Can any amount of PR save Penn State?

In its statement regarding a highly damaging judge’s report, the university took ‘full responsibility’ for administrators’ roles in covering up the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But words may not be enough.

“The focus of all of our actions going forward will be on driving a culture of honesty, integrity, responsible leadership and accountability at all levels and within all units of our institution,” the statement reads.

Public relations and crisis communications experts say the statement itself is pretty good. The admission of fault and promises to heal the damage come right out of the crisis comms playbook, they say. But the university is facing “about as bad a situation as any organization can deal with,” says Sean Williams of Communication Ammo, and some suggest nothing short of tearing down a key symbol of the university’s past will help.

Grading the statement

Mark Arena of The PR Verdict said the statement is a solid B, with “an unqualified and heartfelt apology, making it clear that what transpired was totally unacceptable,” and “a commitment to a culture change and a deep acknowledgement that the buck stops with the board.”

Williams says it’s hard to say whether the statement is good or bad at this point.

“They’re making an attempt,” he says. “All this is, quite frankly, going to be seen as too little, too late.”

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