Photos by Shawna Schill/UND Athletics
Moving at break-neck speed with key people out of town, take a look at how the University of North Dakota announced the hiring of new athletics director Bill Chaves.
New North Dakota athletics director Bill Chaves’ interview in Grand Forks coincided with winter storm Betsy on Thursday, January 11, that blew snowflakes around so rapidly even the biggest of snowdrifts were envious. The pace at which those flakes blew in the wind was similar to how the university team unveiled the boss.
On Friday, January 12, UND President Mark Kennedy offered the job to Chaves. Chaves accepted early the next morning. At 10 a.m., Saturday, January 13, a conference call with Kennedy, CEO of the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation DeAnna Carlson Zink, Interim Vice President for University and Public Affairs Peter Johnson and Associate Athletic Director Kyle Doperalski occurred to discuss the announcement which was to break within a few short hours.
The announcement plan started to take shape in November in a conversation with Johnson, Doperalski, search chair UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo, Cheri Williams of the President’s office and Kaylee Cusack, a writer for UND’s internal communication tool UND Today. Johnson wrote the press release and Cusack covered the press conference for UND Today. The athletic department would be responsible for the rest which included announcement strategy, social media posts, graphics, communication to UND athletics stakeholders, programming the press conference day and plans to address the new athletic director’s social media platforms if he or she wants to address it and much more.
The announcement plan was finalized during the week of January 8, when the finalists were on campus. Doperalski led the third and final meeting on the subject, this time with a much larger group which included athletic department staff along with the university communication and social media staffs to finalize strategy and timing. Once Kennedy’s decision was made, and he was comfortable with making the news public, emails breaking the news would be sent to student-athletes first, then to athletic department staff, Champions Club members and other stakeholder groups such as various alumni groups from Zink’s team, the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee and North Dakota Athletics Women’s Council.
After emails to the student-athletes, social media was the next step to announce the news to the public. The week the finalists were on campus, UND Athletics graphic designer Amy Chandler made a series of graphics for each of the four finalists to ensure the visual part of the announcement was ready on all assets. The graphics were made possible with photos taken by UND photographers Tyler Ingham and Jackie Lorenz of all four finalists while they were on campus.
The social media posts would be generated and executed by Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Derick Stoulil on the athletic department’s main Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The text of the posts had already been decided upon in advance with the exception of the new AD’s name.
Welcome Bill Chaves, the University of North Dakota's16th Athletics Director as announced by Mark R Kennedy. Press conference set for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND social media manager Layne Pfliiger was on standby to immediately share and retweet on the university social media accounts to ensure wide-spread distribution within seconds. After a few moments, over 31,000 Twitter and 105,000 Facebook followers between the two accounts would have access to the breaking news.
The piece of information that was unknown was when Kennedy would have his selection ready to announce or how long the contract review would be by the selected candidate. The announcement plan had to be flexible for timing but air-tight in execution which posed a challenge with the sequencing of information. With hockey at home on Friday and Saturday night along with a home men’s basketball game Saturday afternoon, the group knew it must be ready to execute quickly and effectively.
The athletics staff had to audible with Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations Jayson Hajdu out of town with a death in the family over the weekend. The athletics media relations duties were handled by Associate Director of Media Relations Ryan Powell. Powell – not Hajdu – would receive the press release from Johnson, publish it and accompanying image to undsports.com at the same moment as the original social media posts hit follower’s feeds.
Between 11 a.m. and noon, UND Athletics executive assistant Janna Swanson, Kennedy’s executive assistant Angelique Foster and Williams were called into work. The three would play a key role in getting the email lists finalized and hitting the send button in a coordinated and timely fashion.
At 12:30, a final conference call with Kennedy, Johnson, Zink and Doperalski was made to update all parties on the moving parts with the announcement, make sure all systems were ready to break the news and decide when to have the press conference. The announcement was just minutes away.
At 12:50 p.m. Doperalski, Stoulil and Powell set up shop as inconspicuously as possible in the club lounge of The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center to start the execution of the announcement plan. The public would start to enter The Betty 10 minutes later for the men’s basketball game with Weber State slated to tip off at 2 p.m. North Dakota men’s basketball coach Brian Jones walked by and saw the trio and knew something was about to happen.
Meanwhile, Swanson, Foster and Williams were set to send the emails to the various groups. Johnson emailed the final version of the press release with quotes gathered from Chaves and other final details within the previous hour to Powell. Stoulil had the Twitter post complete with Chandler’s versions of the Chaves image ready on his laptop, the Facebook post with Chaves’ image ready on his phone and the Instagram post ready on a third device.
Moments after 1 p.m., the email to the student-athletes was sent. Then, the social media posts were made. Emails to the various groups were sent in the next few minutes.
The announcement plan was done. But the work wasn’t. The announcement was within an hour of the men’s basketball game, which means North Dakota Athletics Video Production Coordinate David Folske had to communicate with NeuLion, who hosts undsports.com, to make the Chaves article and image the main story. An hour before each game, the gameday central page goes live and overrides other content. In only a matter of moments, Folske and NeuLion made this adjustment so the Chaves announcement would be the main story with an accommodating splash page all day.
During the men’s basketball game, Stoulil made a modification to the hockey game script that night and included a short in-arena public address announcement about the Chaves hire. The video board featured one of the graphics Chandler made to complement the public address read.
Weaving breaking department-wide news with regularly scheduled social media programming was the key to North Dakota pulling off a flawless major announcement.