Marathon Strategies

With Colleges And Universities Under Fire, Marathon Strategies Launches Dedicated Higher Education Crisis Communications Practice

Marathon: In This New Era of Unprecedented Public Scrutiny, Higher Ed Institutions Need a New Playbook For Communicating Their Message and Managing Their Reputations.
New “DefendED” Will Provide Vital Independent Counsel to Help Schools Navigate Political, Social, Financial & Workforce Risk.

NEW YORK — With America’s colleges and universities facing unprecedented public scrutiny, Marathon Strategies, the research-driven communications firm, today launched DefendED, a dedicated higher education crisis practice focused on helping campus leaders rethink the way they communicate and manage their public profiles.

In recent weeks, the escalating criticism directed at colleges and universities has reached a tipping point. States across the country have introduced legislation to rein in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Higher education has become inextricably tangled in election-year politics and has emerged as the latest focal point of the cultural and political divide in America — fueled by rising tuition and debt loads, wariness about “wokeism” and DEI programs, questions about academic integrity and free speech, and eroding public trust in higher education institutions.

Every action taken by colleges and universities is drawing attention from policymakers and activists who are warning of a “reckoning in higher education” – and the nation’s most influential media and opinion leaders are covering university leaders’ every move. At the same time, faculty, students, alumni, and donors are ramping up their critiques.

“Higher ed leaders are between a rock and a hard place: They need to defend their values and address criticism on hot-button cultural issues without alienating their faculty, students, and donors. It’s a tightrope that will only get tighter,” said Phil Singer, founder and CEO of Marathon Strategies. “The past few months have shown that university officials need to adapt to the fact that they are on the national stage and that their words will be heard by mainstream audiences. If schools don’t plan for this new reality by revamping how they approach communications – starting by assessing their own vulnerabilities – the last few weeks will feel like a fond memory. This is the new normal.”

Tailored Services for Higher Ed Crisis Management

Marathon’s DefendED team of communications professionals, higher education experts, political campaign veterans, and investigative researchers provides school leadership with honest, non-partisan perspectives and insights that are essential for adapting to a new wave of sophisticated critics of higher education who know how to weaponize the media and have become increasingly emboldened in the wake of Claudine Gay’s resignation as president of Harvard.

The DefendED program includes a comprehensive package of specialty services, equipping universities with the tools and support needed to address challenges effectively:

  • Full Risk Assessment: Understand vulnerabilities within the institution, including executive leadership background vetting, partner and donor vetting, and an audit of communication collateral used for faculty and students.
  • Crisis Playbook: Develop a strategic plan to navigate crises and respond to critics, students, faculty, donors, and the broader public.
  • Strategic Communications Support: Provide 24-7 overall strategic support to navigate communication challenges.
  • Plagiarism Review: Ensure the integrity of leadership and faculty through a combination of software tools and manual review of leaders’ academic writing to identify plagiarism and inadequate citations.
  • Sentiment Monitoring: Constantly track public sentiment among influencers as well as more mainstream audiences in traditional and social media to identify emerging trends before they turn into crises.

“Schools that might have once ignored what they thought were fringe activists dedicated to dismantling university culture do so at their own peril today,” said Liz Benjamin, Managing Director at Marathon Strategies. “Higher ed detractors have already scored a major victory and will continue to repeat their winning playbook — we know this because that’s exactly what they’ve said they’ll do. As the cultural landscape evolves, so must the communication strategies of higher education institutions. Marathon is here to guide them through the nuances of this transformation.”

“Addressing risk before it becomes an issue is paramount in higher education crisis management,” said Ray Hernandez, Managing Director of Research at Marathon Strategies. “Marathon’s approach isn’t reactive; it’s proactive. We empower universities to lead the narrative rather than being subject to it by staying one step ahead of emerging issues. This ensures they not only uphold their reputation but also fulfill their educational mission.”

Marathon’s team has decades of combined experience advising top colleges and universities ranging from major state institutions to private universities throughout the nation as well as Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and nonprofits. Our team of more than 60 experienced communications professionals, campaign operatives, crisis managers, journalists, researchers, digital and data experts, graphic designers, and television producers each bring a unique view to our engagements. This diverse range of expertise and our independent nature is what allows Marathon to meet the complex demands of our clients and operate in ways that typical PR agencies do not.

School leaders looking for more information about Marathon’s DefendED services can email Phil Singer at [email protected].


About Marathon Strategies

Marathon Strategies is an independent PR firm that delivers intelligent communications and research solutions for the world’s top corporations, brands, and associations. We specialize in reputation management, developing tailored solutions for those needing help with crisis and issues management, public affairs, communications, creative content, and digital strategy. Instead of solely relying on traditional or earned media, Marathon combines research, digital, and communications strategies to meet complex PR challenges with simple solutions. To learn more about Marathon Strategies, visit