A coach at Penn State has been charged with sexually assaulting eight underage boys, as the athletic director and another school administrator, face charges of perjury and failing to report to state and county official’s knowledge of the abuse. This reputational crisis which Penn State is facing is one which affects the entire Penn State brand, well beyond the blue and white athletic program.
Any crisis PR situation has arms and legs which grow and grow – From the value of Penn State degrees to recruitment for future Penn State classes, donations from alumni to possible academic awards, Penn State has a lot at risk in handling this situation properly – and quickly before the damage continues to spread.
This school, which proudly boasts the slogan “Success with honour”, is already very damaged because it isn’t a situation where its solely one awful situation – a number of University officials allegedly witnessed these awful incidents – and given the elements of abuse, sex and university this is sure to be a lasting viral, national story.
Like in many other crisis PR situations, there are two courts at play – the court of law and the court of public opinion (think Casey Anthony, who may have been found “not guilty” in a court of law but is certainly guilty in the court of public opinion). Both courts matter immensely and Penn State needs to recognise their entire brand and name is on trial in the publics eye here – and failure to recognise that will cause even more damage.
As the owner of 1 of the 25 largest PR Agencies in the US, I know that this is a tantalising story which won’t go away – the truth will come out and Penn State had better immediately start being more aggressive in handling it. Penn State – Your nightmare has just begun.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR and author of the recently released PR book “For Immediate Release.”
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