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This federal law protects the confidentiality of a student's education record. Information that may be given includes information found in a directory: the student's full name, local address and phone number, dates of attendance and degrees, honors and certificates received, class level (e.g. freshman), and academic major(s). Grades may only be provided to the media if a student wishes to release the information in connection with an award or scholarship.
Any media inquiries regarding MSU Billings faculty or staff should contact the office of University Communications & Marketing who will collaborate with the office of Personnel and Payroll Services. Only public information may be provided without the employee's written approval. Public information is the following: verification of employment, name of job title/position, full or part-time status, name of department, department address and phone number, employment starting date, salary/grade, rank.
Crisis communications have a lasting impact on institutional reputation and public support. How well we convey our message to the public greatly depends on what is reported to the news media. This is especially true in a crisis, during which the news media is the primary means of communication to our constituencies. Because of the emotions that usually accompany crises, images formed from crisis reporting are especially important in shaping long-lasting public impressions of the institution.
In the event of a major crisis on campus, it is essential that an effective communications plan be put into effect to disseminate timely, accurate information and to ensure that inquiries are routed to the appropriate sources.
The director of University Communications & Marketing is responsible for the development and dissemination of all university communications in the event of a campus emergency. This includes internal communications with students, faculty and staff, as well as communications with the media. The priority will be on maintaining timely and open communications with the media, providing complete and accurate information that has been confirmed about the emergency situation and the university's response to the crisis at hand. Communications with the media will be frequent throughout the duration of the emergency situation. The Montana State University Billings website will be utilized as a key medium for updating campus community and the public on the details of the emergency situation and actions taken to address all related issues.
In the event of a widespread campus incident, a media hub will include a workspace for personnel, electricity, internet, if absolutely necessary.
In a campus emergency, faculty, staff and students have a right not to speak with the media. The media has access only to the public areas, which are identified as the basement and first floor of McMullen Hall, SUB, COE, LA building, Library, Science Building, COB—excluding designated faculty, staff areas and offices, classrooms. Common areas only.
Any situations where individuals feel a reporter has abused their rights should be reported to the director of University Communications & Marketing.
University Communications & Marketing
Maureen Brakke -- Director of University Communications & Marketing
Michael Bazemore -- Director of Yellowjacket Athletics
Evan O'Kelly -- Director of Communications
Bill Kennedy -- President and CEO
If you have a media contact you need to discuss or wish to share details of upcoming events, or positive news stories about the university, please contact Maureen Brakke, 657-2243, firstname.lastname@example.org or Shiloh Skillen-Robison, 657-2269, email@example.com.
You can also fill out the press release request form to submit story leads and potential news.