Awards
Specific Media Relations Programs: University of Central Florida - Gold Medal

Category 8: Specific Media Relations Programs
University of Central Florida - Media Campaign to Create Support for Approval of a Medical College at UCF

Contact: Tom Evelyn, associate director of News and Information, 12443 Research Parkway, Suite 301, Orlando, FL 32826. (407) 823-5988, e-mail: tevelyn@mail.ucf.edu

Project Description: To generate community support and convince the board of governors, which oversees the state’s 11 public universities, of the need for a medical college at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. UCF not only had to prove there was a need for the college, but also that the university could help pay for it.

When UCF talked publicly of its intentions to seek a medical college during a board of governors meeting in January 2005, board members were openly skeptical. In fact, they made it clear that they were unlikely to approve any new medical schools in the state after having established one at Florida State University a few years earlier. With UCF and Florida International University in Miami both requesting new schools, many of the board’s members expressed doubt about the need for them and indicated they would vote against any such proposals.

After a vote was set for March 23, 2006, UCF had to work quickly to convince the board that there was a physician shortage in Florida and across the country and that the university could help address this problem by establishing a medical school. The university also wanted to show that it had community support for the school and that it could raise enough money to pay for its construction before the board’s vote.

Program Planning and Objectives:

Strategies:

  • Establish the need for a college of medicine in Orlando.
  • Demonstrate physician shortage and need for additional medical education.
  • Demonstrate economic benefit to region and state.
  • Demonstrate ability to raise money needed to pay for construction.
  • Encourage Board of Governors to approve establishing UCF College of Medicine.

Throughout 2005, the UCF Office of News and Information worked to show the public and the media that there was a shortage of physicians in Florida and the country. News releases and materials developed together with university marketing cited a study by MGT of America showing that Florida needed at least two more medical schools to address the growing demand for doctors in the state. Many news stories quoted from the report that the annual need for new physicians in Florida was expected to grow from 2,800 in 2003 to 4,200 in 2021. News and information promoted coverage of events at which UCF administrators quoted these facts.

At the same time, news and information promoted donation ceremonies to both show that community support was high and to encourage additional donations.

The fact that UCF was quickly raising the money it needed to pay for construction seemed to be having a positive effect on the board of governors. But the board seemed less convinced that new medical schools could address physician shortages or even if the shortages were as severe as predicted.

By the start of 2006, it became clear that the governor was more interested in the economic benefits that medical schools could deliver and that UCF’s chances of getting a college would improve if it could show that such benefits would follow.

In early 2006, News and Information worked with the Milken Institute and Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics to develop talking points based on an economic impact study developed by the groups. In February 2006, news and information promoted the release of the study, which showed that the medical college could generate as much as $1.4 billion a year by itself and as much as $6.4 billion as part of a biomedical sciences cluster that would likely form in the Central Florida region.

At the same time, news and information continued to promote individual gift ceremonies and, in the days leading up to the March 23 vote, repeated that UCF had raised more than $100 million in pledges, including state matching funds and the value of donated land.

The overwhelming support from donors and compelling economic impact proved to be the information that would win over the board of governors.

Objectives:

  • Build community support through media and medical college news site.
  • Hold media events to highlight fund-raising success as an indicator of community support.
  • Describe economic impact in news releases and supplemental marketing materials.
  • Make president and provost available to reporters and editorial boards to repeat messages of community support and economic impact.
  • Generate media coverage and positive editorials in Central Florida and major dailies throughout the state.

Audience: This initiative had several audiences, but first we focused on the Central Florida community, including residents and business and health care leaders. We knew that having the support of our local community was essential to getting the support of others.

Other audiences included the media, the legislature, the governor, and the broader medical community. The most important audience, of course, was the board of governors.

Resources: News and information had little resources other than staff time. This initiative was carried out mostly by the department’s associate director, Tom Evelyn, with assistance from writer Chad Binette and Assistant Vice President and Director Linda Gray.

The medical college news site was created and maintained by the news and information staff as part of the existing news site.

The department also supplemented news releases and media events with materials developed by the university marketing department. These materials had associated printing costs that were contained within marketing’s budget.

Other costs included travel to various board meetings and editorial visits throughout the state.

Response and Results: UCF’s effort to convince the board of governors to establish a medical school in Orlando was covered widely by Orlando media and by newspapers around the state. Most of the major dailies, including the Orlando Sentinel, ran positive editorials calling on the board to approve the college.

Print: The Orlando Sentinel extensively covered the donations, economic impact study and other events leading up to the March 23 vote. The Sentinel also featured several positive editorials calling on the board to approve the college. Florida Trend magazine and other major dailies, including the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Tribune, Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tallahassee Democrat and Jacksonville Times-Union covered the developments and supported the proposed college in editorials.

Radio and Television: Orlando’s ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Telemundo and Univision affiliates, Central Florida News 13 (a local 24-hour news channel), WDBO-AM and WFLA-AM covered news conferences to announce donations and the economic impact study. All of the stations covered the board’s March 23 vote. Several of the stations had a series of stories leading up to the vote.

In addition to the positive coverage and editorials, and in many cases as a result of that coverage, donors enthusiastically stepped forward to provide financial assistance. In just two months, the university raised more than $100 million in donations and state matching funds.

High-profile members of the Central Florida community became ambassadors for UCF, making the case for the medical school to board members both at meetings and in private.

Summary: The end result was the board of governors’ 15-1 vote to approve establishing the UCF College of Medicine. The college plans to open its doors to its first class in Fall 2009.