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Unexpected Civility Is Great PR

October 8, 2015

By any measure, August 30 should have been a bad day for the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton. President Obama had just changed the name of Mount McKinley to Denali in deference to Alaska’s native people. Several members of Congress from Ohio were crying foul, saying Obama had disrespected not only the 25th president, but the entire state of Ohio.

The political website Talking Points Memo called up the McKinley library, no doubt expecting a similar expression of outrage.

Instead, library Curator Kimberly Kenney saw that she had been handed a rare opportunity to build her brand – and she took full advantage. “We’re happy for the people of Alaska who have wanted to rename this mountain for nearly 40 years, but we are sad that our president will no longer be on the name of the mountain,” Kenney told Talking Points Memo. “We’re really excited that people are talking about McKinley on a national scale because that doesn’t happen too often anymore. He’s been gone over 100 years.”

With that pitch-perfect response, Kenney took a negative situation and put it in a positive light. She demonstrated that it is possible to show respect to the people of Alaska and President McKinley.

The grace and civility she displayed in this moment reflected well on her institution and may have even piqued curiosity about President McKinley and his library.

If President McKinley were here today, he might be disappointed that he lost his mountain, but he’d surely appreciate the media-savvy curator running his museum.