University of Iowa president hires private media consultant

Harreld will pay for the consultant using his own money

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On the advice of peers in similar positions, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has hired a personal media consultant — using his own money — to help him “personally and professionally.”

Harreld, a former business executive who came to the job with no academic administrative experience, hired West Des Moines based Wixted & Co. — a firm that previously has worked with Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and former University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen.

He has met with the consultant twice — once in October and once in November, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. Details about how much Harreld has spent on the services have not been made public.

Harreld said that he sought the consultation are researching what other presidents had done.

“When I was selected as president I reached out to colleagues in similar positions across the country for advice,” Harreld said in an e-mail to the Gazette. “They recommended I seek outside media training and that I pay for it myself in order to get the most candid feedback possible.”

Beck said the university had also already planned on any new president receiving media training.

“We know that the scrutiny and attention here is significant,” she said. “So that was the plan for any new president.”

In consulting with peers at other institutions, Beck said, they too suggested Harreld “do this himself and retain the person himself.”

Harreld called “around the state” for recommendations of who to use, Beck said.

“He did want to use an Iowa firm,” she said.

Harreld affirmed in his e-mail that he was looking for an Iowa firm specifically because they would have experience giving them “a strong sense of the Iowa media landscape.”

With this in mind, several people suggested Wixted & Co., which bills itself as a public relations, crisis management and executive training firm founded by Eileen Wixted and Alison Gregory Pope in 1989. Wixted in the past has worked with UI Hospitals and Clinics, along with Rastetter. Public documents show Wixted was advising former UNI President Allen around the time the Malcolm Price Laboratory School closed.

Wixted told The Gazette she doesn’t normally talk about clients but received permission in Harreld’s case to disclose details about his reaching out and the training her team has provided. She said they have coached Harreld on the nuances and mechanics of broadcast interviews, for example.

“We have been impressed by Harreld’s willingness to learn and understand how to navigate what can often be a very challenging dynamic,” she said.

Wixted said they don’t have any other sessions planned with Harreld.

“But I hope we do have the opportunity to work with him again,” she said. “Because I believe communication skill building takes time.”

Although UI offers its own media training, Beck said the university supported Harreld’s decision to receive external training from individuals who don’t view him as a new boss.

“I think there was value in going outside the university and getting very frank feedback,” she said.

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