What We Learned from Penn State about Self-Preservation

Do you remember much about the Sandusky/Penn State scandal from 2011? From a PR perspective, I recall several press conferences from Penn State, but I mostly remember being surprised by the lack of engagement from the university.  It definitely had a “let’s just hope this goes away” feel to it.  Professor James Grunig of the University of Maryland (2001) says that public relations is becoming much more a management function than a technical communication function.  Historically, he says, public relations practitioners have known how to “secure media coverage, prepare press releases, write speeches, write and design brochures, produce video news releases, lobby representatives in Congress, stage a special event, or prepare an annual report” (Grunig, 2001).   In the modern age, however, public relations is more about managing the balance between the self interest of the organization and the interests of people who are affected by it.  In the Sandusky case, it seemed that the self-preservation of the university overshadowed the interests of those affected by university actions.  In the end, the reputation of the university was not preserved!  It definitely speaks to the value of managing relationships in a crisis, not just image.  Image can be flattened in a second where well-managed relationships can endure.

Grunig, J.  (2001, May 12).  The Role of Public Relations in Management.  [Speech]. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2001_PRManagement.pdf

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