MSU: Own It

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At our team meeting Monday, it was suggested that I blog about the scores of PR blunders Michigan State University has committed in its “handling” of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse spree. “You should do it,” one said. “I saw your tweet over the weekend and thought you should write a blog about this.”

Another even offered to “ghost write” the blog for me there was so much to say on the topic.

Generous offer. Thanks. But we don’t do “Art of the Deal” here.

Truth is, I don’t want to analyze this mess from a PR perspective. It’s not a PR problem.

Should Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio have been allowed to go free verse on the topic with the media?  No. I think not. But they did.

It’s absolutely astonishing that the two true co-presidents of the university didn’t have a single PR staffer around them to say, “Hey, coach. Let’s not wing this.” Or, “How about we don’t hit Instagram with photos of ARod” on what is probably the single worst PR day of the university’s long history… to date.

Who knows? Maybe some staffer did say these things, and the coaches didn’t listen. Still, Izzo and Dantonio are two of the three most famous people in Michigan (Mr. Harbaugh being the third). Had any one of their players been as unprepared for a game as the coaches were to talk on this tragic topic, those players would probably be looking for another school.

Should the school and its president have said they might attend the victims’ statement session, then quickly reverse course and stay away, only to then to reverse course again and attend on Day Two after being hit with bad press?  No, of course not.

Should MSU Board of Trustee member Joel Ferguson have used a tense and combative media scrum as an opportunity to make a joke about only being sorry that the administration building has slow elevators, impeding his ability to escape questions?  No, of course not.

The list of PR blunders is almost as long as the list of Larry Nassar’s victims. And I will be honest. If MSU were to ask, I don’t think I have any answers for them.

The human tragedy of the Nassar case is immense. We are at, what, “victim 158” in the statements being delivered at sentencing? 

That’s 158 survivors. Times two parents, times hundreds of siblings, times thousands of friends. Times. Times. Times.

I hope I’m not betraying any industry secrets and maybe this is my Jerry Maguire moment, but there is no PR spin for evil. You can’t wordsmith utter incompetence. Denial isn’t a talking point.

Sometimes, we who work in PR are asked to do these things. We are the “problem solvers.”

And sometimes the answer is, “You did it. Own it.”

That really is the best answer to communicating in crisis. It’s also the right answer for all involved.