UC Davis Employs Reputation Management Firms and Backfires

Many institutions employ reputation management firms to help promote or hide events. Whether it’s a fortune 500 company or an university, when these services are needed, they do not hesitate to contact the best. Just as University of California Davis employed a company from Maryland called Nevins and Associates back in January 2013. They signed a six-month contract for $15,000 a month. It was a measure to counteract the bad publicity after the pepper spraying fiasco.

The incident occurred during a protest in November 2011 where students were against tuition fee increases. When things were getting out of “control,” a former UC Davis police officer pepper sprayed students who were simply sitting down and refusing to move out of the way. There was a video that went viral and it picked up a lot of traction nationwide where the country had its eyes on UC Davis for the pepper spray incident. The office known as Lt. John Pike was awarded $38,000 in workers compensation for experiencing such a backlash and was moved around for protection since the police union claimed he received threatening emails and text messages. He officially left the onsite campus police force in July 2012. However, UC Davis had another problem to face, which was the negative image that was scarred onto the University’s name due to the incident. This is why they sought out reputation management firms.

The first reputation management firm they employed was Nevins and Associates. However, they later employed IDMLOCO for a contract of $82,500 back in June 2014 to “design and execute a comprehensive search engine results management strategy.” There was an email that was hacked and leaked, which came from IDMLOCO to Chancellor Katehi of UC Davis. The email consisted of IDMLOCO thanking UC Davis for this opportunity. They stated that they are following a plan based on previous discussions with the school to achieve a naturally positive search results on key words relating to UC Davis and Chancellor Katehi. They further explain the phase one of the plan which will consist of a thorough analysis of search results to properly evaluate the best options to take when countering the negative results. They also stated they will perform a social media audit. In layman’s terms, they will review all existing social media accounts and seek out popular content or messages that can benefit them to reaching out to the community. When this email was released into the public, UC Davis’s reputation became stained even more than before. On top of reminding the nation how they dealt with student protestors, the university using their funds in trying to hide the events of the incident online became a deadlier negative image for the school. Many students and citizens of the nation were demanding the Chancellor to step down and own up to her mistakes instead of hiding the truth. Some were completely shocked at the idea of hiding such an incident and then comparing it to the Tiananmen Square protest that took place in 1989 in Beijing. In that particular incident, student protesters were killed my military squads yet China never tried to hide that part of history and used it to learn from their mistakes when dealing with similar circumstances in the future.  

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