600 media, 1,279 stories boost image of SC State

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Reprinted from The Times and Democrat

Just the mention of the Democratic debate still brings up emotion and pride, even a few tears, among South Carolina State University organizers.

But they are happy tears.

During the meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees Tuesday, faces and names were given to the people responsible for making the April 26 debate a success, along with a few behind-the-scenes secrets.

Andre Tanner, project manager who was in charge of getting all of the buildings ready – including replacing all those seats in MLK Auditorium, admitted assuring university President Andrew Hugine that the seats in the theatre would be ready in time, when he wasn’t so sure.

Dr. Leola Adams, co-chair of the debate committee, was supposed to be retired until she was summoned to the president’s office.

“We knew we had 15 minutes of fame and we wanted to make the best of it,” she said. “I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I’m glad I didn’t hesitate to say yes.”

Charles Alexander was the one in charge of all the grounds-keeping. He and his crew made the campus sparkle.

Erica Prioleau, director of university relations and marketing, handled 600 media outlets, and seemingly had a cellphone glued to her ear for weeks.

Valerie Dinkins, co-chair of the debate committee, thought she had taken part in some awesome things in her life. But the debate topped it all. She got emotional while telling board members about the naysayers. She learned after the debate of the concern some felt about the debate coming to SC State.

“They didn’t think we could do it,” she said. “I have to honestly say we worked hard.”

Board members were also part of the process. Trustee Martha Scott Smith went to bat right away, securing major dollars from AT&T. Jonathan Pinson was the liaison between the university and the Democratic Party and Lumus Byrd Jr. served on the debate committee as well.

Hugine said he believes the drive everyone exhibited came from above.

“When the news was announced from South Carolina State University, something came over me,” Hugine said. “It was a feeling I’d never had in my life. Just a sense of pride. I was speechless. ... I am the most blessed and fortunate person on Earth to be here and be able to serve as president during this place and time.”

Now, the debate’s success can be told in numbers. There were 1,279 stories told about the university and the debate. The total audience for programs mentioning SC State and the debate from April 16 until May 7 was 119,526,115, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

Had S.C. State purchased all of the advertising it received, it would have cost $1,331,716. The total publicity value of hosting the debate was $4 million.

Google reported 1.3 million hits for South Carolina State University. Between 5 and 9 p.m. on April 26, the S.C. State Web site received 5,000 hits. The university was in every national newspaper in the United States on Friday, April 27, including the front pages of the New York Times, Charlotte Observer, Chicago Tribune and the LA Times.

They raised a half million dollars through sponsorships.

“The amount of exposure and positive feedback we have received has been phenomenal,” Hugine said. “It was an experience you will take with you for the rest of your life. This campus was transformed. I am elated and pleased that we had this wonderful opportunity.”

T&D Sports Editor Charlene Slaughter can be reached by e-mail at cslaughter@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5529.