Trojans and Tide Join Tigers in PR Ignominy

June 16, 2009 at 3:07 pm Leave a comment

A follow-up to my post, “Tigers by the Tail,” about the University of Memphis’ cover-up, confusion and petulance regarding the NCAA investigation into whether former basketball star Derrick Rose cheated on his SATs. The PR ignominy has spread to the University of Southern California and the University of Alabama, as both schools respond with varying degrees of silence and indignation to investigations of their student athletes.

The Los Angeles Times decries the absence of leadership at USC amid allegations of payments to the “handler” of former Trojan basketball star O.J. Mayo, this on the heels of financial impropriety charges involving former SC gridiron great Reggie Bush.

The Montgomery Advertiser calls for the University of Alabama to fire its PR exec due to the school’s hamfisted handling of the investigation into athletes abusing their scholarship privileges to obtain free textbooks for other students. The NCAA has put the Tide’s football team and 15 other sports squads on three years probation.

A communications shutdown at USC and Alabama emulates the mistakes made at the University of Memphis. Officials at Alabama added the insults of heavily redacted documents provided in open records requests and a poorly conducted press conference where Athletic Director Mal Moore and School President Robert Witt came off as “arrogant.”

In client meetings and university lectures on crisis communications, I always say, “Silence equals guilt.” Even if an ongoing investigation precludes release of certain information, engaging the public and acknowledging their concerns are mandatory. Announcing problems before the media does conveys respect and honesty. Schools issue voluminous warnings about plagiarism on term papers and peeking at your neighbor’s Scantron during finals. But athletic department scandals amplified by PR collapses make “school ethics” a punchline. If all else fails, public relations must not.

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Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership, Public Relations. Tags: , , , , .

Hearts and Minds, 2009 PR, Stat!

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