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June 23, 2012


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Great post and interview, David. The "it ain't gonna happen to me" mentality is dry rot for any organization. The lack of crisis planning is actually, in my mind, more of a pandemic (like bird flu) in some organizations today...especially old-line organizations with a long track record of success (like Penn State), who believe they are above it all....organizations of destiny where "It won't happen to me."

I also think many companies build their crisis comm plans around set scenarios, and then let them gather dust on a shelf...changing them only when something happens that forces a change during a real world situation, when it is too late. Even companies with such plans are at extreme risk if they do not regularly role-play and stress test their capabilities to respond to all kinds of scenarios and via various communication channels -- not only externally but also to their own internal employees and interested third parties.

Thanks for being so timely with a post like this. It is a great case study and lesson-learned. It was also absolutely a priceless experience for Kelly that she will take with her to whatever firm is lucky enough to hire her.

David Meerman Scott

Thank you Richard. I agree that many crisis plans only look at a few scenarios and people freeze up when the actual crisis is something they hadn't thought of.

Steve "@PodcastSteve" Lubetkin

Once an organization stops listening to its heart and starts listening to its lawyers, it will stop engaging honestly and directly. There are ways you can continue to engage and communicate, but lawyers are not paid to do that, they are paid to limit the exposure to damages. So they make everyone shut up all the time. As Dr. Phil might ask, "How's that working for you?"

Louis Gudema

Excellent post, David (and terrific job of preparing to newsjack the verdict!)

"These steps were not taken at Penn State Football." Sadly, that remains how Penn State is handling this. Looking at their football Facebook page and Twitter feed now, there is no mention of the trial.

There is a mention of the verdict on their main FB feed, though, and the occasionally bizarre/stupid comments it has predictably provoked makes me wonder how to handle that. Should they have allowed comments? Should they participate in the wacky discussion that's ongoing? They're not on top of the really tasteless posts that are being put up on their timeline.

The steps for dealing with a crisis are hardly new, or top secret, but it's surprising how many large organizations still don't even do the basics. Now it's even more challenging given the dynamic, instant nature of the Internet.

Louis Gudema
Vice President of Business Development
Overdrive Interactive

Chris Syme

Great article. I did an extensive sentiment analysis of how Penn State used social media when the news broke. Here's the link to the article: http://cksyme.org/penn-state-social-media-in-crisis

David Meerman Scott

Steve - yes. Sadly most organizations put greater weight on the opinion of lawyers than the opinion of communicators in situations like this. From the lawyers narrow perspective "risk" is mitigated by not saying anything. However, in the big picture silence is much more risky for the organization as a whole.

Louis - Thanks for jumping in. Exactly. On their social sites (so far at least) it is as if nothing has happened.

Chris - thanks for posting your analysis. I'll check it out.

Kelly Burns

Richard- This experience certainly showed the importance of not only having crisis management plans prepared for a broad scope of scenarios, but also of keeping these plans up-to-date and making sure they are well-communicated through organizations.

Steve- I completely agree with your input in regards to listening to your heart vs. listening to your lawyer.

Louis- I am not surprised nothing has been posted on the Penn State Football Facebook/Twitter or the Penn State Athletics Facebook/Twitter, and I doubt the scandal/verdict will ever be addressed in these places unless Coach O'Brien issues a statement on the verdict, etc.

Chris- Thank you for sharing your article. I'm looking forward to reading it.

David Meerman Scott

Kelly - thanks again for sharing your story and for jumping in here to comment.

Wendy Silverwood

Excellent! And I'm not suprised it took a PSU student to realize the best course of action than the denizens of Old Main.

Who is the real Trustee of Penn State? The students.

David Meerman Scott

Wendy -- Yes!

Kelly Burns

Thank you David! It is always wonderful to have the opportunity to share my experiences and the lessons learned.

Wendy- You are spot on with that statement.

Jim M

Kelly says ". . .it took days before the Board of Trustees issued responses and put a face to leadership". IMHO they have still not put a face on leadership as they continually attempt to point the blame elsewhere. Peter Drucker once said "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things". Until the current Trustees depart, there will be no management or leadership for our fine university.

David Meerman Scott

Jim - Good point. I've never seen anyone from the University interviewed.



On many occasions you have mentioned how lawyers and waiting for them can be more of a risk than actually being transparent and communicating with your audience. I hope Kelly finds a job soon. That experience clearly makes her a more valuable asset for any company.

Kelly Burns

Jim - I would agree it is still very hard to pinpoint any single individual who has effectively stepped into a true leadership position. President Erickson is certainly taking the steps that should have been taken more immediately.

Rj - Thank you!

San Antonio Water Softener

It's not too late for Kelly to make plans ahead to succeed. Someday, people will be amazed how far have you gone. Don't give up!

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