Penn State Scandal, From a PR Perspective

This week has been one of the most stressful weeks in Happy Valley that I can remember. Not because of classes or work, but because Penn State is the subject of a scandal. I’ve decided that rather than discuss my opinion on those involved, I am simply going to look at the situation from a public relations perspective.

The Penn State administration has handled the situation very poorly. Cancelling press conferences, not issuing statements, remaining silent. There is clearly a problem with the public relations at Penn State. Because of the way things have been going, I have learned exactly what NOT to do in a crisis.

Information is flooding social media and news sites. Minimal information is coming directly from the source.

Many of the things I have learned from this experience were best summed up during my Public Relations class taught by Steve Manuel:

  • If you call a press conference, you hold the press conference. It was a really bad move for the school to cancel Joe Paterno’s press conference on Tuesday. Cancelling the press conference allows the media to draw conclusions that could have been answered differently if the press conference was held. It is best to tell the truth, and tell it quickly. It will hurt but it will go away.
  • This has been coming for three years now and they knew it. The chain of command should have been prepared for this news to break.
  • The first 60 minutes of a crisis are crucial. Put people first. This situation isn’t about Penn State or JoePa. It’s about the victims.
  • Graham Spanier should NOT have pledged his “unconditional support” to anyone. This remark was made way too soon. In a crisis you need to “be careful who you hitch your wagon to.”
  • The initial statement that came out from Penn State should have included: 1) Express Condolences, 2) This is where we’re at, and 3) This is where we’re headed.

It is still very early on in the process, and I am curious to see how things will change in the next few weeks.

How do you think Penn State could have handled the situation differently?

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