On February 1, 2017, a former editor of the far-right Breitbart News Network attempted to deliver a speech at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, the birthplace of the free speech movement. The event erupted into violence as 150 masked militant “anti-fascist” protesters toting baseball bats and machetes showed up to stop the speech. Fortunately no lives were lost.
Dan Mogulof, the PR Round Table’s February 2018 speaker, was in the crowd that day, observing in his role as UC Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor of Executive Communications. Drawing on the survival skills he honed as the former CBS Tel Aviv bureau chief, Mogulof crawled through the crowd’s legs and escaped from the melee — but not from the almost year-long communications crisis this event would trigger.
A larger than normal PR Round Table crowd was drawn to the timely speaker as well as to the new venue: Golden Gate University’s lovely University Center, at its Mission Street campus in San Francisco. With its more casual ambiance than the organization’s longtime venue, the setting was conducive to a lively give and take with Mogulof.
Over the course of an hour, Mogulof treated PR Round Table members and their guests to a dramatic retelling of the year’s events, which thrust UC Berkeley back into the national limelight, while testing its commitment to free speech. The controversy prompted a tweet from the president, compelling Mogulof to correct the record in the New York Times.
Through skillful communications, Mogulof was able to expose the concocted narrative of UC Berkeley’s canceling a summer 2017 “Free Speech Week” as a hoax. The Alt-right “journalists” subsequently beat a hasty retreat.
In terms of lessons learned from this lengthy ordeal, Mogulof offered these thoughts
- When dealing with a current or potential crisis, closely monitor all communications so they can’t be used against you, out of context.
- You must be relentlessly proactive: “shotgun” communications won’t work, you have to use a rifle; you must “get inside the fence” so your audience hears from you directly.
- “He said, she said” journalism is at an all-time high; your credentials and experience don’t matter, it’s all about who can create the most “compelling” or emotional story.
- There is no more news cycle — everything is immediate, so don’t expect to have time to make a finely-crafted statement or you may miss the boat entirely
Before coming to the University in 2004, Mogulof spent 20 years in broadcast journalism, in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to his stint as the Tel Aviv Bureau Chief for CBS News, he served in a variety of production and management roles for National Geographic Television, New York Times Television and PBS. He is the recipient of four Emmy awards for his news and documentary work.
— Nancy Hayden Crowley & Patsy Barich