Holy Cross Earns International Recognition for Media Relations Campaign on 'Fraternity'

The College of the Holy Cross was recently honored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) with a 2013 Circle of Excellence Award in the media relations category for a campaign related to “The Holy Cross Fraternity.” Holy Cross received the bronze award, making it one of only four institutions in the world—and one of just two in the U.S.—recognized in this category.

The multifaceted media relations campaign developed and implemented by in-house staff at Holy Cross began months before the book “Fraternity” by journalist Diane Brady was published by Random House on Jan. 3, 2012. A non-fiction account of a group of African-American students who began their studies at the then mostly white, all-male Holy Cross in 1968, "Fraternity" reveals the vision and determination of former president Rev. John Brooks, S.J., ’49, who personally recruited and mentored the 20 young men at a time when racial integration was sparking controversy on many campuses.  The recruited students achieved extraordinary success in a range of fields, and included Clarence Thomas ‘71, the future Supreme Court justice; Edward P. Jones ‘72, who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature; Theodore Wells ‘72, who would become one of the nation’s most successful defense attorneys; Stanley Grayson ‘72, future New York City deputy mayor who would break the color bar on Wall Street; and Eddie Jenkins ‘72, who would play for the Miami Dolphins during their 1972 perfect season.

“Diane Brady’s book was the first time this remarkable story of leadership, courage, and mentoring had been told,” says Ellen Ryder, director of public affairs at the College. “The fact that our team was able to leverage a compelling narrative into a successful mix of events, reviews, national media appearances, social media, and creative outreach to our key audiences is testimony to a great book as much as it is to our strategies and tactics.”

The media relations campaign, spanning a full calendar year, included targeted pitching; personal meetings with journalists; published opinion pieces; on-campus lectures—including a rare public appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas ’71—book signings; panel discussions with the author and alumni; broadcast interviews; reviews; feature stories;  and other events across the country.  The in-house team also developed an online presence, strategic email communications, social media outreach, and an exhibit in the College’s archives.

“‘Fraternity’ is a story about Fr. Brooks and the alumni he mentored, but it is also very much a story about the Holy Cross community, and the unique experiences that the people here to this day make possible for students,” says Ryder.  “Before this, no single story had been able to integrate so many aspects of a Holy Cross education, including—commitment to Jesuit values and diversity, the success of our alumni, academic rigor, and the close faculty/student relationships.  We saw these themes raised over and over in nearly every review, article and feature story on the book.”

“Our goal was to raise awareness of these hallmarks of a Holy Cross education and to enhance the image and reputation of the College on a national scale,” says Kristine Maloney, former national media relations director at the College, and a key architect in the campaign’s success, who managed all components of the campaign, in conjunction with Cristal Steuer, current director of national media relations. “In addition to targeting national media outlets, we also focused on regional and local media outlets located in strategically important cities throughout the country.  We concentrated our efforts in places where we have a large concentration of alumni as well as significant pools of prospective students in order to maximize our impact with two of our two most important constituencies.”

Media outreach related to “Fraternity,” resulted in more than 65 unique feature stories, news articles and book reviews in major outlets across the country.  National outlets included The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, C-SPAN’s BookTV, AARP – The Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Vanity Fair, Christian Science Monitor, and National Catholic Reporter. Local and regional coverage included the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Boston Globe, and WBUR and WGBH (both National Public Radio affiliates in Boston).

The media relations staff also secured coverage with NBC’s Today Show on a feature story about the book. One of NBC’s top shows, with more than 4 million weekly viewers, the Today Show segment on “Fraternity” aired on July 4, 2012 and was also posted on the program’s website which receives more than 18 million unique visitors monthly.

Fr. Brooks was actively involved in all aspects of the campaign, traveling to events, participating in signings, and giving interviews.  He passed away at age 86, the day before the Today segment aired.  His death triggered the publication of an additional dozen news articles which featured his story and the book (as well as many more articles, obituaries, and funeral coverage).

The book sold more than 1,000 copies directly through the Holy Cross Bookstore, making it the biggest single non-textbook seller in bookstore history.  It was also a regional bestseller in Boston, according to the Boston Globe, and made several year-end “best of” lists including being named among the top 10 best non-fiction books of 2012 by The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, and among the top 100 books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle.  “Fraternity” was selected by Amazon Books’ editorial team as one of the top 100 overall best reads of the year, and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of “Literary Work – Non-Fiction.”

The international CASE Circle of Excellence awards program recognizes outstanding work in communications, marketing, alumni relations, advancement services and fundraising as judged by peer professionals at schools, colleges and universities as well as by professionals from outside education. Winners are selected based on a number of factors, including overall quality, innovation, use of resources and the impact on the institution or its external and internal communities such as alumni, parents, students and faculty and staff. In 2013, CASE received more than 2,900 entries for consideration in 45 categories by 615 member higher education institutions, independent schools and nonprofits from around the world.

CASE is one of the largest international associations of education institutions, serving more than 3,600 universities, colleges, schools and related organizations in 76 countries. CASE is the leading resource for professional development, information and standards in the fields of education fundraising, communications, marketing and alumni relations.