ESMT: another information blockade
The ESMT refuses to provide information. It isn’t the first time that the business school, which is financed by 25 companies, has stood out on account of its questionable communications policy. Evidently the ESMT has something to hide.
“We don’t say anything, we don’t comment on anything and it doesn’t matter to us what the media write” – this was the motto for the press relations of the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) when it was founded by 25 companies in 2002. Not much has changed. The school refuses to provide information even today, especially if a journalist doesn’t write a positive article.
After Gerhard Cromme declined for years to speak about the ESMT with journalists at all, the new president, Lars-Hendrik Röller, was more accessible and even granted me permission to speak with him in 2007. But he wasn’t happy with the article entitled “Leer-Veranstaltung” (Empty Instruction) that was published in the Financial Times Deutschland. One year later the school provided the written instruction that they would speak exclusively with other journalists.
The ESMT however wanted to influence the article for Spiegel online in some way and so made an underhanded attempt to do so. The school commissioned the PR agency Hill&Knowlton to call the editorial department and offer an interview with Mr. Röller – but not with the author of the planned article. This didn’t help.
Then Mr Dilmaghani came along as the new press officer, and things didn’t improve much. An example: In answer to the question of how may ESMT students receive a scholarship, Dilmaghani said that he doesn’t know the exact number and so the word “approximately” should be written. Following another request for concrete numbers, he acted as though he were offended. Apparently he perhaps doesn’t want to admit that every MBA student receives one of the numerous scholarships.
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Another attempt was the request for an interview with Olaf Ploetner, responsible for Executive Education at the ESMT, for an article about Executive Education in Germany. There was no response to this e-mail query. Upon another try, the response that came was, “We are all currently under a great deal of stress” – and for the next three weeks at that. When informed that such behavior doesn’t exactly reflect professional press relations, Dilmaghani seemed insulted. Then a final attempt was made: a few questions with the request for a response in writing. But Dilmaghani wrote that “We ask in the future that you refrain from sending queries to the ESMT and affiliates of the university.” Of course Olaf Ploetner was also issued a gag order.
This is a real pity since the ESMT has just ranked surprisingly well in the Financial Times ranking for Executive Education. But there are still some open questions. For instance, the ESMT performs notably poorly in the “new skills & learning rank” criterion, which could hardly be considered an unimportant criterion.
According to insider information, the open programs are going anything but well. Although the sponsor companies often offer them to employees like lemons, only a few employees actually want to go to an ESMT seminar. A similar reaction has been heard in some cases with the Executive MBA. Apparently there are instances in which companies only support their employees with their studies if they complete the degree at the ESMT. But these employees would rather go to another school and even pay for the program themselves.
And then there are the rumors that some sponsor companies have long since been flirting with the idea of ending their involvement with the ESMT and are now getting serious about doing this soon.