Regan’s greatest show
There is a principle of public relations thinking that you want to maximize positive exposure for a client and minimize negative coverage. Then there is the old adage, which had more currency in the early days of PR, that it doesn’t matter what is said about you as long they spell your name right.
Put George Regan in the second camp. The bad boy of Boston PR has not only helped fuel coverage that put his client, Suffolk University, in a bad light, his firm has itself become part of the story — and not in a particularly good way. But he doesn’t seem to be shrinking from the spotlight.
Regan finds himself in the middle of the recent showdown involving a botched plan by the chairman of the university’s board of trustees to fire Suffolk president Margaret McKenna. After meeting with broad pushback from the university community and broader civic leadership, the board instead agreed to a plan under which McKenna leaves by the fall of 2017, but so does board chairman Andrew Meyer. The agreement also calls for a long overdue reworking of the board’s bylaws to limit its meddling in the day-to-day operations of the university.
Regan, a Suffolk grad, has had a long relationship with the school, and has enjoyed what some view as an unhealthy degree of influence over its doings. His firm, Regan Communications, has been Suffolk’s paid PR outlet for years, and Regan is said to be close with many members of the Suffolk board of trustees, including Meyer. A Regan vice president, Julie Kahn, is on the board, though she has said she will leave the board when her term expires in the spring.
McKenna, on the job for only seven months, was set to end Regan’s lucrative contract with the school (the Globe reported that Suffolk paid the firm $294,000 in fiscal year 2014). Some speculate that played a role in the board’s plans to push her out. Board members say they were motivated by concerns over her fiscal stewardship of the school and management style.
But Regan is hardly going quietly. In a statement to the Globe, he said, “President McKenna has chosen to blame me for her contentious relationship with the board, rather than acknowledging her own indefensible actions as the true reason for the board’s deep and valid concerns for her ability to lead the university.” He told the Herald his firm had taken Suffolk from “an also-ran school to top tier.”
A Regan spokesman took a swipe at Suffolk spokesman Greg Gatlin — a former Regan employee (and Herald reporter) — in a Joe Battenfeld column in yesterday’s Herald. Battenfeld says the firm claims it has a contract with Suffolk and may fight the dismissal, “triggering another potentially nasty public war.”
Which means it is likely not the last we’ve read about Regan and his dustup with Suffolk’s president.
As for the old PR saw about only caring that they spell your name right, Michael Turney, a retired professor of communications at Northern Kentucky University, writes that there is no definitive evidence of who originated the phrase. His research narrowed it down to Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Tammany Hall pol “Big” Tim Sullivan, and circus impresario P.T. Barnum. He concludes that the most plausible of these is P.T. Barnum, “the most outspoken and the most self-deprecatingly cynical of the four.”
Speaking of less than flattering public imagery, the Globe’s Shirley Leung today laments the state of things at Suffolk, spotlighting the “mutual destruction” of McKenna and Meyer, “complete with the school’s outside PR honcho George Regan playing the cockroach that possibly survives it all.”
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