Tag Archives: Penn State crisis

Lessons from the Sandusky Situation

What can one say about the Penn State situation that hasn’t already been said? It’s atrocious. I heard one ESPN analyst call it a “sex scandal” which made me cringe. “Sex” implies consent. This is something else. I’m still trying to think of a word that fits, so for now I’m sticking with “situation”.

The clumsy handing of crisis management is just bad icing on the top of a very bad cake. While it seems as though nothing could make it better, appropriate measures could have been taken to not make it worse. Evidently, Penn State hasn’t been following crisis management protocol effectively, and it’s snowballing into bad on top of bad, on top of bad.

Penn State just enlisted PR/marketing agency Ketchum for crisis management on Nov. 6, the day after Sandusky was arrested. It seems that Penn State waited until the last possible second to come to terms with the fact that they’re in a state of crisis. Enlisting an agency prior to the current media storm — perhaps earlier this year when several senior-level administrators were subpoenaed about the matter — would have only helped to alleviate the current chaos panic they’re now subjected to.

“Better late than never” may not hold true in the case of Penn State. Since enlisting Ketchum happened so late in the game, no opportunity to save face should be wasted.

The most glaringly wasted opportunity is Sandusky’s interview with Bob Costas. If possible, Penn State should have encouraged Sandusky to consult with crisis management practitioners prior to the interview, to avoid coming off as badly as he did. He may not be employed by the university, but they’re in this together (albeit an adversarial arrangement). Any time he’s further ruining his image, he’s doing no favors for Penn State’s.

Rick Kelly wrote recently that if Sandusky & Co. wanted to take the route of establishing a perception of innocence, their approach was way off base. Kelly writes, “To pull it off, however, the accused must be prepared, show some emotion and energy, employ unequivocal denials and express some sympathy toward victims.” Clearly he could not manage to do this on his own, so some serious coaching was necessary.

True, America had formed its opinion of Sandusky before the interview had even begun. But the interview could’ve been a way to portray Sandusky as more human, less monster. But no, Sandusky instead portrayed himself exactly as everyone expected. Perhaps worse. Emotionless, without remorse. Apathetic. It was agonizing to watch him unsuccessfully attempt to convince viewers that this was all some big misunderstanding. Also, he completely ruined the term “horseplay” for me, forever.

While the court of law will ultimately determine Sandusky’s fate, the court of public opinion matters too, especially for Penn State. While Sandusky’s conscience may be coping just fine, Penn State has some serious work to do to avoid losing control of their brand’s reputation. They should have recognized the potential for crisis months earlier, and should have acted immediately. Whether they like it or not, their name is synonymous with Sandusky’s for the time being. They, along with Ketchum, need to go above and beyond to avoid allowing their brand to crumble along with Sandusky.

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