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Special Projects, Programs, or Campaigns – Gold

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EVMS
The EVMS Marketing & Communications Public Relations staff (L to R) Virginia Hilton, Jennifer McCarrel, Vincent Rhodes, Nancy Chapman, and Doug Gardner.
EVMS Marketing & Communications

EVMS Yearbook Crisis Response
Eastern Virginia Medical School


Can you moonwalk your way out of a PR crisis? Late Friday afternoon in February, a reputational crisis struck. A racist and reprehensible EVMS yearbook photo depicting a person in black face and a person in KKK robes surfaced on the internet. The image appeared on the page of our most notable alumnus, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, MD. A flood of media calls ensued. Both the chief communications officer and EVMS president were out of the office on vacation, and the race was on to shape the crisis coverage to minimize damage to the school. Governor Northam waffled in his response and nearly attempted to moonwalk at one of his press conferences. But you can’t dance around the issue. The crisis response effort was equal parts sprint and marathon. News of the offensive image sent shockwaves across the nation, threatening to topple the governor and endangering crucial public and private financial support for our small institution. The EVMS Marketing and Communications team worked closely with executive leadership to successfully respond to the crisis and preserve the medical school’s reputation.

What was the most impactful part of your award-winning entry?

This wasn’t just a reputational issue. This pained our students, faculty, and staff. Seeing courageous conversations and witnessing the healing that can come from facing hard truths made the difficulties worthwhile.

What challenge did you overcome?

So much of the media focus was the governor with just enough mention of EVMS to be a reputational threat. We worked diligently to get our message out to the media and the general public to demonstrate we were taking responsibility and action.

Contact
Vincent Rhodes, rhodesva@evms.edu

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