Richard Edelman’s plan for Penn State–video of Board presentation

How many times haven’t you wished you could be a bug on a wall or a mouse in a corner as one of the PR greats presented his or her PR plan to a client? What a learning opportunity. Well, someone just handed us the mother of all learning opportunities. This video of the August 26 Penn State Board of Trustees meeting included a presentation by Richard Edelman on the go forward public relations strategy for Penn State.

I’ve got to give a training session on crisis communication for a private school this Friday, and you can bet I am using a lot of this video for that presentation. This video has the whole meeting, which went on for a while, so to see Edelman’s presentation, jump to about two hours and nine minutes in. And if you don’t want to go through watching the video, I’ve captured what I thought were some of the most relevant points:

(some of this is my paraphrasing, so be warned)

Richard Edelman to Penn State Board of Trustees, August 26, 2012:

“What we see about building reputations has changed profoundly in the last 10 years.. the world has changed, dispersion of media, dispersion of authority, the traditional source of information, the CEOs or president of the Us are the 9th or 10th people we trust. Who are the new sources? Academics, experts and “a person like yourself.” The Facebook effect is very important…

Since 2008 it used to be companies and institutions were trusted because of their performance, because of an outstanding leader. Today, organizations that communicate frequently, openly and honestly gain trust. Transparency matters more than any other factor in achieving trust. Great products and services, and transparency.

“In today’s context, a person has to hear a message 5 to 7 times before he or she believe it. Everyone today has 8 different sources of media.”

The Plan: Research, activate, engage, amplify

Activate—We’ve identified 100 faces of Penn State (professors students, alum) We’ll put them on posters on campus, on the web, video.

Activate alumni—local focus of alumni and what they are doing

Regarding Paid media—”It is something for a year from now.. “We have to earn the right to do paid media..” [we’ll endure] More criticism of us short run if we try to advertise our way through the crisis. A BP kind of solution is not appropriate for Penn State. It’s a bad use of money relative to the impact.”

Participate in the Child Protection Conference—important to engage, but not dominate, be an active participant

Engage—new mantra:transparency. We need to show how we are doing what we do. Presidential search example. Penn State governance report—public annual report, like a Corporate Social Responsibility report. We will visit national media, stories on first anniversaries we have to shape… Stand up specific set of allies—those people always called by NYT, CNN, etc. eg Sonnefeld re governance. Then when he goes on TV he’ll say good things about Penn State.  

On social media: “the Progress site a good start. 4 ideas. 1) Reactive—challenge the negative, like Engage on specific factual issues. 2) Proactive—develop 3 or 4 issue pillars: 3) Opportunistic—take advantage of opportunities as they arise—like blue ribbons on football players, 4) easy wins—eg put the Nittany Lion on social media, a persona.

On Penn State’s Commitment to service. “Lots of service activities that have not been promoted. #Pennstateserves. Maybe even national service day. Aggregate all the good you do in one place. On website, other places.”

Conduct classic public relations. Eg, announcement of grant for nano-cancer treatment. Aggressively promote students studying sustainability in Jamaica. PR101, but have to stand up this activity.

There you have it from a master. A rich combination of PR basics along with a deep understanding of how much the world has changed. Penn State is in a very deep hole, and it will take a long time to dig out. But Mr. Edelman is so right to encourage them to avoid the tortoise shell response. They have to aggressively get out and tell a story that is much bigger than the horrible events and headlines that put them in the hole.