Report: UM System quietly hired mega PR firm following protests in 2015

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COLUMBIA - The UM System hired a large public relations firm to help "craft its message and avoid perception crisis," according to a report by the Columbia Missourian.

According to documents obtained by the Missourian, the university paid Edelman PR out of Chicago between $250,000 and $350,000 from June 2016 to July 2017. Edelman has also been contracted to work with the university through June 2018 for an additional estimated $123,600.

Edelman PR was consulted about events impacting MU or the system such as the hiring of UM System President Mun Choi and the first anniversary of the 2015 Concerned Student 1950 protests. 

In the past, Edelman helped Penn State following a sexual abuse scandal, and ran a campaign for a Canada energy company in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The UM System did not send out a press release about the hiring of the PR firm. The Missourian reported that Christian Basi, the director of the MU News Bureau, said the hiring was mentioned in a System Board of Curators meeting in 2016. That information, according to the Missourian, was not listed in meeting minutes. 

According to the initial contract, the Missourian included in its report, Edelman provided services such as a communications manual, social local and national media monitoring, public relations coaching for system administrators and a calendar of major news events and opportunities where MU and the system could share positive stories. 

The new contract with Edelman, which began on July 1, provides the system with more communication strategies including "Crisis/Issues preparation."

Through a public records request, the Missourian obtained "Crisis Planning Materials," which was written by campus or system officials, and then looked over by Edelman. 

The document included sample questions and sample answers for everyone who spoke for MU or the system could use. The strategy was to promote a "unified narrative."

The Missourian also reported Edelman provided support after members of the Legion of Black Collegians were met with racial slurs outside the Delta Upsilon Fraternity House. The PR firm conducted a "social audit" by analyzing social media activity following the event. 

Basi said the reason they hired the firm was to provide "outside perspective for MU," according to the Missourian article. 

Edelman measured results by looking at increased enrollment, positive media coverage and increased donations and state funding.

[Editor's note: We originally said MU News Bureau refused to answer questions on the subject. But due to miscommunication in the newsroom, we failed to see an email from Christian Basi and the News Bureau. We apologize and sincerely regret the error.]