Paterno Family’s Reputation Management no Touchdown

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    Hasty announcement will lead to trouble down the line

    The Freeh Report contains seriously damning reports of Joe Paterno’s help in covering up allegations against Jerry Sandusky, and even as Paterno’s statue is removed from the Penn State campus, his family is continuing to rail against the idea that he played any part in the matter. Most recently, they have announced that they believe the Freeh Report has missed “critical information,” and stated that additional information clearing Paterno’s name “will emerge.”

    While it is their right to disagree with the Freeh Report, and to seek their own answers, the way the Paterno family has handled the announcement has backed them into a corner. In the following quote, from an AP article, published by Sports Illustrated, Jonathan Bernstein explains what advice he would have given the family:

    Public relations expert Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management Inc. and the author of texts on crisis communications, said he would have advised the Paterno family to issue a “short message of compassion” for Sandusky’s victims and then conduct its own investigation quietly if it disagreed with the conclusions of the Freeh report.

    Announcing the probe now could wind up backfiring on the family, he said, because there will be pressure to release the findings publicly and “the results of the investigation could end up corroborating what was said in the Freeh report.”

    In any crisis management situation, you want to have the facts in front of you before guaranteeing any specific information. Things would have gone much better for the Paterno family if they had simply run a quiet investigation of their own and shared their findings, if they did indeed contradict the Freeh Report, that is. If not, then they’d simply need not announce the investigation, and let the issue rest.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training, and co-host of The Crisis Show. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]