University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Student Takes Top Honors at Arthur W. Page’s 2011 Corporate Communications Case Study Competition

A case study examining the National Football League's response to medical research on football-related concussions won the Grand Prize at the Arthur W. Page Society's 2011 Case Study Competition, sponsored by the Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations. The competition is designed to illustrate and promote the practical applications of corporate communications as a critical management function.

The entry: "Just a Ding? The NFL Responds to Research on Football-Related Concussion", written by graduate student Andrea Goetschius, examined how the wave of football veterans with degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy required the NFL to finally acknowledge, and act on, the connection between repeated concussions and the condition.

Goetschius will receive a $5000 prize as winner of the competition during the Page Society's Spring Seminar dinner on April 7, 2011. In addition, faculty advisor Dulcie Straughan, senior associate dean at UNC Chapel Hill, will be recognized at the dinner and receive $1500.

In addition to the Grand Prize, there were six other honorees: first, second, and third-place winners from both business schools and communications schools, including the University of Alabama, McMaster University, and The University of Florida.

This is the Page Society's ninth-annual case study competition, designed to strengthen awareness of communication and corporate reputation issues among business, communication, and journalism students.

"This year's case studies illustrate the role of authentic communications in building and protecting an organization's reputation," said Bill Margaritis, Chairman of the Arthur W. Page Society. "The NFL case study in particular demonstrates the role that importance of actively engaging with stakeholders to successfully manage critical issues. We congratulate Andrea Goetschius from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and all of the winners in this year's competition."

"The 2011 case studies show the continued importance of strategic communications across a broad spectrum of enterprises—from education to sports to automotive," said Bob Grupp, President and CEO of IPR. "We're grateful to this year's winners for their thorough research and for providing a valuable resource for PR practitioners.

All case studies were evaluated on the basis of relevance and timeliness, as well as the significance of the problem and the effective use of the seven Page Principles, which the Page Society embraces as the core principles that guide the actions of public relations practitioners.

Winning Entries:

Grand Prize

Title: "Just a Ding? The NFL Responds to Research on Football-Related Concussion"

Submitted by: Andrea Goetschius, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Faculty Advisor: Senior Associate Dean Dulcie Straughan

Abstract: Given the increased occurrence of degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the NFL had to address concerns about the disease among retired and deceased football players. After two years, the NFL finally acknowledged the connection between repeated concussions and the condition, and took steps to be part of the solution.

First Prize, Business School

Title: "Animal-Welfare Activists vs. the Calgary Stampede: That's Entertainment"

Submitted by: Colleen Killingsworth, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Terry Flynn

Abstract: The reputation of the Calgary Stampede, the world's largest outdoor rodeo which attracts more than one million visitors, had been shaken after the death of six horses in 2010. Animal-welfare advocates, who oppose the use of animals in entertainment, pressured the Stampede every year to stop events such as calf-roping, steer-wrestling and chuckwagon racing. After the death of the horses, animal-welfare advocates were more vocal than ever through social and traditional media channels, resulting in a reputational loss for the Stampede in 2010 compared to 2009.

First Prize, Communications School

Title: Accelerating Into Trouble: An Analysis of Toyota Motor Company and its Recent Recalls

Submitted by: Will Hodges, College of Communication and Information Sciences, University of Alabama

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Bruce Berger

Abstract: After Toyota issued two separate vehicle recalls attributed to hundreds of consumer complaints about Sudden Unintended Acceleration covering 10 million vehicles, the company was forced to announce it was suspending the sale of eight of its best-selling vehicles, a move that would ultimately cost the company and its dealers a minimum of $54 million a day in lost sales revenue at its peak. For a company whose reputation for quality and dependability had helped it become the world's largest automaker, it was unfathomable that it would find itself at the center of one of the largest product recalls in the automotive industry. The case study examines what this means for Toyota's brand image in the United States, its largest and most profitable market.

Second Prize, Business School

Title: "Too Fat to Fly: Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines"

Submitted by: Rebecca Edgar, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Terry Flynn

Abstract: When director Kevin Smith was thrown off of a Southwest Airlines flight for allegedly being "too big" to fit in one seat, he took to Twitter to voice his displeasure. In the process, he put Southwest's PR team and its social media prowess to the test. A series of back and forth Twitter posts and blog entries ensued, and the situation became one of the most talked-about social media controversies of the year.

Second Prize, Communications School

Title: "Obliged: Goldman Sachs versus the U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission"

Submitted by: Timothy David Deardourff, University of Florida

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Juan-Carlos Molleda

Abstract: On April 16, 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced a civil lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, alleging fraud in its structuring and marketing of a mortgage-backed synthetic collateralized debt obligation product named ABACUS 2007-AC. Between the announcement of the lawsuit and Goldman's settlement on July 15, Goldman waged an unprecedented defense of its reputation through a variety of communications channels, including media interviews, news releases, government testimony, notes to shareholders, and its website.

Third Prize, Business School

Title: "War of Worlds or War of Words: Brazilian Vale versus North America USWA"

Submitted by: Kim T. Morris, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Terry Flynn

Abstract: In July 2009, USWA Local 6500, the union representing the employees of Vale's Sudbury mining operations went on strike in what was to become the longest and most acrimonious strike in Sudbury mining history. Both sides in the dispute displayed less-than-flattering behavior, including leaking of documents, bullying, racist comments, and even criminal activity. As a result of the strike, the community lost respect for both organizations. This case study examines how actions taken during the strike impacted the reputation of both parties. It also highlights the communication breakdown between not only both parties, but also with their key stakeholders.

Third Prize, Communications School

Title: "Eastern Michigan University: Sacrificing Student Safety for a Sharper Image"

Submitted by: Lindsay Malone, College of Communication and Information Sciences, University of Alabama

Faculty Advisor: Bruce Berger

Abstract: When Laura Dickinson, a 22-year-old junior at Eastern Michigan University, was found dead in her dorm room, university officials initially said that they did not suspect foul play, stating that the campus was safe. Campus officials continued to communicate this position, even as the authorities were investigating the incident as a homicide, which it was later determined to be. Nearly a year after the incident, the U.S. Department of Education fined EMU for not properly disclosing information about the murder when it was apparent that's what had occurred. The case study looks at the steps EMU took to protect its brand, such as launching a full-fledged recruitment campaign in 2007 which included a website redesign and media outreach to college guides and newspapers.

About the Arthur W. Page Society

The Arthur W. Page Society is a select membership organization for senior public relations and corporate communications executives who seek to enrich and strengthen their profession. Membership consists primarily of chief communications officers of Fortune 500 corporations, the CEOs of the world's largest public relations agencies, and leading academics from the nation's top business and communications schools. The Page Society's ultimate goal is to assist the public relations officer in becoming a major contributor to the success of the corporation. For more information please visit

About the Institute for Public Relations

IPR is an independent non-profit foundation that answers the need for evidence and accountability in public relations. IPR plays a critical role in bridging the academic world with the profession to ensure that the best thinking and knowledge are applied for the benefit of today's demanding business world.

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