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August 24th, 2012
Posted By: Mel Campbell, Jr.
Who would have ever thought bad times would befall Pennsylvania State University. Not in anyone’s wildest dreams did anyone ever think anything could tarnish the reputation of the squeaky clean, bucolic institution known for a good, solid college education at a school that demanded its athletes be students first and football players second. No one could imagine an unhappy day in Happy Valley.
Then in one brief moment the whole world fell apart. The polished national image of a well-known institution of higher education shattered.
This brief post is not about what happened leading up to the public knowledge of the Sandusky affair, but rather addresses how an institution should respond to a situation like this and how to prepare a proper path out of chaos.
I am sure many of you are following this horrible event. How can you not? It is reported daily in newspapers, TV, radio, on the Internet, blogs, you name it. It is important to understand the ramifications and processes necessary to grapple with a catastrophic event like this.
Since the revelation of the Sandusky affair I have seen Penn State make one bad mistake after another. They are providing a classic example of what not to do in crisis management.
I don’t know who has been advising their board or administration concerning the Sandusky incident, but observing their initial reactions, they have it all wrong.
It is my professional opinion that the university is way behind the eight ball on this and needs to get ahead of the curve immediately. They have lost a lot of ground and continue to lose a lot of ground in the court of public opinion. In fact, I am sure they will become a famous case study on crisis mismanagement to be studied for the next 50 years.
Obviously, this is a horrible and painful situation for all involved. There is no “good” in any of this. And, in fact, it will get worse. That is as inevitable as the sun rising each day. So the question now is how does the school manage the situation and prepare a process to move forward.
This does not mean put a spin on it. On the contrary, the worst thing the university – or any business for that matter – could do is try to put a public relations spin on it. Unfortunately, it appears this is Penn State’s present tactic, which is why they are in so much more trouble today.
So why don’t they do the right thing? Mostly because of bad human traits. Arrogance; insular, myopic thinking; denial; and our society’s ever-growing reluctance to take responsibility are keeping the institution from doing the right things. Also, there is always the misguided impulse for a board and its administration to want to “protect” the institution.
There is an old saw in public relations field that states, “if you have to take a bath in public, get clean the first time.” That is the gold standard. It’s the same thing your third grade teacher and your parents taught you: “Tell the truth.”
Here is the reality: Penn State, upon learning of a reported incident of sexual assault to a minor, did nothing about it, allowing a sexual predator to continue to abuse young boys for another 12-plus years.
That’s the story, plain and simple. That’s not the story the board, administration and alumni see at the moment. It is, however, the story the rest of the world sees.
Penn State must accept this point in toto. No partial acceptance allowed. No “well-this-isn’t-entirely-true” statements or discussions. The truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth is what is necessary. Their inability to grasp this is keeping them from any possible recovery.
Extenuating circumstances don’t count. “How and what you say now could affect your position later in court” doesn’t count. How the alumni will react doesn’t count. The lifelong, stellar career of Joe Paterno doesn’t count. “He said, she said” doesn’t count. “We can’t punish the football team, it wasn’t their fault,” doesn’t count. What does count is a complete Clorox® scrub-down of the entire institution.
Know this: What has been done can never be undone. What has happened, happened. The University is stained forever. Forever. Pennsylvania State University will never have the sterling reputation it once had. Never. Sixty years from now people will say, “Oh yes, Penn State, they had that horrible pedophilia incident years ago.” It may not have the negative impact on admissions and in other circles of the school 60 years from now, but that storyline is never going away.
It seems – and whether it is truth or fiction doesn’t matter, perception is everything – Penn State University has not come to grips with the reality of this situation. This school’s after-the-fact poor decision-making, lack of decisive measures, and inability to act swiftly has made a horrible situation worse and continues to make it worse. The hole is going to get deeper, but there is no reason for the university to be doing the spadework.
Incredibly, though 17 months have passed since the Patriot News broke the story and the public became aware of this event, the board of directors and administration are still debating what actions to take. That is deplorable. Discussion should have stopped after the first month. It is unconscionable that they have not initiated a precise, succinct action plan. Presently, the university has an image of an institution out of control and an image that is reinforced daily.
If Penn State thinks it has reached rock bottom, they have no idea what the bottom is really going to look like. They are nowhere near rock bottom and in fact are presently poised on a very tall cliff, which they will soon fall off. Penn State has only witnessed the tip of the iceberg. Over the next five to 10 years there will be criminal proceedings and civil law suits, we will repeatedly see snippets of the Bob Costas interview with Sandusky, and every nationally televised broadcast of a Penn State football game will have announcers talking about the inability to recruit due to the Sandusky pedophilia affair, just to give you a small picture of what is in store for the school.
So, what needs to be done?
Cold, hard, very unpleasant, unwanted decisions have to be made if an institution – a business, a person – is ever going to “survive” a catastrophic event of this magnitude.
Speed is critical. In the case of Penn State, already the perception of the public is the school has acted too slowly. Which translates into the institution doesn’t get it. Which means the university hasn’t learned its lesson.
“Recovery” starts from the top. Those members of the board who still talk about Joe Pa as a part of the institution, who claim to represent the alumni and want the institution to stay the same, who want to fight the NCAA, who disagree with the Freeh Commission, need to turn in their resignations immediately. That Penn State University is gone. Over, done, finished. There is no half-way here. There must be a totally new beginning. Not a single crumb swept under the carpet.
The administration, staff, et al., must be culled, and anyone who had the slightest knowledge or whisper of Sandusky’s behavior or was culpable in the cover-up needs to be fired. The public must see the school taking strong action immediately or there will be no credibility in any of the school’s communications.
The school must begin building a foundation for a new institution; work hard at being a better institution of higher learning; execute and publicize many of the positive – non-sports related – things about the institution; and institute community outreach initiatives … all of which will begin to build a positive brand.
And finally, the Board Chair needs to offer a “real” public apology and state in the strongest terms the institution’s commitment to getting to the bottom of everything. That mea culpa needs to be published in full page ads in every newspaper in the state of Pennsylvania, as well as the top national newspapers, and it must run for at least one week. The Board Chair must follow up within a few days of the apology with strong actions, some previously outlined in his/her plan. The Chair should go on TV, on radio talk shows, meet with alumni across the country outlining the action plan (not asking for their opinion, but telling them what is going to occur) – and not just once, but for years modifying the message from what the university is going to do to what the new Penn State looks like and acts like.
This is all gutsy stuff. In a situation like this there is no time for pleasantries, for long debates on various opinions, or discussions about what can be salvaged. This is a time for strong leadership, really strong leadership.
The interesting aspect of situations like this is they all organically lead to the same inevitable conclusion. It really doesn’t matter if you believe a thing I have written, or whether Penn State’s board is willing to initiate decisive moves, or whether the alumni like it or not: The ultimate outcome will be exactly what I have described. I have been there, seen it and done it. The school will be forced by the courts, by public opinion, by sanctions and by the laws of nature to come clean and raise a new entity. It’s inevitable, so the school should step up now and take the reins of its destiny rather than being flogged to the inevitable result. Be the architects of the new beginning and get credit for it. Take the opportunity to rebuild an even better university.
My credentials for writing this post:
41 years in marketing, advertising and public relations.
36 years president and owner of Campbell, Harrington & Brear Advertising Agency.
20 years a member of a Pennsylvania college Board of Directors.
Crisis management expertise and experience.
August 2nd, 2012
Posted By: Christian
If your website’s analytics indicate a significant amount of traffic from mobile users, it’s time to incorporate responsive site design.
Responsive site design allows the site to fluidly adjust and rescale to the screen size and orientation (horizontal or vertical) of any mobile device or desktop computer. That’s right, any mobile device.
It’s fairly new. It is truly responsive in that it uses media queries to re-structure content specifically for each individual device’s display size. And because it can be fluid and adjust to any given display, it adapts to all current and future devices.
It is also the ideal way to ensure the best possible user experience, regardless of device. A truly responsive site quickly loads everything the user needs to see while stripping out superfluous content. Plus, responsive sites scale down immediately, so mobile users don’t have to zoom in.
Some businesses have tried to accommodate the mobile explosion by designing a separate website for mobile users. Unfortunately, since those mobile web addresses differ from the main web address, links shared from mobile browsers do not improve search visibility for the main site.
Furthermore, these separate sites created for Mobile users are confined to one single device size (generally, an average cell phone’s vertical orientation display size). As a result, they do not adjust for tablets or the larger display sizes of certain mobile devices.
Because responsive site design is code built into the architecture of your main site, your single site benefits from shared links regardless of the source and it immediately orients to any screen size.
At CH&B, we recommend ‘mobile-first’ responsive site design for clients experiencing significant mobile traffic. Mobile-first optimizes the load time for mobile devices by prioritizing content, compressing vital images, and eliminating the loading of items that mobile users will never need.
Responsive site design is not an easy fix, but it is a long-term solution that will enable you to accommodate every single web-enabled device – even future iterations with new and ground-breaking sizes. And with 77 percent of the world’s population owning a mobile device, this is not an issue that’s going away.
For more information on responsive site design and mobile-first, contact Angela Wenner via email or call 717.846.2947.