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Spelman’s announcement of it's 11th president

Spelman College


In April 2023, Spelman named world-renowned public health leader and physician Dr. Helene Gayle as its 11th president in a strategic effort to advance the college’s focus on equity and access.

Spitfire was honored to partner with Spelman to support a 30-day action plan that would generate big announcement communications materials for this milestone moment. Together, we developed a cohesive and impactful narrative that showcased Spelman’s legacy in leadership and academic excellence while promoting Gayle’s strengths and skills. 

It was critical that our communications highlighted the inclusive and intensive search that the College’s board of trustees led to identify and select Gayle. With the college’s history of strong leadership and numerous accolades — including the U.S. News and World Report ranking as the No. 1 historically Black college or university for more than 15 years in a row, the National Science Foundation’s No. 1 baccalaureate institution of Black or African American science and engineering doctorate recipients, and being a top producer of Fulbright Scholars — the board knew that it had to carefully select a leader who could continue to carry the torch of excellence for Spelman and its student body and faculty. 

Spitfire set out to create key messaging and a layered Q&A that would prepare the team to address any criticism or blowback from those who wanted an alumna to take the helm. To better understand this tricky climate, we started our work together with a discussion to better understand Spelman’s campaign objectives for the announcement, including identifying key stakeholders to interview to inform messaging, the College’s owned communications channels and social media opportunities.

We used that foundational discussion to build cohesive and actionable communications materials for the announcement and worked to efficiently meet a tight, 30-day deadline. 

To streamline consistent communication across teams, Spitfire collected relevant materials from Spelman and interviewed key stakeholders to develop a strong narrative with messages that make the case for the presidential selection and Gayle’s broad vision for the College. Also, we included in the action plan stakeholder questions and suggested responses to use in interviews. This messaging informed all our collateral for Gayle and other stakeholders to use when communicating about the presidential transition, like during meetings and media interviews. 

Spitfire also used this messaging, along with the stakeholder interviews, to inform the press release that we drafted for the announcement. The release tapped into Spelman’s core values by highlighting Spelman Pride Points as well as a detailed summary of Gayle’s professional and academic background, underscoring her alignment with Spelman’s objectives and goals, thus increasing stakeholder confidence in the finalist.

We developed a robust media strategy and embargoed approach, which included a pitch list (identifying the reporters to trust with the embargo), an embargoed pitch note, and an updated post-announcement pitch to enhance the story angle and increase media interest. We provided counsel on coordinating and pitching an exclusive with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and landed this story as well as additional coverage in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education while helping to coordinate messaging with the Associated Press. 

Last, Spitfire equipped Spelman with a robust social media toolkit that built upon the messaging we developed around the announcement. The toolkit included celebratory messaging for Spelman’s corporate channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter) and stakeholder social posts for Gayle, alumna, Rosalind Brewer and Trustee, Kaye Foster as well as a 60-second video script to support the public announcement.

Spelman has a strong history of changing lives for people who make a difference. With this announcement, the College was keenly focused on finding a leader who understands giving back to generations of students via cutting-edge academic programs and facilities, expanding college affordability to increase equitable access, raising financial aid support and boosting the endowment, and developing new career pathways that promise students thriving futures. 

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Communication planning and execution

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