CASE STUDY
Public Affairs/Special Events Management May, 1991
With President George H. W. Bush’s c...
CASE STUDY Public Affairs/Special Events Management
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CASE STUDY Public Affairs/Special Events Management

With President George H. W. Bush’s consent to deliver the 1991 Hampton University (HU) Commencement address, the nation’s largest private black university retained Tim Allston to coordinate the overall logistics for this historic event
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
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Transcripts - CASE STUDY Public Affairs/Special Events Management

  • 1. CASE STUDY Public Affairs/Special Events Management May, 1991 With President George H. W. Bush’s consent to deliver the 1991 Hampton University (HU) Commencement address, the nation’s largest private black university retained Tim Allston to coordinate the overall logistics for this historic event. The Triple Challenges 1. Citing Bush’s Civil Rights Bill veto and perceived insensitivity to minority issues, many HU students protested the visit. Additionally and fueled by local media and right-wing Lyndon LaRouche followers, coeds complained of their lack of input in the Bush decision; 2. Secret Service restricted the Hampton Coliseum commencement site to only 8,000 seats – far below the needs of graduates’ families, HU faculty, staff and alumni; 3. Finally, the previously-scheduled Guns N Roses hard-rock concert would severely undermine White House (WH) and HU staffs’ efforts to restore the public arena appropriately for both a presidential visit and a commencement ceremony. What Was Done Allston developed a strategic communications plan, uniting all the various elements of the visit and insuring each phase’s timely execution. More specifically, he: • Initiated several meetings with student leaders bringing, finally, a senior WH aide to co-address their issues; • Identified and interviewed leaders of potentially dissenting civil rights organizations, and secured their support for the event; • Helped establish HU’s Commencement Logistics Office to dispense accurate, up-to-date event information; • Teamed with the university’s public relations office to direct its media messages, by initiating a series of media interviews to counterbalance the previous, more sensational coverage. Jointly, they compiled the press kit materials, and worked with the WH Press Advance team in accommodating the pre-event and actual event press corps; and • Worked closely with WH speechwriters by preparing selected research for inclusion in the President’s address. Most importantly, however, Allston initiated the detailed proposal that relocated the commencement exercises to the university’s on-campus football stadium. Its approval increased the ceremony’s seating capacity by nearly 40%; distanced potential outside protesters from this private school’s property; brought the President physically on campus; and showcased the school’s physical attractiveness to the national media audiences. The Results 1. More than 11,000 received enthusiastically President Bush’s 43-minute 121st HU Commencement address, the historic event of which served as the lead story for all local, regional and national news reports on that year’s Mother’s Day; 2. Hampton University, in its first national lead-story media coverage, was positioned as a well- established American university whose students, when choosing to dissent, did so in a muted, respectable manner; and 3. In his hand-written follow-up note to Hampton’s president, Bush opened with, “It all worked out, and I sure enjoyed my trip to Hampton”, adding, “I want to thank you for your leadership in averting what might have been a controversial situation.”