As a PR professional, I’ve asked myself repeatedly if the university’s PR team could have prevented this. The answer is yes.
I understand why the team, coaches, university and media all got swept up in the story of Te’o’s girlfriend. What I don’t understand is why Notre Dame was seemingly caught off guard without a crisis management tool in place.
While the university’s PR team might not have created this story, it was their responsibility to manage it. From the first time Te’o talked about “Lennay Kekua” in an interview, a vetting process should have shifted into high gear in order to protect the university, Te’o and the supposed young woman’s family who would be unexpectedly swept up in a wave of national attention.
They say a lawyer should never ask a question in court without knowing the answer. Well, a PR team should never sell a story to the media without knowing everything and everyone involved. A PR pro’s job is to know the full story before the media does, which often requires some digging at the outset.