Is Public Relations the Issue?

By now you have read or heard several things regarding the issues surrounding Penn State.  You have probably also formed an opinion as to what the university should have done, could have done, or should do in regards to their reputation, the coaching staff, university officials, etc. But that is not the purpose of this blog post.  A recent New York Times article has labeled the Penn State crisis as a “public relations catastrophe.” Since the New York Times article posted, a conversation regarding the label has occurred on the PRSAY website in a post titled “Public Relations Won’t Fix Penn State Crisis.” Needless to say the ideas conveyed in the article and blog post conflict regarding the field of public relations.

So what do you think? Do you agree with the author of the New York Times article or the authors of the PRSAY blog entry? How could you use this as an opportunity to engage in a healthy conversation with others who do not agree with your view/understanding of public relations? Sound off below!


Photo image courtesy of istockphoto.



Filed under classes, PRCA 2330

60 responses to “Is Public Relations the Issue?

  1. Pingback: Comments « kelseyalynn

  2. I can see where NYT is coming from to an extent; due to the fact that it was handled poorly in front of the public eye. But, severe actions were taken by the former assistant coach, none of which Paterno was involved with. If I was Paterno that would be the last thing I would want myself involved with. I’m sure he regrets his subtle actions now but at the time, that doesn’t seem like something ideal to handle. The NYT just wants someone to blame!

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  4. For some reason my comment didn’t post. So here it is again.

    I agree with the article. The Penn State situation is past the PR department now. I personally feel like the PR department has nothing to do with this situation. Matters like this can not be completely fixed by the PR department. They can only help pick up the pieces.

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  8. This whole thing really was stupid. I remember talking about it in my Media and Society class. Our professor brought the subject up and the entire class (150+ students) went on a long, drawn-out tangent. I don’t understand why everyone thinks that the school was in the wrong. I understand where the majority of the students are coming from. They lost their coach and they were upset. But everyone else has been chiming in and saying that the coach was in the right all those years ago. I feel like this was a disaster because the school didn’t respond in the proper way. They should have said that they were in the wrong for not investigating further, but instead they just jumped to conclusions. It seems like this is what a lot of companies, etc., are doing these days to avoid embarrassment.

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  10. I agree with PRSAY the fault is on the people. I believe this issue is not related to PR. People think that PR can fix this kind of situation and there is no way to make this situation better. I think this situation could have been avoided if things would not have been brushed aside. I think they should have taken action immediatly. PR is not there to fix things that could have been taken care of when the problem first came about. It is not the PR professionals fault that there is no better way to put this situation. I can see how they could have helped the situation if it was taken care of when it first got brought up but instead they didn’t say anything about it and kept it a secret from the public and now they are paying for their actions. I believe people would not have taken this as serious has they have been since so many people new about it for while. The public does not like secrets about things they care about and support.

  11. I think the whole Penn State issue is not related to Public Relations at all. This is a matter of individual wrongdoing and not the reputation of the University. People assume Public Relations is a matter of reputation upon everyone involved in a business but it is rather a matter of the client and keeping press relations in a positive light. I would tell people who don’t believe my views that, those wrongdoings were not known about and would not have been tolerated if PR was truly involved.

  12. alexis6164

    I agree with the New York Times. Hold on before you get your undies in a bunch because what I can clearly see everyone has sided with PRSAY. I truly understand what PRSAY is trying to convey to the public to understand when coming to issues dealing with scandals such as the Penn States mishap. PR professionals in no shape, form, or fashion are to ethically cleanse the situation because that is not their job. If PR professionals start playing “the role of savior” then everything that would ever happen would be taken in the account for them to clean it up and next we will be seeking for PR professionals to solve World Peace. In that case I believe personally PRSAY was correct but on the other hand the situation was still “a Public Relations catastrophe.” Some of the events that have taken place up till the time of the firing of the different personnel could of been handled differently. As a PR department there is no reason that an active professional of the University should of not been appropriately prep, or even someone from the department, to speak to the media about the situation. The backlash from the tight-lip and no comment arena has been tenfold in this disaster. To leave the media and the public ideal to conjure their own opinions instead giving off some plain facts about it would of did the situations so justices. Of course do not “sweep up after the parade” but never come out in the end of the situation looking as bad as the person who created it by leaving your personnel in a ” public relations stupor.”

  13. I agree with the New York Times article. This issue is not going to go away. In the past we have seen where the PR departments of Organizations and corporations have tried to avoid and/or say something else entirely to direct attention off of them, their employers, etc. Recently, on The Savage Report, they compare how similar the scandal at Penn State is to the Citadel’s scandal and how The Citadel’s PR department dodged the media’s Freedom of Information act for weeks. Now John Rosa is saying “sorry” to the media. I know the school is wanting to save face, But like the NY Times article states this is not going away, so the school and the PR dept should be accommodating to the media. Honesty of the scandal will in the end be more appealing to the public eye than hiding and doing nothing. How I would engage in someone with an opposite view would be to hear them out and then research examples where the PR dept hid, did nothing, said the wrong thing, etc. did more harm than if they would have just been honest about their Employers mishaps in the beginning. ~ lluckett

  14. sharding12

    I agree with the PRSAY article. I think it’s ridiculous that some people are trying to lay the blame on the school’s PR department, and to claim that the whole school is in a “moral collapse”. I don’t agree that it is a PR “disaster” for Penn State, because the school as a whole is not at fault for the actions of a few. Those involved might have a PR disaster on their hands, but to say that it reflects on the whole school is unfair. I think the removal of those involved in the scandal was a smart move for the Penn State to make, showing that they will not accept that behavior and will not let it go unpunished, Even that doesn’t relate to PR so much as it does to the moral standpoint of the school, though. As many have already said, there isn’t much that could have been done in the way of PR to shed a different light on the situation, because, as the PRSAY article said, it isn’t a PR professional’s job to “sweep up after the parade”

  15. I agree with the PRSAY article. The Penn State disaster could have been avoided if higher powers would have taken a hold of the problem sooner rather than sweep it under the rug; however, it is not a PR professionals job to point out the moral or unethical thing to do.With or without the help of a PR department, the actions which represented an elite school can not be forgotten. As a PR professional we have an obligation to the public as well as our profession to say ethical in all of the publicity that present to the media. Our soul responsibility is to alert the public with event that are given to us; it is not the responsibility of Penn States PR department if they were unaware of the situation. And, honestly I would not want my name associated with the corruption.

  16. I agree with the PRSAY article. What happened at Penn State is tragic and shows how little morals the people involved have, Sandusky especially. The fact that everyone involved only went to the person above them with their knowledge and not to the police is immoral for the seriousness of the issue. The Public Relations professionals could no have intervened with the situation or made it look any better if they would have known, because what happened would obviously upset the public regardless. The questionable ethics of the Penn State professionals is the problem at hand. Public Relations professionals can not change people’s values regardless of how much they could even try. The New York Times is wrong for pinning this onto the PR people and should really understand what it is that they do before they slam them. I think that the way Paterno was fired and all that, could have been handled a little better. But for the matter being in the spotlight of the public and criticized for every move, there was only so much that could have been done.

  17. Agreeing with the PRSAY blog and many other classmates, there was nothing that PR professionals could have done to prevent this crisis for Penn State. PR professionals should not be held responsible for what has happened. When it comes down to morals and legal issues, that is outside PR boundaries. There are things that the PR professionals for Penn State can do now, like helping decide what needs to be said during press conferences and in speeches. PR professionals can’t fix what has already happened about the sexual abuse that was unknowingly going on, but they can now help to guide the school in a better direction from here on out, concerning this case.

    No matter what the school would have decided to do, regarding Coach Joe Paterno, whether it is letting him finish out the season or firing him, people would have been upset. There would be people who thought that Joe Paterno should have gone to the police once no one else did and that he should be fired for not doing so, and there will be people who think he did enough by going to school officials and should be allowed to finish out the season. It is obvious that PR professionals couldn’t do anything about that they did not know; only the people who knew about the sex abuse could have stepped up.

  18. Laura M. Jefferson. 3255

    Public Relations can only do so much for damage control in such a situation. However, I do not believe they should site back in their seats and watch everything go up in flames. It may be a wise decision for Penn State to try to remove themselves completely from Joe Paterno allowing his PR team to work on crisis management. Doing this will get the ball moving slowly on putting the issue behind them to focus on the future. Next, Penn State should introduce their new coach, (perhaps a new contract regarding sexual abuse), and putting effort towards their requirement to freshman and transfer students to do avoid a drop in incoming students.

  19. oliviaclements

    The PRSAY article makes a very good point to defend pr, while the Times article is looking to blame pr. PR can only encourage, advise, and hope that the company and individuals they represent are presenting themselves in a transparent manner to the public. When conflict comes up, pr will handle it the best way possible in order to communicate with the public and keep them informed. Humans are “human” and are sinful by nature. Of course the individuals at Penn State didn’t handle the situation appropriately, because they didn’t “handle” it at all. I feel like this just proves why an effective, ethical public relations department is so important in all aspects of business. People who are “authority figures” assume they have some sort of entitlement to handle stuff their way…which is avoiding it, covering their own asses, and pretending it isn’t a concern. The truth will always come out in the end, so
    you might as well be the one to tell it first. The Times’ article is correct in stating that the catastrophe at Penn State will not go away. The PRSAY article is correct in defending that pr won’t “fix” the crisis. PR shouldn’t be about “making everything okay” but it should be about 2-way communication with the public. The public controls you’re image, so make them respect you! Don’t make excuses, make an effort to more forward in a positive manner and prevent future occurrences.

  20. First off you can’t lay blame on the whole media catastrophe on Penn State’s PR department. Had the incidents not occurred in the first place they wouldn’t be in this predicament right now. Secondly, I just want to go ahead and get it out their that Coach Joe Paterno deserved better. He got fired for supposedly not go through the proper lengths to report the incidents and I think that it is unfair for Joe Pa to have been fired. Joe Pa was not involved in the incidents, besides the man is 84 years old and is a legend of the game of football as well as a heroic figure for Penn State for over 46 years. Thirdly, as a person, i don’t believe that the PR department could do much after the media caught wind of the allocations. Media will triumph over PR a good majority of the time, because when people get their mindset they get their mindset. The best thing for the Penn State PR department really can do now is play up all the other parts of the institution such as their different academic programs as well as help to create a program to make children safer on campus and publicize that program.

  21. Pingback: I commented on the penn st scandal | josephbryant

  22. I agree with the way penn st has handled the situation in the past week. However, What about the years before this information became public? There were many people that knew about the allegations against Jerry Sandusky that walked by him everyday for years in the halls and probably made small talk, “hey coach, hows your family.. how was your weekend?”.. that is super weird to me.

    As far as firing Joe Paterno, how could you not? He is the face of that university and he was a part of a cover up to keep a child molester on staff and on campus. There is no way from a PR or moral perspective to allow anyone who helped cover the situation up to remain involved with the university.

  23. davia woulard

    I agree with the PRSAY blog in this situation PR could not save the Penn State issue. Yes PR does play an important role in keeping image in tact, but the Joe Paterno was seen as a “God” at the university. Somebody with such high stature at the university of course is going to take the majority of the blame in this situation. Sadly, in this case the only thing that will keep the public eye off Penn State is for something more draastic to happen in the news until then this will be the focal point. In my opinion the way the university handled the incident is completely their responsibility they acted in the best interest of their faculty and students.

  24. Collin Bryant

    I agree with the PRSAY article completely. It would be very difficult to fix what Penn State has gotten themselves into. While some crisis management could be employed Penn State needs to deal with this catastrophic mistake in house personally. I don’t think they need to keep apologizing or making explanations. They need to cut their losses and lay low. Public Relations can’t heal all and shouldn’t be expected to with the Penn State scandal.

  25. I find this situation both enlightening and informative about the relationship between PR and the news. After Reading the times article you could sense an attack on public relations, and not the organization being represented. It felt almost as if the media was trying to tarnish the validity, and credibility of PR. It’s as if the NY Times is attacking PR out of resentment. You can hear more, and more in the press of what or what not PR is doing. The fact of the matter is that PR is directly tied into managing an organizations image. And EVERY organization has an image, including the media. The large corporations that own the news use PR daily. If anything there’s speculation as to the credibility of the news which has to report on the very people who sign their check. Do I feel this situation that occurred at Penn State was handled well? No. Do I feel that the situation is a PR catastrophe? Also no. I do feel this is an opportunity to address an more serious issue than what PR is doing. That is the objectivity, and accuracy the news claims. Even the news makes errors, and pointing the finger doesn’t solve, or teach us how to correct them. We have to remember that we’re all salespeople. PR sells a concept or idea. That is the concept, and ideals an organization believes in, and tries to relay to it’s valued publics. And news media sells the truth. That is they sell what they believe is honest, and true to the public. Both professions mediate, and seek to inform. It’s like Congress vs. The White House in trying to make decisions for the Country. In the end we’ll all lose. We should put away our differences, and embrace our similarities. Plain and simple, the news needs public relations, and PR needs the news.

  26. This major issue that Penn State is dealing with is unfortunate, yes, but PR is not to blame. Using quality PR may actually be what can save the image of Penn State, as it did for other various peoples in the public-eye. For example, Michael Jackson. He did face public scrutiny and constant accusations; however, people still continued to support his career and purchase his music as if nothing had occurred. Another example could be any young starlet who dealt with bad publicity from arrests or public indisposure. Numerous celebrities continue on with their career and move forward after certain incidents by the driving force of PR. The light on their mishaps can be redirected to their improvement and quality aspects of life. I believe that this is achievable for Penn State, and possibly Joe Paterno, in due time.

  27. No, this was not a PR catastrophe. Public Relations is there to report of fix a catastrophe in a crisis. Yet, how was public relations responsible for the moral and ethical wrong doings of this man? They can not change or “fix” Sandusky’s actions. PR can simply try to maintain a certain image for their institution. In this case, the image was greatly frowned upon by many sports fans and moral beings. PR has to do some damage control but they can not cover up what actually happened. Society will never forget what has happened but they can remember that not everyone was involved. The College still stands for a right moral aspect and want the people to remember their image before the incident and after the incident, which is what PR can help them do. Words can not explain why this happened or why someone who do such actions.

  28. I agree with the PRSAY blog. In this situation, public relations should npt be held accountable to try to “save” Penn State. I also agree with them when they said that if the scandal had been reported to the University Relations Vice Principal, he might have been able to turn around the situation and make people think that Penn State did the right thing. PR wants to uphold the reputation of their clients and keep the general public’s trust, but in situations like this involving peoples moral choices, PR does not really have a place to try and change the public’s opinion.

    I think this situation is a lesson for PR practitioners of where the line is drawn for PR professionals. PRSA is highly esteemed in the PR community and if they feel so strongly about a situation and where one should stand it is important to listen to them. I am not saying that you have to agree with them on every situation, but on critical ones like this it is probably a good idea.

  29. I see where the NY Times is coming from, but I agree more with the PRSAY blog. While this is a major issue that requires some PR, the PR department is not responsible for it. There was one part of the PRSAY blog that was talking about how PR isn’t there to “sweep up after the parade” which I don’t completely agree with. No, the actions of certain individuals cannot be traced back to the organization as a whole, but it is part of the PR department’s job to do some damage control. Whether it be for an individual or an organization, some has to be done. The PR department in this case is not a catastrophe because they handled it in the way of the individuals. They took necessary actions against these particular individuals while trying to maintain the image of the organization as a whole. It is unreasonable to put the blame on the PR department in issues of morals and ethics such as this one. Obviously it was not the organization or the PR department that conducted these actions. In cases like this, PR needs to be instituted but it can not be expected for the department to represent the actions of the morally incorrect individuals.

  30. Asia Anderson

    I personally agree with the PRSAY article. Public Relations is a job that is neutral in my opinion. Becuase they lack to report these accusations, I believe that it has to deal with morals and ethics. that is something that public relations does not have the ability to fix. These actions that people fail to take in the correct order is not a public relations disaster. There is no way that the PR department is responsible for what the coach did. The job of the PR department to maintain a certain image but, not control people’s personal actions. There is little that the PR department can say to fix someone’s personal decisions.

  31. I agree with the PRSAY blog on its main points. The situation that occurred, which is a horrible one, is not the result of the PR department. Sandusky still would have committed the crime, which is the crucial aspect. People should be concerned more with the condition of the victim and whether justice is served, rather than the image of a sports team.

    The PR department cannot change what Sandusky did, neither can they change how it was (or wasn’t) reported. They can only move forward and attempt to fix the image. They can’t fix the moral and ethical issues at hand. Over time, people will “forgive” the team. Diehard fans will still offer their support (as Ashton Kutcher embarrassingly offered on Twitter). The public will not forgive the crime, especially since it involved a child, but eventually, there will be another tragedy that will take precedence in the sports community and the news as a whole.

    K. Landress

  32. I was shocked with the attitude of the New York Times Article. So maybe I am not an avid sports fan, but I found this fascinating as a Public Relations issue. NY Times mentioned Penn State hoping it would suddenly just go away. The funny part about this criticism is in PR I feel like sometimes there are distractions and it does just go away. That seems ridiculous with such a huge scandal but eventually there is more exciting news to cover.

    As far as the PRSAY Article, I definitely believe that as Practitioners only so much can be done. While there have been some small and very insignificant efforts made, I believe that this instance regarding morality can not be corrected by a campaign. I believe public relations comes in when a company or group needs to be better related to the public because their actual image is not being promoted efficiently. In the case of Penn State, the image is actually being promoted very accurately.

    I believe this could be an opportunity to relate to the public and those who disagree by making the observation (as PRSAY pointed out in their article) that we as PR practitioners are not called to fix moral decisions. We are not sacrificing our morality to lie for a group. In this case, even waiting to release the information is detrimental to the practitioner.

  33. kmtokars3240

    I agree moreso with the New York Times article becasue I don’t think that the scandal cannot be managed by strategic public relations. Yes, it is extremely saddening, but I’d have to say it is already off on a good foot by having Penn State live and breathe their football program. It holds too much passion in their heart to have it destroyed with issue. I watched the game this weekend, and it showed me that even in this rough transition for them, the fanbase is still wholeheartedly in the program and supportive of the team. If Penn State gets a smart PR rep with developed writing skills to cover this, then I believe that it has every chance to bounce back.
    When I go home for break, I know that this topic will arise in a dinner conversation. My family likes to discuss ethics on stuff like this, so I am glad that I have this idea to guide the conversation to a place that is more constructive and educational based. It is important to use hard-to-swallow news in a productive way so switch the focus from negative to positive.

  34. This whole situation is very unfortunate and like many of my peers, I also agree with the PRSAY post. We recently had dicussions about PR professionals and damage control but in this situation, dealing with legal and moral failing, “there’s very little a public relations professional could say that would fix anything.” PR Professional are not the ones to blame but this is certainly a PR crisis. I love how the post told how public relations COULD HAVE prevented this crisis had the allegations been reported to Bill Mahon, but they weren’t. However there are things that can be done now. It’s going to take baby steps and will put alot of work on the PR professionals.

    I also agree with Taylor: He only ad 4 games left. This frenzie has caused chaos among the players, coaching staff, and entire student body. I believe that if he was going to be fired, they should have atleast waited until after the season.

  35. I agree after the recent interview that Sandusky did in regards to the incidents. Sandusky said he hugged and touched the legs of these children without sexual intent. This man is ripping this wound wide open. He is digging a hole that is big enough to bury everyone around him. I do think that this is going to put a dark spot on Penn States reputation but I also am siding with Joe Paterno. I think that this is a public relations catastrophe not only becasue of the incidents themselves but also because the firing of Joe Paterno. Paterno is the face of Penn State and to be honest I think the university was looking for a way to get him out. This is the situation that put them in the position to rid themselves of Paterno and move forward. It’s a bad situation from every angle but the truth will come out.

  36. I agree with the PRSAY entry mainly. I believe that what Jerry Sandusky did was his personal problem, and should not be reflected toward Penn State at all. Sandusky is the one who broke the law; I don’t think that Penn State should at all be responsible for taking the blame for something that an individual person did. It’s the same with school, if you get a bad grade on a test its your own fault, not the teachers. People have to realize that it is not even the schools responsibility, they didn’t know what Sandusky had been doing during his private downtime, and so they are not responsible for his actions. It would be a completely different story if the school had attempted to cover up the scandal but it didn’t, so why blame Penn State?

  37. I just cannot understand how the criticism has fallen on Public Relations of all those individuals directly involved in current Penn State scandal/crisis/cover up. Granted, my current position as a student currently seeking a degree in Public Relations influences me to defend the recent P.R. bash courtesy of the New York Times, but on the other hand only someone entirely ignorant to the role of Public Relations would publish such a nasty article. First and foremost, those who actually interact with PR practitioners know better than to pick a fight with us.
    The New York Times Article, Memo to Penn State: Ignoring a Scandal
    Doesn’t Make It Go Away, does address a few intelligent points. The first of which appears in the title, ignoring a scandal does not make it go away. Lynn Zinser is actually correct on this point, its taught in entry level Public Relations courses that no matter what, you should NEVER respond with silence, or the dreaded “No Comment”. Zinser discards any veil of decency or intellect on the subject matter by stating that the institution is suffering from a campus wide moral collapse. Beyond the fact that Zinser’s statement entirely contradicts all ideals of journalism being strictly fact based, how can one claim Penn State employees, officials, and students (institution-wide) all lack morality. It is not like the campus as a whole knew what was going on and chose to just keep it to themselves, we don’t group all Iranians together and blame them for 9/11.
    Additionally the overall lack of knowledge displayed in the New York Times article in regard to the role of Public Relations is just nauseating. Public Relations is not a get out of jail free card, and it certainly can’t just come in and “fix” everything. While PR does, in some instances, serve as a “conscience” as mentioned in the PRSA blog, that does not mean it can instill moral values in the individual or institution they represent.

  38. I agree with the PRSAY blog post for the most part. It is the job of a public relations department to release information going on within a company in order to help maintain a positive outlook within the public. It is not their job to go to the police with an issue of a sexual abuse scandal. I believe the the PR department did the best that they could trying to relay their information. It is not their fault. The president and the coaches at Penn State are responsible for these allegations and should be the ones who take the blame, not the PR professionals. However, I do not agree with the firing of Joe Paterno. Why fire someone who is in the middle of their season and only has 4 games left? This frenzie has caused chaos among the players, coaching staff, and entire student body. I believe that if he was going to be fired, they should have atleast waited until after the season. Although, I know that everyone might not agree with my opinion; blog posting is a good and healthy way to speak freely with one another. It allows us to express our opinions in a positive way, whether people agree with them or not.

  39. J P

    I agree with the PRSAY post. This is an unfortunate thing to happen in college football, especially with a school like Penn state and their strong reputation and memorable coach. However I completely understand and side with PR reps, they are pissed that due to this messy situation, it should now become a public relations job to clean it up completely as if it never happened and make it seem like a huge misunderstanding. As expressed on their PRSAY post, ” public relations is 90 percent what you do, and only 10 percent what you say” PR can not act individually for each person that slips up and does something stupid,therefore this lingering issue will have to leave a bad taste in people’s mouth for a while. “Public relations can’t fix failures of moral and legal obligations, said on PRSAY post. In this we should not expect public relations to handle this issue alone. There is not enough PR in the world that could make these horrific allegations of innocent boys being molested go away, but I do feel, and agree with PRSAY when they mentioned that PR could have prevented the uproar it caused before the news was officially leaked to the public. If many who knew of the molestations had gone to officials sooner or someone willing to handle the situation, I am almost positive that Joe would still have his job . It would have been out of his hands and he would have done his part to pass that type of issue onto someone who could properly take care of it rather then brush it off. You cant expect PR to do a better job of cleaning this issue up, if they could have prevented it from getting this ugly in the first place.

  40. Robert Jaracz

    As I agree that PR can’t really fix this situation, I do agree in the PR light that the university actually came out looking better than the situation could have led them to look. The university fired everyone who was involved in the cover-up and that separates the university from the subject matter. The people who knew and did nothing aren’t the same people who are still there, so as a university they look better than they could’ve looked. However, with the magnitude of the allegations and the firings, it is almost impossible to make people forget this issue quickly. The best thing to do is do what they have done, that’s fire the people involved, make a statement separating the university from the issue, and let it sit. People have to allow a “mourning” period, a time to reflect on the information given. As more and more information comes out, the PR game changes with the information. So from a PR standpoint, I agree with how they’ve addressed the situation and also that there isn’t much more for PR tactics to help the university deal with this horrific incident.

  41. I agree with the PRSAY blog post. It is the public relations departments’ responsibility to release the information going on within that company helping to maintain a positive outlook by the public. The issue dealing with Penn state is immoral and wrong and the PR department realized that and did their best to get the information out there. There was nothing that the PR department could have done differently to make this situation change. The department should not have any blame placed on them at all. It is obvious that the coaches and the president of the university are the only people that did wrong in this situation. The scandal was their responsibility and it is wrong to place the burden on anybody else. It was not the responsibility of the PR department to go to the police or to give their opinion to the people involved.

  42. kellywinkler

    I have to agree with the PRSAY’s blog. Public Relations is not God. They can not make everything disappear and act like nothing happened. Crisis happen and stories get leaked out before the Public Relations department can take care of it. When it comes to legal matters and moral issues the best thing that Public Relations can do is inform the public of the true issue and the steps that are being taken to repair the damage. Some problems can not always be fixed with Public Relations, sometimes they just have to take their course and see how the public reacts. I definitely think that the issue could have been avoided a long time ago when the alleged crimes took place and through the years that came afterward. Penn State’s public relations department has a long road ahead of them and I’m curious on the tactics they are going to take.

  43. ndemarko

    You know, lately I had actually been watching all the commotion on ESPN on Joe Paterno and not once did it ever cross my mind that it would be public relations to blame for the ongoing crisis.

    That’s why I could understand why the PRSA blog argued:
    “It’s time we stop describing gross managerial missteps, operational failures, lying, cheating, fraud and, in this case, systematic legal and moral failings as a public relations _________ (insert “disaster,” “nightmare” or “debacle”). “

    It’s interesting to note, I read the New York Times article first and found myself agreeing with it. However, after I read the PRSA blog and reevaluated both articles. I have to agree with the PRSA blog. Taking into to PR helped me come to this approval.

    It is a PR department’s job to protect the relationship of the company and the public, but when serious “moral and legal obligations” are involved there is only so much a company can do. It all comes down to the fact that no allegations were reported to anyone earlier. Public relations could not have changed the actions that did occur, but what it could have done was possible prevented the situation from becoming a crisis. Handling press conferences and firing individuals could have been planned out smoother and more effectively.

    For the New York Times to call this a “public relations catastrophe,” in my opinion is crossing the line.

  44. I agree with the PRSAY blog post!! I do not think that a firm should be responsible for making the public understand what happened. What happened what wrong on various levels. I really do not see how the issue could have been handled any more “delicate” than the way it was because no matter how you word it what happened there is not excusable. I like how the PRSAY quote that Public Relations is 90% what you do and 10% what you say. There are no words that can cover up this incident. It crossed moral and legal boundaries. Public Relations is used for damage control, however there not much you can do to make this “acceptable” or “okay” in the eyes of the public.

  45. I agree with the PRSAY’s blog post. In any situation it is the Public Relations department’s job to handle the story of any big event, and bring reasoning to what has just happened or what the future move is. I believe that the job of PR is to make sure that the truth comes to light and that they handle the situation as professional as possible. In the Penn State case, there is only so much that the department of PR can do when the issue serves moral and ethical problems. Any individual that was told to cover this case would have a hard time making this issue seem “graceful.” But in my opinion, it is too hard for an individual to cover a story for multiple offenses over a 15 year period when it involves an entire university and their athletics program. I agree with many of the posts above that no matter how good an individual or PR department is there is no way a press release could fix a tragedy like this.

  46. The NY Times, although with good intentions, probablly didn’t mean for the way they labeled the situation to come off the way it did. Perhaps they were being a bit pretentious calling out the university that way, but then again they are The New York Times. However, the age old question here remains: who’s to blame? I doubt the university could have done much better at handling it the way they did. They practically cleaned house, getting rid of practically everyone who was laterally involved with the situation. But the PR crisis comes from how well they handled communicating the way they went about all of it. And in THAT is where the NY Times came off saying what they did. It IS a PR crisis, there’s nuclear explosions going on in their PR department still to this day I am sure. While there are many other aspects to this tragedy that can be covered/resolved/helped by other agencies, departments, executives, etc. The PR dept. has got quite a handful of their own to deal with.

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  49. I agree with both the NY Times article and the PRSAY blog post, but from different aspects. I definitely think PRSA addressed the situation in a more professional manner by not necessarily criticizing those involved personally but instead blaming those involved for lacking moral code. PRSA also suggested that regardless of appropriate pr strategies this occurrence at Penn State would still prove to be morally and legally wrong. However, PRSA also stated that had the university reported the findings to the University Relations Vice President, Bill Mahon, the sexual impropriety could have downgraded the scandal from a crisis situation. The reputation of Penn State could have possessed some moral security for properly addressing the situation. PR cannot solve moral and legal mishaps, but it may aid in addressing the situations appropriately.
    In the NY Times article they explain Penn State’s lack of effective pr strategies in a “no mercy” format. The article suggests that proper pr could have solved all of the university’s problem, but, in agreement with PRSA, I do not think this is true. I do support the article for stating Penn State to be foolish to not provide any response of dignity. The lack of pr in their situation is what has made this such an extreme moral blunder. The situation may have been somewhat alleviated from the media standpoint had Penn State stepped forward to make an appropriate statement. However, the university is sitting by while the moral reputation of their school falls to the ground. Those involved are at fault for not speaking out to the appropriate people who could have possibly handled the occurrence through appropriate pr tactics.
    -S. Russell

  50. I agree with TJ’s comment on how it is understandable for the NY Times to say that the situation was a PR catastophe and that the president of Penn State, Graham B. Spainer’s first priority is damage control on the situation but that he is failing miserably at it. I would have to agree though with the PRSAY blog post in that Public Relations is 90% what you do and 10% what you say and that there is very little a public relations professional can do to fix this mess. You have to suffer the repercussions of your consequences and not blame them on someone or something else. And when it comes to moral or ethical problems that have risen, PR can’t account for that or fix any of it’s wrong doings. As far as using this crisis and situation as an opportunity to engage in a healthy conversation with someone who doesn’t agree with my views of PR, I would say look at this blog entry and see that what it is saying is dead on and that PR is all about what you do and very little about what you say, actions speak louder than words and in this case that is true. No matter what goes out in the press about this topic, it all boils down to what happened and the actions of Jerry Sandusky. Penn Sate just has to be on damage control, be very careful with their actions in the future and keep an eye out for negative press that could hurt them even more.

  51. I agree with most of the PRSAY blog post. In my opinion, I believe that there are times when PR professionals are responsible for “damage control” but when you start crossing legal and moral boundaries, there isn’t much a PR professional can really do. It’s basically out of their hands. This issue is too large for any PR professional’s help. I do, however, feel like the PR professionals now have to step up and work towards “fixing up” Penn State’s image a little bit. They can’t make the scandal disappear by any means but they can’t stand by and let Penn State’s image completely be run into the ground, but that’s just my opinion. It will take some time before Penn State is back where it used to be, if it makes it back to that point. I hope that Penn State can rise up from this horrible issue at hand and in the future get back on track with the help of PR professionals.

  52. I totally agree with the PRSAY blog. This is not a situation that should solely rely on the Public Relations department. When the news of the sexual abuse was brought out, the information should have been taken straight to the police. PR is there to help manage an organizations reputation and make them look “good”, but PR professionals should not have to “baby” an organization and tell them when to go to the police (in this situation), and/or every single thing that they should do or say. It all deals with ethics and there should have been some ethical standards kept. I understand that firing the coach with only a few games left was such a curve ball, but he should have known the right thing to do. Instead of covering up information it should have been brought to light. PR is there for crisis communication and I can kind of see where the NY Times would just blurt out that this is a “public relations catastrophe”. But public relations should NOT be responsible for covering up and putting a bandage on an incident like this. The responsibility is to the university.

  53. I can see why the NY Times would say that the situation was a PR catastrophe. Granted, the PR department usually handles crisis situations and come up with a strategic plan to come out of the situation looking better than before. On the other hand, PRSAY (Keith Trivitt and Arthur Yann) were right when they said public relations doesn’t clean up after the big parade. The Penn State incident was unfortunate and indeed a horrible event in the university’s history. The PR department can’t do what needs to be done right now though. They can’t counsel the kids who were abused or control the student riots happening on their campus or deal with the court proceedings, it’s just not their job. The PR department can although do as much as they can to help within their field. Penn State Communications can help write speeches, issue press releases, coach representatives from the university before they make TV appearances and do their best to come out with a solution to improve the name of Penn State University. The efforts of coming out of this situation better than going in are going to have to come from nearly every department.

  54. Well the NYTimes post got one thing right when they said, “It would not be at all surprising if someone came out on the administration building steps with a bullhorn yelling: ‘Hey, the N.B.A. is destroying itself with a lockout?! Please, go hound them! And the Patriots just admitted failure and cut Albert Haynesworth! Wow!! And you want a place for moral outrage? What about Tiger Woods’s former caddie Steve Williams’s racial slur? Please, can you all go to Australia to report on that?!'”

    I’m honestly surprised that they didn’t include Herman Cain’s name in that rant… I’m sure his publicist is thanking his lucky stars to have a scandal out that is taking the spotlight off of Cain’s surfacing “scandal.” But there’s the thing, Cain’s PR team has a scandal that can be defended. When someone goes into the PR profession, they sign on as a voice to the public, on behalf of a brand and it’s image. This is where I find a major flaw in the NYTimes blog, calling the Penn State crisis “a public relations catastrophe.”

    It is one thing to expect a publicist to defend the university as a whole, or the football program, or even just a coach as one person, but to expect someone to fix the moral, ethical, and downright asinine doings of several people, especially when there are still so many holes in an ever-growing 10-year coverup, is simply ridiculous. This is a PUBLIC RELATIONS team, people; NOT a psychology department, specifically trained to teach people with severely disturbed minds the difference between right and wrong, who also possess the ability to go back and change things in time!

    Yes, the NYTimes post is correct in saying that this isn’t going away, but that’s what happens when you make a decision which favors your job and an outstanding athletic record, over the emotional and physical wellbeing of children. Every decision has a consequence and unfortunately for the individuals who are involved in this crisis, that consequence caught up to them after nearly a decade. No matter how good the Penn State PR team is, a press release isn’t going to fix this.

    The PRSAY blog nailed it on the head saying that “anyone who thinks public relations can be counted on to ‘sweep up after the parade’… is fooling themselves.”

    I understand why people see PR professionals as the people who will do/say anything to make their employer look good, I mean it sums up the job description pretty well most of the time, but you have to be an ignorant fool to think that a piece of gum is going to fix a leak in the Hoover dam. Some people are just never going to understand what it means to work in public relations, but maybe they’ll realize now that you can’t get away with everything (I would have said ‘you can’t get away with murder,’ but that would be a walk in the park compared to this!).

  55. kbantin

    I agree with the PRSAY blog. Yes, it is a horrific incident that happened, but there is nothing Public Relations Professionals could have done differently to prevent the incident, or change it. It is the people involved who have made the incident what it is. Yes, I do agree that is Mr. Mahon, the PR person for Penn State had known about this before the rest of the world, he could have offered a few words to try to prevent the crisis from turning into what it has, but I do not think that he could say much to keep people from being upset, outraged, and confused. Coach Paterno, former assistant coach Sandusky, McQueary, and the President of Penn State are the ones at fault. I do not think anyone can blame the PR people for any bit of this. Attention is going to be made to this because of the issue at hand and how big the school and football team is, and there is nothing “graceful” that can really be said to change the way people are going to feel about the situation.

  56. I agree with the PRSAY blog post for the most part. I feel like it is the Public Relations department’s job wherever they are and in whatever establishment to inform people of what is going on. The issue with Penn State, whether the PR department did its job or not, the situation in itself is awful, therefore, there aren’t going to be any “graceful” ways of dealing with their crisis. It is the PR department’s responsibility to try and uphold the morals and values within that particular organization, but Penn State deserves all of this media attention. I think a lot of the media attention is in the wrong place such as the football aspect of the school. I don’t think they are highlighting enough on the sexual abuse part of the scandal.

  57. piperellice

    I agree with the PRSAY blog post completely. Yes, it is a PR department’s job to maintain the view of the organization to the public, but when severe moral and ethical problems come to light and continue to unravel, there is only so much the department can do. While it may have been the right thing to do to fire some of these officials involved, I do feel like the PR department could have planned it and followed through in a more graceful way than what actually happened.

  58. ln00219

    I agree with the PRSAY blog for the most part. Mainly because the scandal going on at Penn State falls back on individual people. Mike McQueary can be blamed for only going to Joe Pa and not going to the police, PR can’t help that. And then Joe Pa, after McQueary told him what Jerry Sandusky was doing, should have gone to the police instead of just going to school officials. The only area I see PR coming into play through this whole thing is how Penn State handled it with the firing of Joe Paterno and everything else they’ve done.

  59. JazzyJhae

    I think this situation was unfair in the sense the coacxh only had 4 more games to coach in the season. With this decision to fire him, it has caused an outrage with not only the football team, but also the students and alumni from the university, as well. Using a blog entry as a way of getting out information can be beneficial, but in some situation, such as this, blogging may seem inappropriate because lots of people may give thier opinions or how they are feeling versus the actual truth. If someone goes to a blog to find out what is going on, they may not always get the correct informatio because sometime blogs are used as a way of venting and freely giving their own opinions. To have a healthy conversation through a blog entry on such a controversial topic can seem almost impossible because students and fans are outraged with the decision and may only give their opinion about how they feel about the firing rather than what was good/ bad and the what actually happened to why the Penn State coach was fired.