After bringing national attention to GW in his six years as its spokesman, Director of Public Affairs Mike Freedman is leaving the University to become general manager of the CBS Radio Network.
As head of public affairs, Freedman did more than lead GW’s day-to-day public relations operation – he spearheaded programs that brought politicians, television personalities and other nationally-prominent figures to campus.
“I think the thing I’m most proud of has been the opportunities provided for students,” Freedman said.
During his tenure, CNN’s “Crossfire” broadcast frequently from the Betts Theatre, giving GW students a look into public affairs television. Freedman also produced a series on journalism and ethics with Marvin Kalb at the National Press Club.
Freedman said host television programs and newsworthy events on campus was part of his strategy for bringing media attention to the University.
“Most universities had depended on press coverage from events the university put on,” Freedman said. “They hoped the media would come to it – that’s a crap shoot – why not go to a higher ground and ask them to come here for their events?
“If you build it, they will come,” he said. “We built up this opportunity and they came.”
After the President Clinton’s election in 1992, a newly-hired Freedman got students involved by organizing press for the inauguration, turning the Marvin Center into the Inaugural Press Center.
“He got the ball rolling with the Inaugural Press Center,” said Bob Ludwig, a GW public affairs specialist. “It gave the University visibility it didn’t have before as a desirable location.”
Ludwig said the press center on campus provoked the interest of outside organizations who wanted to use GW as an alternative site for events. That interest spawned a series of “Firing Line” debates hosted by William Buckley.
“The strategic plan we proposed was to make the University a central point of activity in Washington,” Freedman said. “We brought the media to the University for their own events and got the students and faculty involved.”
“It’s like a domino effect where news organizations saw GW had a lot to offer,” Ludwig said. “I think people realized it isn’t just a sleepy campus.”
Ludwig said that domino effect was a product of Freedman’s enthusiasm.
“Mike’s the first line of contact and I think a lot of people have developed relationships with him because of his personality and his attention to detail,” he said.
Sandy Holland, executive director of the Office of University Relations, said she realized Freedman was special immediately after the an advertisement promoting the public affairs job ran in a Sunday edition of The Washington Post.
“Mike Freedman’s r?sum? was on my desk Monday morning before I got to work,” Holland said.
Although no phone or fax number was in the ad, Holland said Freedman had tracked down the number and faxed the information overnight.
“That told me a lot about Mike Freedman before I met him,” she said.
Freedman’s r?sum? proved impressive. A former press secretary for Rep. David Bonier (D-Mich.) and vice president of United Press International, he had the journalism and public relations experience necessary to direct public affairs at a University in the nation’s capital.
“He knows what the media wants and knows how to take care of the media,” Holland said. “He is bright, articulate, charming and full of all kinds of wonderful ideas.”
Ludwig said Freedman has taught him a lot during their years together in the public affairs office.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet that when I come to work on Monday, my mentor isn’t going to be there,” Ludwig said.
But Ludwig said the relationships Freedman developed with the media over the years will live on after his departure.”He has set the stage for things to happen at this University for years to come,” Ludwig said. “People now expect GW to do certain things.”
In fact, “Crossfire” already has scheduled a week at the Betts Theater in late October for shows focusing on the 1998 Congressional elections, Freedman said.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said Freedman is one of a handful of people who have brought the University to the next level.
“He’s one of the most impressive people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Trachtenberg said. “He’s a real professional and he loves GW.”
Although he said he is excited about new opportunities in New York, Freedman said he and his family will miss the people at GW.
“This has been the most fun and the best six years of our lives,” Freedman said. “It’s a hard job to leave . even to be general manager of the CBS Radio Network.”