Musings of a PR Professional

Journal Entry 3 (Written on 3/15)

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, red tape is defined as “official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction.” It is usually associated with government-regulated bureaucracies and ineffectiveness, and has an overwhelming negative connotation in the English language. I now fully believe that it should have this reputation. More people than not are very familiar with red tape. For example, filing health insurance claims is a process often burdened by red tape. I had only been vaguely familiar with the concept of red tape until I experienced it directly on Monday when I had to complete a room reservation for our final ballroom event.

When we first talked about reserving rooms for our final event, I didn’t give the task much thought. I assumed that the caliber of our campus-wide project and being associated with the Pearce Center and the Communication Studies Department at the very least would make it easy to reserve virtually any room on campus that we wished. I had only ever reserved rooms under the authority of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Campus organizations are granted much more leniency regarding expense and access to the rooms, so I just assumed that the same standards would apply to our class project. Once aware of the regulations and requirements however, it became clear that we would need to make the reservation under a student organization. Fortunately, we had several organizational leaders in the class so that it would not be a problem to do so.

It made sense for PRSSA to be the organization associated with the event since I was in the event planning group and part of the project involved publicizing the event. So, Dr. Holland cleared it with Dr. Denham, PRSSA’s faculty advisor, and then went ahead with making the room reservation. She filled out the packet of information and was told that she would receive confirmation in the coming days. When that confirmation never came, we decided that something else must be needed, or something went wrong. Dr. Holland reached out to those in charge of reservations and found out that, in fact, a confirmation email was not coming because they could not process our request without more information. At this juncture I was a little dumbfounded, for two reasons. First, it is very unprofessional for one to tell an individual that they will do one thing and then never follow up on it, i.e. the confirmation email.  The second reason was because Dr. Holland had made the reservations and she is a professor, not just a student. I could expect a student’s reservation request to get lost along the wayside, but I was shocked that the employees would be so careless with a faculty request.

Dr. Holland learned that they needed me, as the PRSSA representative, to go and fill out the exact same packet. What’s more, none of the information needed to be different other than the name and signature of the person making the reservation request. When I got there and learned this, I was more than annoyed. They already had all the information, so couldn’t I just write my name on that packet and sign it somewhere? In reality, there’s little difference save arbitrary regulations set by the university. I actually asked the woman if it would be possible for me to do so, but she said that it would not be acceptable. I wondered why but didn’t bother to go further with it; I doubt she even would have known the answer herself.

Not only was I re-doing the packet, but the questions within the packet were repetitive too. I put down the same contact information three or four times, answered the same questions about food two or three, and had to give a description of the event at least twice. The packet was very poorly organized and somewhat unnecessary. It struck me halfway through the first page that this was a prime example of red tape and I was having my first experience with it head on. I suddenly realized why the concept of red tape made so many people irritated, why it had such a negative reputation. I understand that the university needs to regulate such things as room reservations and, in hindsight, I am surprised that I had never considered the fact that an organization as big as Clemson University would have bureaucratic tendencies. It is unfortunate that it is so difficult for a group of students (especially ones with significant financial backing) cannot reserve rooms on campus based on those merits alone. What it really comes down to is that we had to “stretch the truth,” for lack of a better phrase, in order to make it possible to secure the room, furniture, and equipment it that we needed. I don’t consider this irresponsible, but I think it points out a glaring inadequacy in Clemson’s student services procedures.