Snyder’s SOM attracts, fights media glare

SOM Dean Edward Snyder’s tenure has coincided with a spike in media attention devoted to the school.
SOM Dean Edward Snyder’s tenure has coincided with a spike in media attention devoted to the school. Photo by YDN.

In a departure from the practices of previous School of Management deans, Edward Snyder has drawn attention by giving numerous interviews to journalists — but not all have led to favorable press for the school.

In a controversial August interview with the New York Times Magazine, Snyder revealed that the school has operated budget deficits valued at multiple millions of dollars in recent years, prompting a slew of articles and blog posts criticizing SOM’s ability to balance its own budget. Despite the negative tone taken by the coverage, Snyder said the media reports on SOM’s finances drew a great deal of attention to the school, representing an overall benefit.

“Whether you have a good piece, a neutral piece or a piece you would prefer to rewrite, the benefit is that it gives you great opportunities to connect with people,” Snyder said.

Despite Snyder’s ambivalence toward negative press, SOM took steps to minimize the spread of articles concerning the school’s finances this summer. In response the series of articles that followed the Aug. 7 New York Times Magazine story, which quoted Snyder saying SOM “lost $15 to $20 million over the last 15 years,” SOM released a 650-word “fact check” Aug. 22 criticizing the magazine and other publications for their descriptions of SOM as a financially mismanaged institution, and instead asserted that the losses were “controlled operating deficits” meant to invest in the school’s development.

SOM has been in the black since 2008, when Snyder said then-Dean Sharon Oster tightened the budget. Snyder took office July 2011.

John Byrne, who runs the business school news website Poets and Quants, said many other northeastern business school deans are less inclined to give interviews to the media. But Snyder, who interviews without the SOM communications team, said he prefers to be candid with the media since such an approach leads to more coverage.

A Google search of news stories containing the phrase “Yale School of Management” published between Sept. 1, 2011, to Sept. 1, 2012, roughly representing Snyder’s first year in office, returned 3,160 hits. A similar search for the years since Sept. 1, 2005, gave results consistently below 400 hits.

“[Snyder is] honest and upfront and doesn’t always sit with some very sanitized message which some other school leaders do, whether it’s because he’s confident or wants to get the school’s story out there,” said a reporter, who covers business schools and requested anonymity for fear of jeopardizing professional relationships with SOM. “I think it’s a good thing. It’s refreshing — some deans will come into my office or I meet them and they have an army of PR people.”

Byrne said he thinks Snyder’s transparent media strategy is particularly worthwhile for SOM, which has previously invested comparatively little in marketing efforts. Though Snyder decided to funnel $1 million last year into the school’s communications and media relations department, the school still lags behind its peers, Byrne said.

“When you listen to NPR, you often hear schools advertising,” Byrne said. “You go through the airport, you see one billboard after another of business schools advertising. You go online, you see tons of advertisements for business school programs, but you never see any for Yale, so to the extent that [Snyder] can use himself as a vehicle to promote the school, that’s great because it can offset the fact that the school has been lagging.”

Della Bradshaw, the business education editor of the UK-based Financial Times, described Snyder’s contact with her as “high” compared to other American business school deans — a distinguishing characteristic given Bradshaw’s observation that American business schools are typically United States-focused.

In the past year, Snyder has given interviews to numerous publications, including the Financial Times, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

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