Gini Dietrich

Providing PR Counsel to Penn State

By: Gini Dietrich | November 30, 2011 | 

I’m thinking Spin Sucks should do a moron award…with a badge and everything (maybe Erin Feldman will create one??).

Last week we had Coghlan Consulting Group. This week we had Governor Brownback and Mayor Winder.

I learned about a PR guy in Arizona who tweeted about “midgets” and “special ed” persons…all while working with the Special Olympics.

Then I received an email last night of, what looks to be, another moronic move.

It seems almost too easy. But what do you think? A Spin Sucks Moron Award?

While we think about this, I thought enough time has passed that we can talk about the crisis that is Penn State.

A couple of weeks ago, both Barry Silver and Kevin Vandever posted pretty much the same question about what’s going on at the school.

The President of Penn State U calls late at night and says, “Tomorrow the PA Attorney General is going to indict and subsequently arrest a former assistant football coach and an honored PSU family member for multiple counts of sexual child abuse. Without admitting anything, I believe this is only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever the cost, how can you help PSU limit the ensuing stench to a decade, instead of PSU being stained for a century?” I can’t imagine a worse PR reaction than the reaction of PSU to this unconscionable disaster. Perhaps you can offer an alternate path.

And then, as if they were reading our Facebook wall, Penn State called Ketchum. Which is odd, because Ketchum isn’t known for their crisis work, but good on them. I wouldn’t want the job if they called me the day after Sandusky was arrested.


Because they had MONTHS to bring in PR counsel. The Harrisburg Patriot News reported on March 31 that Sandusky was the subject of a grand jury investigation.

THAT was when Penn State should have called Ketchum or any other crisis firm.

They could have been preparing for the media onslaught. They could have gone to friendly journalists on their own time. They could have already had their messaging ready, their executives media trained, and a strong strategy in place. They could have had legal pre-approving the strategy and the messaging so they could be proactive, instead of reacting.

Instead, they waited until Sandusky was arrested and he made that terrible phone call to Bob Costas (I would have resigned the account right then and there; talk about a Moron Award) before they decided it was time to spend the money to help save their image and reputation.

Too late, boys.

Sure, the work Ketchum does now can help with all of the media requests. They can work with legal to get messaging approved. They can handle the phone calls and interview requests and strategically decide who gets to talk and who does not. They can even be on campus 24/7 to manage any of the spin-off crises that are sure to happen from all of this.

But now they’re in reactive mode and that’s a very bad place to be in a crisis.

Public relations won’t make the story go away…and it shouldn’t. But it can manage the backlash, the reputation and the image, and protect the school (or business).

My best advice? This doesn’t come from a selfish place because we do crisis work, but because it helps the business. Hire the PR firm as soon as you know something is going to go down. Even better if you have a crisis plan in place, just in case. An insurance of sorts. But I know the real world doesn’t afford everyone that luxury.

But don’t wait until the literal shit hits the fan. Be smart. Be strategic. And have a PR professional on speed dial when there is the slightest murmur that something is going to happen.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Not to mention that PSU hired Ketchum within days of then-fired Paterno bringing in his own PR counsel.

    • ginidietrich

      @jasonkonopinski This all makes my head hurt.

      • @ginidietrich@jasonkonopinski I wonder if Joe Paterno’s Klout or Edelman Trust Barometer scores have taken a hit?

      • @ginidietrich That’s the wine. I had an awesome Malbec last night. 🙂

  • But they did wait, and are now in this predicament. In that case, how would you handle it now? Clearly, with PSU, money is no object.

    • ginidietrich

      @KenMueller There isn’t much PR can do now. They can handle the onslaught of media requests and decide who gets interviews and who does not and work with legal to make sure it’s contained as much as it can be now. But no amount of money in the world can help this one. They’ve already been judged in the court of public opinion.

      • @ginidietrich@KenMueller this is easy. Fire everyone. Agree to compensate. Come up with ridiculously harsh Institutional Controls. Apologize (I think the Penn Gov should head this effort). And the Pa Assembly needs to create a law that shows how serious it is if you do not tell the cops immediately upon seeing this happen. Then of course if found guilty Castrate Sandusky and send his wang to Ohio State’s Museum of the Bizarre.

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM@KenMueller That’s not PR, though. That’s doing the right thing.

        • @ginidietrich@HowieSPM@KenMueller

          Nothing wrong with PR done right, but Howie’s firing / Institutional Controls / castration scenario sounds like the best plan.

  • I think it boils down to one constant. Most who commit unethical or, in this case, illegal acts presume they are savvy enough to not get caught. But as any political campaign reveals, even minor instances become public knowledge. There are 2 roads to follow: honestly owning up to one’s faults and beginning the road to rectification or having a proper plan in place in order to mitigate the damage… not that I condone that type behavior.

    So PSU, et al presumed that the dust would settle, and they’d survive without exposure, but that didn’t happen. What’s the best strategy now? Obviously, cleaning house is step 1, but what else do you do to rekindle positive public opinion of an administration that clearly knew more about the scandal than they initially let on?

    • ginidietrich

      @JamesDBurrell2 I don’t know that they can rekindle public positive opinion. This is going to hurt them for a long time. Imagine if you have kids going to school. You going to let them even look at Penn State? And what if your kids play football and are being recruited by the school? I think not. It will take many years before this is all forgotten.

      • @ginidietrich@JamesDBurrell2 We’ll have to see how enrollment numbers will be effected, not to mention donor contributions, etc.

        • @jasonkonopinski@ginidietrich In my estimation, they have to completely clean house. Everyone that is in any way affiliated, innocent or not. From the recruitment team all the way to the towel boy.

        • @JamesDBurrell2@ginidietrich Those are my thoughts as well.

  • britt_thomas

    As a recent Penn State grad who majored in public relations AND took classes in crisis communications, I can’t tell you how ridiculous it was to watch PSU handle this. It was mind-boggling to watch the institution that had stressed the importance of having (and effectively using) a plan while being open and communicating with the public do everything but that.

    • ginidietrich

      @britt_thomas You know, that’s a really good point. They have a communication department. Presumably those tenured professors know what to do. And likely have contacts with firms that specialize in this type of stuff. Nothing against Ketchum, but they do consumer work…and that’s what they’re known for. This whole thing makes me shake my head. I’m sorry for you having gone there. I’d be furious with my alma mater.

      Which brings up another point. How mad do you have to be, as an alum, to not support the school?

      • @ginidietrich@britt_thomas I’d be curious about the PR profs. When I taught in the College of Communications there, they had come out of the PR industry, but had become pure academics and really didn’t have their hands in things. Theorists from the outside. One of my beefs with academia.

        • JamesBSchultz


          Our educational systems’ obsession with academia is killing off creativity and critical thinking. The whole affair is so sad. The institutions and systems (Penn State, Catholic Church, etc.) drive the behavior to cover-up and protect at all costs.

        • ginidietrich

          @JamesBSchultz@KenMueller It kills me, too. I remember four years ago a school here was looking for a social media professor. You had to have a master’s degree AND 10 years experience in social media. Um, good luck finding that person.

        • @ginidietrich@JamesBSchultz ha. most schools require a Ph. D. for funding and accreditation reasons. But by the time you get a Ph.D., most people are pretty far removed from the practical side of things. I understand the need for the theoretical, but there has to be a better way. That’s why I feel privileged to teach as an adjunct in several colleges: they understood that they couldn’t do it and needed someone with both a practical and academic background.

        • MightyCaseyMedia

          @ginidietrich@JamesBSchultz@KenMueller that means they’ll be stuck w/a Compuserve/Prodigy/AOHell guru?How … 20th century.

      • britt_thomas

        They did. In fact, both Mike Poorman and Steve Manuel have written about the entire thing and I know that all of the communications professors were talking with their classes about the situation. Here’s what Manuel had to say:

        I am not sorry for having gone to Penn State. Because while the administration failed miserably at the situation, I know that the professors there taught me better.

        • ginidietrich

          @britt_thomas This is great, Britt! Thanks for sharing it.

  • MightyCaseyMedia

    The shitstorm will rage on for at least a decade, with every mention of Penn State in the media making reference to l’affaire Sandusky. The worst part? This crap will keep happening – in college locker rooms and other places where men and boys gather for “sport” – because of the culture that exists in sports, particularly professional and high-profile college programs.

    Coach is god, don’t do/say anything against the team, keep your mouth shut about internal issues.

    That’s the real PR disaster, which will be evergreen until that close-mouthed/towel-snapping culture gets a serious shift. “If you see something, say something” has to be a watch-phrase for more than looking out for package bombs.

    • ginidietrich

      @MightyCaseyMedia Hopefully this will begin to help parents talk to their kids about what goes on in the locker rooms. It’s frightening and disgusting. When Sandusky called Bob Costas, I was getting ready in a hotel room. I dropped my brush on the floor and stood in front of the TV with my jaw on the floor. It’s not often we get to hear the accused’s side of the story. He sounds pretty guilty to me.

      • @ginidietrich@MightyCaseyMedia The 17 second pause? Remember that?

        • MightyCaseyMedia

          @jasonkonopinski@ginidietrich I felt like I needed a decontamination after listening to that taped call – I know Costas pretty well after working w/him at NBC for more than a decade. If Sandusky had been in the studio, it would have been … epic. As it was, there was only Sandusky’s lawyer at the desk, who seemed like a complete douchebag.

          An historical note re Penn State (and other) college sports cultural artifacts: who here remembers what Joe Paterno said, on-camera, in a post-game presser in the mid-’80s after a particularly punishing loss?

          Asked “how are you going to deal with this big loss, Coach?” he replied “I’m gonna go home and beat my wife.” Even 25 years ago, that was beyond the pale. Indicative, IMO, of a culture of narcissism and droit du signeur.

          BTW, the Moron of the Month Award gets two thumbs up from me. You could do a Douchebag of the Decade, too. There would be *no* lack of candidates.

        • ginidietrich

          @MightyCaseyMedia Douchebag of the Decade. HAHAHAHA!

  • danielnewmanUV

    You make a great point here Gini. I think people often think that of avoidance as a strategy. If I pretend like there isn’t a problem then perhaps there won’t be.

    That is just an idiotic way to approach PR, or anything else in business.

    You do have to admit one thing though…thank goodness for all of these “Morons” because it creates a lot of opportunity for the rest of us!

    • ginidietrich

      @danielnewmanUV It’s the whole head in the sand phenom. It happens in all businesses of every shape and size.

  • Being reactive in business is the traditional stance.

    I’ve seen it in every business I’ve ever been in, and in every department.

    • ginidietrich

      @Sean McGinnis I have too. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change. Many, many years ago, I was called in to help with a case where a client had found asbestos in one of their plants. And they make snack cakes. It was bad. But, instead of waiting for someone to get sick or for an employee to go “rogue” and call a reporter, they called us in. We called every, single customer who buys from that plant…and their three surrounding plants. We refunded money. We talked people off ledges. They recalled the product. And it never became a story.

      • @ginidietrich@Sean McGinnis I remember when Gumby was caught in those compromising photos with the underage starlet. Gumby’s Publicist denied everything. Then over months the truth came out. Totally ruined his film career. Oh wait….Gumby and the Ex-PM of Italy have a lot in common. Coincidence????

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM@Sean McGinnis You’re mean.

  • RebeccaEdgar

    I feel your frustration. One of my favorite profs says “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” when it comes to crisis. So I’d add that crisis preparedness starts before the murmur. It’s part of the organizational mindset, to identify and deal with risk proactively. One of the many things that irks me about PS case is that this will somehow become “a PR disaster”, when it was so many things first (ethics disaster, leadership disaster, procedural disaster, hell yeh). Thanks for your post.

    • ginidietrich

      @RebeccaEdgar You’re right – it’s way beyond a PR disaster.

      • @ginidietrich@RebeccaEdgar Exxon Valdez worthy in scope.

  • It’s really unfortunate how the school handled the crisis…from beginning to end. Sandusky should have been gone a long time ago to prevent this from happening in the first place. Now it’s a possibility that current students/players will have to suffer for what the people in charge of the program did. The stupidity is utterly remarkable. How could they just look the other way? Even AFTER the investigation started.

    It’s really promising that morons are running schools.

    • ginidietrich

      @EugeneFarber It’s also really promising that morons are running businesses. And our country.

      • @ginidietrich@EugeneFarber AGREED

        • MightyCaseyMedia

          @rachaelseda@ginidietrich@EugeneFarber On a PR note, I’ve been saying “forget Wall Street, occupy K STREET” since before occupy Wall St even began! Congress sucks up bigtime to big lobby money to finance their jobs-for-life, er, “re-election campaigns,” and work to serve those corporate citizens vice the street-level citizens who actually elect them.

          The only fix for that is term limits, and time-frame limits with teeth on how long they have to wait before taking a lobbying gig after leaving office.

          The problem? Congress would have to vote those term limits on themselves. I think we’d get single payer healthcare at least a decade before THAT happened …

      • @ginidietrich Sounds like we’re approaching the apocalypse

      • @ginidietrich Sounds like we’re approaching the apocalypse. Maybe the 2012 predictions are true!

      • @ginidietrich Sounds like we’re approaching the apocalypse. Maybe the 2012 predictions are true!

        • ginidietrich

          @EugeneFarber Oh Harold Camping would be so happy if it were!

  • It is really easy living in delusion and denial @ginidietrich I have many years to attest to that when I have lived on the edge financially. Often the driver for these situations is money same with the or sub prime implosions. ‘If I wait another 6 months I get X amount then if I get fired I am ok’

    The question here for PSU and others is where do you risk going to jail vs just being fired. And where is your fiduciary duty lie if you have one?

    I look back and think in 2002 Penn State had the chance to walk away with the ‘Did the right thing’ and an untarnished reputation. That chance ended in 2003. Just like the Catholic Church will never be forgiven by many, it will be hard for many to forgive PSU. I grew up a Penn State fan and almost went to school there. We all know sports players get special treatment. But this is criminal stuff.

    So all your points are valid. A complete case study in morony and that include Joe Paterno as well.

    • ginidietrich

      @HowieSPM Oh yes. I love that strategy. The one where we think we’re bigger than the law. That works so well for others.

  • I was was waiting for you to write about this! What’s disturbing to me is clearly they were so self centered and arrogant that they let this go on for so long. The best PR they would have been for the people hired and in charge of the program to react immediately to the allegations. Unfortunately they let this go on and on and to me their credibility being hurt is far from the worst thing that has happened. I’m more concerned with the lives that have been damaged.

    From a PR stand point, you couldn’t pay me enough money to work on this account. And don’t even get me started on the phone call with Bob Costas watching that made me tremble. What was worse – the look in Bob Costas face himself, that said it all.

    • @rachaelseda “clearly they were so self centered and arrogant that they let this go on for so long”

      Funny you should mention this Rachael. I was chatting yesterday with a few sports fanatic friends and they were talking about the millions of dollars that teams get if they are in the Championship/bowl games. No wonder there is so much corruption, etc, around these athletic programs. These people do think they are above it all. Of course that is changing now. The harshest wake-up call involves kids getting hurt and people in these positions letting them down, this is unforgivable.

      • ginidietrich

        @hackmanj@rachaelseda But why is this any different than anything else? In the PR firm world, if you bring in a big account, you get a huge bonus. There are ways to win ethically. You don’t have to cheat or be corrupt. As my brother tells his kids, “Cheaters never win and winners never cheat.”

        • ginidietrich

          @hackmanj@rachaelseda (Unless you’re the pigs in Angry Birds. They cheat all the time)

        • @ginidietrich@rachaelseda your brother is right and I bet your parents are very ethical/moral people because as they say the apple never falls too far from the tree.

        • ginidietrich

          @hackmanj Well, except for me…

        • @ginidietrich I don’t think so 🙂

        • @ginidietrich@hackmanj I get that and the fact that there are ways to do it ethically. I understand that there are also innocent people that will hurt from this, people like the students or the faculty whose salary or funding is done so by money given to or from the football program. For me personally, I would have to know for sure that I wasn’t going to be apart of covering anything up. I would need a guarantee that the person in charge of that account also believed that honesty was the only solution and that this policy would be communicated to PSU before the account was even signed on the dotted line. But really, it would still take a lot, because there’s nothing more that angers me than people who hurt children.

          How I feel about the work I’ve done when I go to sleep at night is worth much more than any pay check. Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way.

        • ginidietrich

          @rachaelseda No, not everyone feels that way (or are motivated by money and don’t care). That’s why we have Spin Sucks. Without people like this, I wouldn’t have anything to blog about.

        • @ginidietrich Horse hockey.

        • @ginidietrich Very true indeed!

        • @jasonkonopinski@ginidietrich I double that

        • @hackmanj@ginidietrich HAHA she has you fooled then! 😉

      • @hackmanj Yes I sure hope it does change and that people wake up and remember what is important. I understand the love of a sport and the money it brings to a school, money that can help with education as well. But if it’s done with bloody hands, especially at the expense of innocent children, then any good is ruined. It’s both unforgivable, outraging and mind boggling to me.

        • @rachaelseda yep, how is it that these people made the unthinkable not only thinkable but systemic? WTF.

        • joecardillo

          @hackmanj@rachaelseda Systemic is right. I think it’s probably safe to say the road to where PSU is now was probably paved with other issues. Things like this don’t “just happen.” They are part of a long time cultural sickness in the institution. IMHO there is probably a huge back end that includes NCAA/recruiting violations and abuse of power in a variety of other ways….not to mention that the very setup of college sports itself, esp. football, is designed to take advantage of young people.

    • ginidietrich

      @rachaelseda They interviewed Costas afterward and he said they were expecting the attorney. He said in all of his years of journalism has that never happened. He also said he was happy he had experience behind him so he knew the hard questions to ask.

      • @ginidietrich Man, I didn’t see that! I’m going to try and see if I can find it online. His reaction was priceless, I mean he looked like every viewer probably did you could see the anger in his eyes. He did do an awesome job though, that’s for sure.

    • @rachaelseda My mouth dropped when I heard the things said in this interview. I cannot believe his counsel, who was sitting right next to Bob Costas mind you, let him say the things he said.

      But I guess that is what you get when you hire an apologetic counsel who also has a questionable history with children.

      • ginidietrich

        @Anthony_Rodriguez@rachaelseda I can’t remember which talk show it was, but after that interview ran, one of the talk show hosts got visibly upset. She said this is what pedophiles do – they blame the kids. The kids turned the showers on. The kids were horsing around. She said, “He is a pedophile.”

  • TravisMClemens

    I think a “PR Moron of the Week” award would be awesome! You should totally do it.

    • ginidietrich

      @TravisMClemens FINALLY someone commented on that. Thank you, Travis!

      • TravisMClemens

        @ginidietrich It reminds me of the daily feature our own Utah radio station X96 does. Not sure if you ever listened to it or not, but it would fit in perfectly.

        • ginidietrich

          @TravisMClemens When I’m home for Christmas, I’ll have to listen!

  • This was a tragic event indeed and the fact after the incident in ’98 or ’99 was known and Sandusky decided to ‘retire’ after being named defensive coach of the year in ’98 but still allowed him full use of the Penn St facilities to run his youth programs is criminal………and heads will roll, as they should.

    I still had to laugh out loud and pound my desk after you said you would have resigned the account as soon as the Costas interview was done. That interview was moronic to the nth degree and for that same reason, at least the school had sense enough not to let 82 yr old Joe Pa do his press conference that week because he would have rambled on and there is nothing he could have said that would have put anybody or any institution in a better light.

    There are some things that are definitely zero tolerance offenses and this was certainly one of them. The tragedy is, it could have been handled back in ’98 and this piece o’ crap would have been taken out of circulation.

    There is no institution or individual that is bigger than something like this.

    • ginidietrich

      @bdorman264 No one is bigger than this. You’re right. They should have taken care of this in 1999. Not 2011….after the grand jury began investigating.

      • @ginidietrich@bdorman264 Bill is bigger than the Burger King but definitely not bigger than this. BTW Costas will be on the Daily Show tomorrow night. Tonight sadly is some no name named Bono.

  • geoffliving

    What I find interesting about the whole Penn State effort is the juxtaposition with Syracuse, which has less of a smoking gun, but still has a very serious identical issue with the audio tape that was revealed this weekend. Yet, Syracuse is handling this much better than Penn State. It would be fascinating to compare the two side by side.

    • John_Trader1

      @geoffliving Of course Syracuse had the benefit of learning from the gaffes that PSU made in their case. At least they were able to learn from it instead of pretending that it didn’t happen.

      • geoffliving

        @John_Trader1 I was thinking it had more to do with the presence of Newhouse and some of the academic community’s best communications experts.

        • John_Trader1

          @geoffliving You’re right, in my own little fantasy world I suppose I had envisioned them mentioning the PSU scandal and saying, “ok, let’s not do that.”

        • ginidietrich

          @John_Trader1 That made me LOL, John!

        • ginidietrich

          @geoffliving@John_Trader1 It amazes me that Penn State didn’t use their communication community. I don’t get it.

    • joecardillo

      @geoffliving The Boeheim commentary before and after someone in Comms got to him was amusing though…

  • Entire PR textbooks will be written on this case study alone. Very, very sad, all the way around.

    • ginidietrich

      @Marcus_Sheridan Text books?! Where are you from? 1980?

      • @ginidietrich@Marcus_Sheridan Excuse me but I am pretty sure we still call them on ITunes Albums even though vinyl died except for DJs long ago. I mean it has Text and it is a Book.

        I mean you have to call it still a ‘Classic Text book Case’ because a “Classic Kindle Case’ just doesn’t have the same cache.

  • John_Trader1

    I think that perhaps one of the saddest parts of this whole story is that in some ways it is a reflection of the economic juggernaut that college sports has become in our society and how the exorbitant amount of money involved often clouds the better judgement of University officials (there are so may examples to cite). Our society has become so obsessed with sports that the sexual abuse of young children takes a back seat to the success of a college sports team and the economic vitality of a University.

    • @John_Trader1 amen John, you captured my feelings precisely.

      • @hackmanj@John_Trader1 I was just about to comment about how this whole idea of “hide and no one will notice” makes me shake my head. And then I read your comment, John, and thought, that’s exactly it. The fear of that empire collapsing has completely clouded their judgement. I’m sure there were many who were fighting to approach it differently and were silenced.

        • @Lisa Gerber@John_Trader1 I don’t understand how it is that people struggle so hard to do the right thing. Paterno was one of those people you’d expect to do so, and he clouded and ruined his legacy because he didn’t. He will be remembered as the guy that let this happen, that didn’t take a stand and do the right thing. What a messed up legacy for a guy that obviously worked hard and dedicated himself to something. It’s a shame that the under lining values system was lower on the priorities. I think hiring PR people in his case is purely damage control. You can’t repair character.

        • John_Trader1

          @hackmanj@Lisa Gerber Well said. I like the “You can’t repair character” quote. May steal that one for a blog post. GD, LG you’re not allowed to use that.

        • @John_Trader1@hackmanj@Lisa Gerber I like the “can’t repair character” quote, too. I shall refrain from stealing since John placed first claim on it.

      • @hackmanj@John_Trader1 uhm John if you do not give back the feelings you captured from Joe….this will mean Joe has no feelings. And we can not have that.

    • ginidietrich

      @John_Trader1 Kind of like the big brewhaha in Miami about the athletes getting toys and women and money to play there (including my beloved Devin Hester).

      • John_Trader1

        @ginidietrich Exactly, except PSU is magnified 100x due to the nature of the abuse involved.

        • @John_Trader1@ginidietrich wait Devin Hester was involved in the PSU scandal?

    • @John_Trader1 Well said John. Look at the recent breaking scandal in Syracuse which is a powerhouse for basketball. I can’t decide what is more upsetting – that schools with these “great reputations” are being exposed with these scandals or that it’s obvious that there’s a larger problem going on here, and that we probably haven’t heard the last of it.

      • ginidietrich

        @Maranda@John_Trader1 It’s like the financial firms of 2008. I guess it’s just their turn.

        • @ginidietrich@John_Trader1 Yet another reason why I’m glad I attended the kind of university where if you sneezed the guy across campus said “bless you” and knew your name.

      • @Maranda@John_Trader1 I don’t think we’ve heard the last of it, either…unfortunately.

  • We are so doing A Biggest Moron Award. @HowieSPM just called it morony. We can create our own dialect around it.

    • @Lisa Gerber@HowieSPM the winner gets to wear the crown and sit on the throne of the Kingdom of Moronica

      • @KenMueller@HowieSPM This is getting better and better. We need a great crown design too.

        • @Lisa Gerber@KenMueller@HowieSPM hmmmm mobile app? HAHA.

        • @Lisa Gerber@KenMueller I can get a paper one at Burger King

        • @HowieSPM@Lisa Gerber@KenMueller@bdorman264 always talks about his crown. He can help

        • @NancyD68@HowieSPM@Lisa Gerber@KenMueller Sorry, can’t give that one up; I ride around town in my car with it on. How else will anybody know how important I am?

        • @Lisa Gerber@KenMueller@HowieSPM I’ve not designed a crown, but I could give it a shot.

        • @NancyD68@Lisa Gerber@KenMueller@bdorman264 over 135 comments and exactly 97 are by @ginidietrich we know her secret now!

      • @KenMueller@Lisa Gerber@HowieSPM In order to strategically align himself with his adversaries, he arranges the matrimorony of his daughter with the prince of the neighboring Kingdom of Ignoramustine

      • KevinVandever

        @KenMueller@Lisa Gerber@HowieSPM The Kingdom of Moronica will be surrounded by a moat and the only way to cross is via douche canoe.

        • @KevinVandever@KenMueller@Lisa Gerber who is the Canoe Master?

    • @Lisa Gerber@HowieSPM haha a morony. I love it.

      • ginidietrich

        @hackmanj@Lisa Gerber@HowieSPM See what happens when you plant a seed!

        • @ginidietrich@Lisa Gerber@HowieSPM yep but you don’t know what you’re going to grow when Howie is involved. In this case… alchemy.

        • @hackmanj@ginidietrich@Lisa Gerber I can turn a chicken into gold. I just need some gold and a chicken.

  • This whole story just sickens me! Don’t even get me started that he is walking around on ZERO bond without a monitor!

    On a personal note, my young 20 something cousin is a Penn St grad. He is MORTIFIED and wants to shred his diploma. He says that in his time at Penn state there was always “chatter” as he called it about this situation. Where was the crisis management PR then? Students were chattering, time to be proactive.

    Now, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres ( has donated millions to Penn St to make it a Division 1 Hockey School & they are worried this scandal will cost them elite hockey players, so they are now playing offense. Again, if they had addressed this in the 90’s or when there was “chatter” maybe they would be in a better place.

    • ginidietrich

      @sydcon_mktg Yes, they needed to handle it in March, when the grand jury began investigating. Of course, to save the investigation, they should have just handled it in 1999.

      • @ginidietrich@sydcon_mktg It should have been handled in 1999. If there was a chatter, I would argue that the school had a moral and ethical responsibility to look into the case and deal with it appropriately.

        • @Erin F.@ginidietrich@sydcon_mktg new revelations show this was going on back as far as the late 70’s now. I want to make an off color comment here but will save it @bdorman264 ‘s blog since I get in less trouble there.

  • CesLSU

    I think they should be honest, be accountable and face the music. The sooner they do it, the sooner they can begin rebuilding their image.

    • ginidietrich

      @CesLSU Yes, I agree. No amount of PR can help them right now.

  • megfowler

    Maybe this makes me vindictive, but I really only hope for wise PR counsel when an innocent community is dealing with an unfair backlash or smear campaign — and I think PSU has eclipsed that possibility at this point.Sandusky’s behavior plus the ignorant, dismissive attitude of those in a position to report is enough of a travesty for me to wish them a host of ongoing PR nightmares. And more than that, I want any community in this position to fail to protect themselves from the slings and arrows of their own hubris. I want people who need to report to see what happens when they don’t. If one kid gets help because an adult fears a PR backlash more than the discomfort of whistleblowing, then good. Whatever it takes. I know how it makes me sound, and I understand that this is a key learning moment for people who manage crises… but my lack of objectivity in that regard is likely why PR is not my primary occupation. 🙂

    • joecardillo

      @megfowler Well said. I don’t think it’s that vindictive to want the true failure of the institution to be fully revealed. As a couple of people have said, if you were a PR professional in this situation, the first thing you’d have to do is demand complete honesty and accountability. Anything other than that would make you a lawyer;)

      • megfowler

        @joecardillo The reality is that they were protected too long by good public relations. For more than a decade, the positive face of the school kept this buried. They managed the crisis into oblivion. Fortunately, in the end, they couldn’t maintain the silence.

    • ginidietrich

      @megfowler I actually don’t think it makes you vindictive, at all. It’s the “you made your bed, now you have to lie in it” theory.

  • Okay, maybe you answered this and maybe not. Why was Sandusky talking to Costas at all? Why did no one issue a gag order? No lawyer in their right mind would allow someone who is the subject of an investigation to speak to any member of the press. That is problem number 1

    Problem 2 – if you know your house is going up in flames, why are you running around in a circle? Penn State knew there was a problem brewing for years and did nothing. What did they think was going to happen?

    The whole thing makes me shake my head. Morons indeed

    • @NancyD68 I could be wrong, but I believe his lawyer is fairly inexperienced with these kinds of cases. I would imagine not issuing the gag order was simply an oversight by the legal teams (one that the prosecution is probably very happy with considering the fact that the Costas interview is admissible in court). I think Problem #2 is the question that is on the minds of soooo many and the reason why Joe is out of a job.

      • @Maranda Agreed. That’s the law firm experience talking right there. 🙂 I think they all should be made to hang by their toenails while being subjected to public torture.

        If someone hurts my son on purpose, their death would be ruled an accident 🙂

        • @NancyD68@Maranda That was about the most painful thing to listen to, ever, for so many reasons.

          I still prefer Howie’s castration scenario.

        • @Craig McBreen@Maranda I will be Howie’s assistant. I would do it gladly!

        • @NancyD68@Craig McBreen Nothing like a good castration to make everyone feel better. And yes, Nancy, horrible idea but it shows Sandusky’s arrogance, IMO. And the reason why he did what he (allegedly) did for so many years – he thought he was untouchable. He still thinks that he is.

    • ginidietrich

      @NancyD68 Problem #1: @Maranda is right. His attorney is inexperienced and he’s said to be “friendly” to sexual offenders. It blows my mind ANY attorney of their ilk would let their client go on national television like that, but I guess it takes all kinds.

      Problem #2: I think they must be so arrogant they thought it wouldn’t catch up with them. I have no other explanation.

      • MattLindner

        @ginidietrich@NancyD68@Maranda Sandusky’s lawyer actually offered him up about 15 minutes prior to the interview. As I remember it, Costas was only supposed to do a sitdown with the lawyer, much as the lawyer had done with Anderson Cooper not long before. 15 minutes before Costas was supposed to interview the lawyer, he asked Costas if he wanted to talk to Sandusky himself. So, long story short, that phone call was all the lawyer’s idea. He encouraged his client to go before a national TV audience and allowed him to be interviewed by Costas without (presumably) any media preparation. We all saw the results — Sandusky basically hung himself on live national television, Costas handled the scoop of his prestigious career with the kind of professionalism that we’ve come to expect from him, and Sandusky’s lawyer turned his battle from one that was merely uphill to up-Mount Everest.

        • ginidietrich

          @MattLindner@NancyD68@Maranda That’s what I heard too…that Costas was supposed to talk to the attorney. Sandusky definitely lost in the court of public opinion that day.

    • jenzings

      There was some speculation that he could have been trying to somehow twist it so that the information provided in the interview would be inadmissable in court–a lawyer on CNN threw this out as a possible strategy, shaking her head the whole time as to how dumb a strategy it was. My guess is they just didn’t think. The lawyer has some issues himself. @NancyD68

  • No mention of the Ashton Kutcher “How do you fire Jo Pa …” Tweet debacle? 😉

    And Demi dumped him (or did he dump her?) … Now THIS is serious stuff.

    • @Craig McBreen Ashton is stupid. That is why Demi dumped him. That tweet got Ashton to hand his Twitter account over to a PR firm. How dumb. Hey, we need another moron award here for Ashton!

      • @NancyD68@erinmfeldman We need her now!!!! Some several awards are in order.

      • ginidietrich

        @NancyD68@Craig McBreen I’m pretty sure that marriage was doomed to fail simply because of the age difference. I’m rather impressed it lasted as long as it did.

        • @ginidietrich@Craig McBreen Yeah, never again with the younger men for me. I am done. Poor Demi

        • @NancyD68 @ginidietrich @Craig McBreen I can’t believe it lasted that long either. He is definitely a moron.

        • @Lisa Gerber@NancyD68@ginidietrich@Craig But I saw him on Real Time with Bill Maher and he sure knows politics …. 😉 I wish celebs would just shut up when they don’t know much about something.

        • @ginidietrich@NancyD68 Glad it’s over. Now we can focus on the Kardashians … 😉

  • Agree with your post wholeheartedly, like I do with just about all of them.

    I’d respectfully disagree with the point that a crisis plan is a luxury. In my opinion, it’s an absolutely necessary cost-of-business for any organization in the public eye in the year 2011. That’s all organizations, you say? Exactly!

    PLEASE do the Spin Sucks Moron Award! Candidates weekly, if not daily!

    • ginidietrich

      @KensViews KEN JACOBS! You cannot come to my blog and disagree with me! What the heck is that about?!?

      We actually agree. But the reality is most business leaders look at a crisis plan as a luxury. If everyone had one, I’d have an entire profit center that didn’t exist.

      • @ginidietrich@spinsucks And all I ask in return is a credit and a link to my blog. And a hug 🙂

      • @ginidietrich Wow, I got all caps, even after using the word “respectfully”? LOL. Just because they incorrectly think it’s a “mere” luxury doesn’t make it so. They desperately need you to educate them on the differences between business luxuries and necessities. There are volumes of case studies proving the importance of response in the first 24 hours, and an organization can only do so if they’ve got a crisis plan. Hey, I think I just suggested a post for Spin Sucks. And all I ask in return is a credit, a link to my blog and a hug!

        • ginidietrich

          @KensViews We are in agreement. I have this conversation with clients all the time. Unfortunately they never think it’s a necessity…unless they’ve been through a crisis before.

          @Lisa Gerber Ken has a blog post idea. And he wants a hug.

        • @ginidietrich@Lisa Gerber I know that by now it shouldn’t, but it amazes me how many of these execs refuse to learn from history, and instead, risk so much by playing the odds that it won’t happen to them. And, @Lisa Gerber , Ms. D seems to be a very selective reader!

        • ginidietrich

          @KensViews@Lisa Gerber “And all I ask in return is a hug!”

        • SIGH @ginidietrich @Lisa Gerber

        • ginidietrich

          @KensViews LOVE YOU!

        • @ginidietrich @KensViews LOL! Here I am. Finally. Ken, will you blog about it for us? I’ll send you an email. And a hug.

        • I was actually suggesting that Gini blog about it. (Much more her area of expertise than mine) I just wanted a hug. And a plug 🙂 @Lisa Gerber @ginidietrich

  • KevinVandever

    Thanks for answering the question. I’m glad you referred to Barry’s well-put question and not my, “Dude, what would you do if Penn State called you?” version. OK, I didn’t call you Dude…I don’t think.

    I would find it hard to take Penn State on as a client this late. I agree that they should have been out in front of this much sooner. Media training? Sounds like spin to me and you know, spin sucks! Seems like legal counsel is more important than PR counsel at this point. Or maybe it’s just best to hand out the crown and a map to Ken’s newly created Kingdom of Moronica. ( @KenMueller )

    • ginidietrich

      @KevinVandever If I still had your VM I would have typed it verbatim. Alas, you lucked out!

      Media training isn’t spin. It teaches mere mortals how to answer the hard questions without legal repercussions. It needs to be done or there are bigger issues in court.

  • A badge? The way the Kingdom of Moronica is growing, we’re going to need a set of trading cards.


    • ginidietrich

      @Erin F. Should we have different levels of morons?

      • @ginidietrich It’s your award, so it’s your call. A set of playing cards might work better than trading cards.

  • On a more serious note, a response plan is essential. I remember working on one about the H1N1 virus when it was the big, scary thing. It was more of a health plan and related to what the university would do if an outbreak occurred on the campus, but it also delved into PR. It stated who would be in charge of communication efforts and who would need to be contacted (parents, professors, staff, et cetera). Those sorts of things can be done prior to hiring an actual PR firm if money’s an issue, and, at the university, I believe the internal marketing department was charged with the communication efforts. I think somebody asked in a comment why PSU’s marketing and communications department had nothing to say. Then again, even if forming a response plan is expensive, it’s often better to invest in something expensive at the outset in order to avoid even more expenses at a later date. I mention this in a different comment, too, but the whole PR mess could have been avoided if the university had done the right thing in the first place.

    • ginidietrich

      @Erin F. It’s called insurance. What you experienced was just that.

  • MarcGirolimetti

    Gini swore! Gini swore! Gini sworrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Quick, hire a PR firm to manage the shock and awe. Seriously.

    • ginidietrich

      @MarcGirolimetti I can’t believe you’re the first person to say anything about that.

  • Gini,

    Thanks for answering the question. I agree with your assessment that the proper time to seek PR help was as soon as there was a hint of a problem (which for college athletics means retainer or a full PR staff for crisis mgmt.) If forced to take the account recently, (I’ve been thinking about my answer since I posted the question) I would have suggested self- imposition of the “death penalty” on the Penn State football program. Help all current players find a school, appeal to the NCAA that scholarship players changing schools not wait a year to play and spend two years letting the cesspool drain. As it turns out Penn State did something that may prove to be wise yet,and my stomach turns thinking about it. Wait and others will join you in the sewer helping to block the sewage in the current. In a few short weeks another university and a sports network are helping steer the microscope in another direction.

    • ginidietrich

      @barryrsilver I like your strategy of the death penalty. It sucks, but I think it’s the only way they recover in the next decade.

  • Yeah the real world doesn’t afford everyone a crisis plan, but big schools should have one. They have no excuse except arrogance. BTW I’m curious how this will evolve because wasn’t Ketchum behind the blogger hidden-camera dinner (aka the ConAgra foods frozen lasagna PR disaster)?

    • ginidietrich

      @manamica Yes, in fact they were. Different team, though, and different office.

  • DianaStrinatiBaur

    I flew into the states for my annual visit home just as the proverbial PSU Nittany Lion manure was hitting the fan. I’m a product of PSU but I am one of the alumni that never drank the Happy Valley Kool-aid. You make a point, Gini, that PR and doing the right thing are two different things, but this was a situation where both were necessary and neither were done. We have to remember this might be a big university but it is podunk central PA and they only have themselves telling them how great they are. And it’s been that way for a long time. They won’t listen to PR. Someone would have to stick the Board of Trustees in a room with their mouths duct taped to really effect meaningful change. When I first heard Sandusky’s lawyer and then later that interview with Sandusky himself, it was like they had NO IDEA what they had truly gotten themselves into. The lawyer sounded like exactly what he was. Someone who should have been fired before he got hired. And Sandusky sounded like a pedophile. Just the language they used. Childish, stupid, idiotic. But that, and the craziness and disgust of the entire disaster is the result of an isolated temple of learning that only has itself to listen to. Listen. It wouldn’t matter what PR firm they hired. PSU would have never followed the advice. They couldn’t have realized what a house of cards they had built, how sick the entire organization is, because while this may to some degree challenge the internal paradigm, they still believe they are untouchable. Even with Joe gone, they don’t get how bad it is. You can’t just erase an entire culture of idiocy with one caught pedophile. And as far as doing the right thing? Happy Valley is a valley of children. They are shell shocked right now, but they still don’t, and won’t, realize what a dysfunctional mess the University is in. Football will remain intact. They will start drinking the Kool-aid again, first sipping, then in a couple of years it will be back to big gulps. Sorry for the cynicism. PR can’t help those who can’t help themselves.

    • ginidietrich

      @DianaStrinatiBaur I actually really appreciate this! I read one of the communication professor’s OpEds to CNN online and he said the same thing: Happy Valley is stuck in the patting themselves on the back syndrome and nothing, not even this, will change it. It’s shocking and disgusting.

  • JessiEllerbe

    I completely agree with you here! That interview Sandusky gave was an incredibly awful move against any sort of PR that Penn State has. And I also agree with you that any organization needs to hire some sort of PR backup when any sort of crisis is even whispered into someone’s ear. Because it’s only a matter of time before someone lets it all go and then it ends up a huge mess.

    • ginidietrich

      @JessiEllerbe The best thing Penn State can do now is completely separate itself from Sandusky. It makes you wonder how you let these things go on. I guess you think people will never find out?

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  • byronfernandez

    Rather than gripe and garble on about what is inherently obvious to us in PR, I have a few questions of my own:

    1) When will businesses stop trying so hard to win a losing battle of controlling and managing everything and everyone around them BUT themselves?

    2) When will managers stop managing and Let Go; Lead?

    Until businesses remove the pernicious, klunky clubs from their caveman predilections and join the 21st century, organizations across disciplines will continue to suffer from the negative consequences of “lizard brain,” knee-jerk reactions to REAL, wrenching and Human issues.

    No more patronizing “yes, BUT…” rationale. But what?!?! Grow a backbone and confront your pain folks…

    • ginidietrich

      @byronfernandez Great questions, Byron. The problem, though, is we’re human beings. We inherently like to have control. The time I spend speaking across the country demonstrates that to me. Most business owners have grown successful companies from controlling things and doing them their way. Giving up control (even if it’s just the perception of it) is not an easy thing to do.

      • byronfernandez

        @ginidietrich True. In life and work, one of the things I’ve begun to better appreciate is Timing. Sort of like in the CLE, Chicago, Boston or NY winters: when your car skids on ice in the middle of an intersection, you can break hard and Die, or let go of the wheel and allow physics to adjust itself. 😉 You’re right though, as usual … it’s a tightrope to walk in business

  • I agree with you…..totally……. but this should a end that no one dares to do this mistake again…….

    Bensie Dorien

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