Written by: Chris Daley – Sr. Account Executive, Maroon PR
As an organization, can you answer these questions…
What is your organization’s crisis management plan should the most unimaginable activity take place? Who is your legal counsel? Who will serve as your lead spokesperson to the media? Who is your liaison to the victims and their families? Do you have a chain of command in place to fall back on if your top executives or face of the brand are involved in criminal allegations?
It is clear that Penn State University did not ask themselves these questions prior to authorities indicting former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, and University administrator Gary Shultz and athletic director Tim Curley surrendering to authorities under charges that include providing false information to a grand jury.
CNBC Sports Business Reporter, Darren Rovell outlined Penn State’s failings in his column yesterday; Penn State Gets An “F” In Crisis Management. To further elaborate on Rovell’s points I ask, where are the professionals that were hired by Penn State to address this situation when you need them the most?
If you visit Penn State’s Web site, within the University Relations’ Department’s page their mission statement clearly states, “The mission of the office of University Relations is to protect and manage the University’s reputation.” It goes on to say, “We are the primary strategist for communications about the University and the primary point of contact for accurate information about Penn State.” In addition, stated within their scope of work is, crisis management.
It is hard for me to guess what is taking place behind closed doors in Happy Valley amongst University officials. I am sure that there is a lot of emotional turmoil, shock, fear and confusion. There are clearly a lot of legal and moral issues that are being addressed. But remaining silent and having the perception that you, as a prestigious organization, are scrambling in a time of crisis is making everything surrounding the story much worse.
The harsh reality in our society is that you need to prepare for the worst and have a plan of action in place, so that if something occurs you can be proactive, instead of reactive. In this case, as with many others, Penn State, in my opinion, has not acted in the correct manner to serve the victims, University alumni and the media in a timely manner.
My advice for Penn State would be to circle the wagons quickly and establish a unified voice for the institution who can address the public quickly, and not through another written statement. Our society doesn’t always need answers, but it does need constant updates on what you are doing as an organization to address the situation as best you can.