Case Studies

A62V8111I am a counselor. I excel in advancing organizations through strategies that include public engagement, internal communication, crisis and issues management, and media relations.

My experience in these areas spans working with CEOs, boards and executive staff in the government, nonprofit, higher education and business sectors to advance their organizations. Given my background as a police officer and special investigator, I also provide counsel to law enforcement agencies.

My experience includes public diplomacy and corporate work with global organizations, as well as teaching a graduate-level global strategic communications course, where I employ case studies to help students learn from real-life examples.

Albemarle County, Virginia

Situation

In light of the tragic events of August 11th and 12th where citizens in the Albemarle (VA) County/City of Charlottesville area have voiced distrust with local government, Albemarle County leaders decided it was important to involve the public and employees in its strategic communications planning efforts. Given Matt’s experience as a spokesperson at the University of Virginia during this crisis and that his portfolio also included oversight of community engagement efforts, the County selected Matt Charles Public Relations+Strategy to lead the planning.

Action

Matt Charles Public Relations+Strategy advised a public engagement process to help inform the strategic communications plan. This engagement included focus groups with external stakeholders that included businesses, governmental and quasi-governmental agencies, nonprofits, advocacy groups, media, clergy and rural and urban-geographically located residents and focus groups with internal stakeholders that included County employees, senior leadership and members of the Board of Supervisors. The focus groups included over 100 participants. This qualitative research tool informed a quantitative survey distributed to County residents via County e-mail, media advisories, town halls and social media engagement and resulted in 432 responses. 

Outcome

Albemarle (VA) County now has a strategic communications plan in place that was built with the help of residents through an inclusive effort. From a reputation management perspective, residents have provided written and verbal feedback stating that they trust the County more after this effort and are very happy with the process and resulting plan. When speaking with other municipal governments, this process is viewed as a gold standard in stakeholder involvement regarding strategic communications planning. 

Region 10 Community Services Board

Situation

Region 10 Community Services Board is a regional social service provider for people with mental health, intellectual disability and substance use issues. The agency contracted Matt Charles Public Relations+Strategy to help engage and educate stakeholders regarding the work that they do. 

Action

Given the nature of the difficult work that agencies like Region 10 do and the inevitable pushback that they receive, Matt advised first identifying all stakeholders and then providing targeted messaging to them through the means that they prefer to receive information. For example, supervisors provided information during meetings and via newsletters, senior leadership and subject matter experts met with media and local and state government leaders and individual meetings, and social media was used for customers, advocacy groups and residents.

Outcome

Employee morale has improved, as has that of external stakeholders. Favorable media stories have increased by 225% and negative social media sentiment has decreased by 77%. Region 10 took this opportunity to turn negative perception into their organization being regarded as an industry leader in employee and customer communications and engagement.

University of Virginia

Situation

As UVA’s deputy spokesperson during the tragic events of August 11th and 12th when Nazi groups descended upon Downtown Charlottesville and the University,  Matt was part of a regional group meeting since early 2017 to plan for this and the Ku Klux Klan rally held Downtown in July 2017. He was also part of UVA’s 24/7 emergency response team from 2015-18; writing and disseminating real-time communications to internal and external stakeholders, as well as liaising with UVA, City and County and Virginia State Police officials. 

Action

When the Downtown event on the morning of August 12th became violent and it appeared groups were headed toward UVA Grounds, Matt had to run across Grounds to inform University leaders attending other events, advising that in the interest of safety, UVA needed to shut things down and evacuate. Matt sent messages to UVA stakeholders with situation updates and to inform them that the Governor had issued a State of Emergency, closing UVA until further notice. While Grounds were evacuated without incident, he and other UVA officials continued to work around the clock on August 11th and 12th. Matt’s police and special investigator experience prepared him for this and provided important perspective. The crisis communications statement template he prepared the previous year as part of UVA’s new crisis management and supplementary emergency preparedness plan helped guide UVA’s communications efforts. 

Outcome

In the following months, Matt fielded a high number of media calls (local and regional media and national media that included The New York Times, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post), helped navigate a deluge of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and assisted with draft revisions to UVA’s operating policy to better protect its students, faculty, staff and Grounds going forward. UVA’s communications efforts led to changes in state law. They also worked to include students and provide resources to help with their recovery after these traumatic events. In Fall 2018, UVA achieved its highest enrollments (both African-American students and overall applications with our strongest class matriculating to date with 352 African-American students enrolling [up 34% since 2013] and 1310 minority students enrolling [up 35% since 2013]). This outcome led to multiple high-profile confidential clients contracting Matt for strategic communications counsel and the formation of Matt Charles Public Relations+Strategy. Much of the strategic communications work led to organizations requesting Matt advise on overall organizational strategic efforts.

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Situation

In Matt’s position as UVA’s Darden School of Business media relations director, he and his colleagues realized the need to advance the School’s national reputation through high-profile media relations efforts to help with MBA and Executive Education enrollments.

Action

Matt successfully pitched The Washington Post to run a series of articles, authored by Darden School professors, promoting the benefits of the School’s Executive Education program. Matt leveraged these articles, by incorporating a PESO (paid, earned, social and owned) media approach. This was critical to program survival, as the 2013 sequestration and government shutdown drastically reduced program funding. 

Result

The Washington Post ran 14 articles over the next year which, with collaboration with the marketing, web and social teams, helped increase Executive Education enrollment by 135% over the next 15 months. Darden also achieved a No. 1 ranking, with media placements being a scored factor. 

Purdue University

Situation

The Purdue University Brian Lamb School of Communication, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, is the top-ranked communications program in the United States. However, like most higher education institutions they have experienced increased competition that had resulted in decreased online format enrollments. 

Action

As a professor of strategic communication with years of online teaching experience and as a former higher education administrator, Matt knows the landscape well. He worked with the Purdue team on course pedagogy, program deployment and strategy to increase enrollments. He also provided counsel on marketing efforts, allocating six-credit hours of coursework for an earned Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) certification and creation of badge certifications for courses completed.

Result

The School achieved a 23% increase in online format enrollment and received support from the University and Indiana Commission for Higher Education to allocate six-credit hours of coursework for an earned Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) certification which has helped bolster enrollment.

Northeastern University

Situation

Northeastern University is a top-tier private university, located in Boston, Massachusetts, whose public and media relations graduate communications degree concentration experienced a steep decline in students during 2018. Part of this was due to new immigration visa policies which prohibited many overseas students from completing their degree from overseas. Many of these students were from China.

Action

With Matt’s experience working with international media at UVA and teaching global strategic communications, Northeastern University asked him to reformat and rewrite a number of required courses within the graduate curriculum that include “PR Strategy & Planning,” “PR Research,” “PR Writing I,” and “PR Writing II.” Matt stressed using an integrated communications approach, and incorporated the PESO (paid, earned, social and owned) media model in these courses. He also leveraged his work with Chinese media to help tailor the coursework to Chinese students studying at the Boston campus. Matt worked with the Northeastern team to design a curriculum applicable to both an online and on-ground format that could be taught with the online and on-ground formats taking place simultaneously. Part of this design included introducing a virtual public relations agency to the course to provide the students real-world experience as they work with actual clients from different industry sectors.

Result

Enrollments for both formats have increased, with the online format increasing by over 50%. The program’s reputation has advanced, as the course clients helped by the students’ virtual public relations agency have served as brand evangelists, spreading the word that they are professional and provide actionable recommendations.

Georgetown University

Situation

Georgetown University, a nationally ranked private university located in Washington, D.C., needed to update it corporate communication and public relations coursework and outreach to prospective students. This was especially important given the increase in graduate online communications programs nationally, and a highly competitive market in the Washington D.C., area.

Action

As a professor of strategic communication with years of online teaching experience and as a former higher education administrator, Matt knows the landscape well. He worked with the Georgetown team on course pedagogy, program deployment and strategy to increase enrollments.

Result

Program enrollments have increased by 35 percent. The crisis communications course that Matt teaches is at capacity with additional sections added, as other Schools — including the McDonough School of Business — have students request the course.

Danville Regional Foundation

Situation

Danville (VA) Regional Foundation, which serves residents of southside Virginia and the north-central North Carolina border, has a portfolio which includes support for health and wellness, education, community development and economic development. When uranium interests attempted to mine in the area, the local environment and health and safety of area residents was put at risk.

Action

As the former Danville (VA) Regional Foundation (DRF) communications and public relations director, Matt leveraged experience honed in Los Angeles and New York City to produce, direct and host an informational monthly television show – “DRF Digest” – in collaboration with the City of Danville, Virginia. “Digest” promoted DRF’s efforts to advance the region, reaching about 45,000 local residents. The platform also informed viewers about public policy, using information Matt compiled and summarized from five independent environmental, social and economic impact reports totaling over 15,000 pages on uranium mining in the Dan River Region. Matt and his colleagues sent these resources to local and state government appointed and elected officials in conjunction with a media relations campaign that included outreach to local and regional papers that utilized op-eds and third-party advocate endorsements.

Result

The Commonwealth of Virginia upheld a moratorium and ban against uranium mining citing uncertainty regarding the risk for environmental damage and harm to the safety and well-being of residents and people as far away as the Atlantic coast given the watershed. 

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