Penn State has a crisis management problem, caused by the actions of one man and the inaction of many men. The actions, and the report, are a crisis management issue for more than a football program and a board.
It affects hundreds of thousands of people who have been, are or will be associated with the University, and have nothing to do with the football program.
What Penn State can do today:
Clean House – Time will work in Penn State’s favor, but the clock doesn’t start until it has been reset. It is only reset when every person associated with this travesty is out of the public eye.
Re-frame – The University cannot redefine the crisis, change its (flawed) crisis management strategy of the past year or eliminate future stories.
What the University can do is begin to continue to communicate what Penn State is about, outside of athletics. Using those top professors and faculty members to serve as spokespersons for what Penn State has meant to society (in terms of (non monetary) contributions alumni and faculty have made) will be very beneficial in the long term.
Focus on the Future – In this crisis, and even with the flawed crisis management plan, Penn State University has an opportunity – an opportunity to redefine what it means to be associated with a University with countless positive attributes that has educated tens of thousands of Nittany Lions and sent them into the working world.
A targeted communication campaign spreading this message, not just within the Alumni community but also in every community, would be very effective.
Spread the Word – Did you know that Penn State University is the top producer of Fulbright Scholars in the country? How about the fact that it has a variety of science, social science, education and engineering programs that rank among the Top Ten in the Nation?
Neither did I – and that is a problem.
Diversify – Penn State is no different from a number of great academic institutions where an athletic program doesn’t just overshadow academic reputation, it eclipses it. Athletic programs bring in lots of revenue, so this is not an issue, until it is. For Penn State, it is.
PSU should spend some endowment wealth to run simultaneous campaigns around the institution’s top academic programs. This will not only increase national recognition for individual programs, over time it will re-frame how the University is recognized – the great news is that PSU already has strong academics – it is just a matter of making sure that the word is out….everywhere.
Effective crisis management is not easy. A plan with components like this takes a long time, a lot of dedication and patience, but it will pay off.
FYI…this last point can apply to a number of institutions of higher education.
You may not believe you are in crisis right now, but if your reputation is completely encapsulated in your sports program, you are.