Failing memories become huge PRoblems

I’m nine years younger than Texas Governor Rick Perry but I’ve shared similar “senior moments,” those dreaded incidents of brain freeze when your memory locks up. Perry’s very public freeze came during a presidential debate this week. His already-famous “oops” and his inability to recover from his lapse have become a public relations debacle for those who want him elected commander-in-chief.

Another candidate’s very public memory failure continued into a second week. Herman Cain still has no recollection of the women who once accused him of sexual harassment, not even the two to whom he paid settlement money. His credibility is in question, and whatever public relations advice he’s being given is, by all appearances, being ignored. Both Cain’s and Perry’s failing memories should soon spell the end of their presidential bids.

Far more serious are the choices made by Penn State coaches and officials to ignore and then effectively forget about a heinous crime. For a coach to molest young boys and for others to look the other way, effectively forgetting it ever happened, caused terrible damage to the victims and now to the careers of those involved, including the university’s president and legendary coach Joe Paterno. Clyde Doughty, Jr., my friend and athletic director of my alma mater NYIT, wrote in his Facebook today: “Power has its privilege; however, power has responsibility and accountability. In this case power corrupted and absolute power corrupted absolutely.” The collateral damage is to the reputation of a great academic institution. And the PR damage to Penn State will likely last for years.

Your thoughts?

19 thoughts on “Failing memories become huge PRoblems

  1. Meredith Golden

    Just as Jamie said, this Penn State case will definitely be one for the books. Maybe even taught in PR 104 in years to come. But what should really be taught here? How to have a crisis plan if a covered up crime goes public? How to defend yourself when you have no defense? Penn State as a school is suffering from the choices of certain high-up individuals in its athletic administration. As a college athlete myself, I would feel disgraced to be a part of the program after these developments were released. Even as the storm has settles, Penn State still has to find a way to distance itself from the individual choices made of its Athletic Director, assistant football coach, and even a legendary icon.

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  2. Jamie Hagan

    Now that the initial Media Storm has begun to settle we can really see the damage that this scandal has had to Penn State Image. The way the PR was handled in this case will go into case studies for future students to study on what not to do. A huge lesson learned from this case is that you should never try to keep your public in the dark. Penn States attempt to wrap up this investigation is what lead to the huge public eruption and ultimately roaring emotions of a community that had the right to know what was going on.

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  3. blgilmartin

    I find it somewhat sad that the memory lapse that caused the most damage was Perry’s genuine memory mistake. The other two very likely did not forget but saying they did is better than admitting the truth that they were wrong. Yet Perry’s mistake caused the most damage it almost feels like our society is admitting that doing something horrible and lying about it is not as bad being forgetful.

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  4. Clarissa Kouri

    Unfortunately Penn State is a good example of the old phrase “power corrupts.” No one took responsibility, instead they put football over children’s welfare. The PR during this time was not handled well. I agree it will take many years to recover and given the football culture that has been created, supported and elevated to a high untouchable place, it will take a reeducation with an intense public relations effort. This effort must tackle the problem that was created.

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  5. Anna Pirgousis

    I completely agree that the PR damage to Penn State is going to impact their reputation as a great academic institution. It has completely changed their image and will become heard of for years to come because the situation was handled completely incorrectly. Being such a well know institution you would think they would have approached the problem a lot better. Keeping something like this in the dark was a big mistake because the damage is ten times worse than it would have been if they approached the problem immediately.

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  6. Mike Remsen

    I completely agree that the presidential status of both Cain and Perry is over. No damage control can erase the. The PR team for both republican hopeful should have better prepared their candidates for the tough road ahead, but in the end I don’t believe they were meant ultimately become commander –in-chief. Now, Penn States’ horrific situation is another matter entirely. This ordeal has already and will (for years to come) become a common topic in Public Relations case studies classes across the country- and rightly so. By not handling this when it occurred this is the result they get, a colossal CRISIS- with no foreseeable end (maybe at the conclusion of the Jerry Sandusky trial but even then probably not). What should be learned from this ordeal is simply this, do not try and cover up a scandal, eventually it will be discovered and cause even more harm.

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  7. Jenna Weiller

    I think that Cain has not handled his situation in the correct way. Instead of acknowledging his wrong-doing, and publicly apologizing, he has just denied everything. This is not a good public relations move.

    As far as Perry’s situation, I don’t think that he should have made a joke out of his mistake like he did. This may have led to his inability to recover. Another poor public relations move on his part.

    Lastly, Penn State has not handled their situation correctly either. By not commenting on their situation, they have not consoled the public in any means. The riot that Penn State students created has also not helped the reputation of their University either.

    -Jenna Weiller

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  8. steven leone

    its so funny that penn state, in an attempt to keep things “wrapped up” actually just drastically compounded the situation. had they been transparent from the beginning instead of bringing their moral fiber into question for so many years, it is likely that their merchandising value wouldn’t have dropped 40%. it is a wonderful example of what NOT to do in any crisis communications situation.

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  9. Bobby Liga

    I really think that Penn State really needs to use proper PR tactics to help fight this ongoing crisis. Joe Paterno and all of the board of Penn State needs to make a proper statement to the public that is actually trustworthy. The first thing to do in crisis management is to admit the problem, and admit that you’re wrong. People can forgive. But denial, or lying, will only destroy your credibility.

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  10. alipr107

    I think that Penn State is scrambling to do the right thing because they got caught in a situation that they should’ve addressed when the incidents were “reported.” Maybe the correct response for them should’ve been suspending the coach until further investigation. Maybe this decision would have been better for their image when it comes to their fans, students, alumni, and other parties invested in Penn State Football. This is a classic example of how hard crisis PR can be.

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  11. OkAnna

    This has, indeed, been a week full of terrible PR practices. However, I do not believe that Penn State’s football program will take years to recover from the PR damage. In my JRNL 11 class a few semesters ago, I read “Scoreboard, Baby,” which outlined the corruption behind the 2000 football season at the University of Washington. This season was riddled with players’ arrests, rape charges against players, a murder investigation, drug deals, and the head coach’s efforts at keeping all of this under the radar. The team went on to win a major championship (I believe it was the Rose Bowl), and although support dwindled for the football program and the school in the following years, the program picked itself back up.
    The allegations and questions and legal battles involved in the Penn State issues going on right now are nothing to glance over; however, I do not think that they will damage the integrity of the program to the magnitude that everybody seems to thing (as expressed by my fellow students in my classes). Crimes were committed and improper actions were taken in response to those crimes, but I don’t think this for will scar the spirit of Penn State very long. I believe that with some proper PR and a new coaching staff for the football program, Penn State can bounce back from this quite quickly.

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  12. Lauren Means

    I saw on the news this weekend that the first cancellation of a football contract with Penn was publicly announced. No doubt others have followed in that young man’s footsteps since then. The cover-up of sexual abuse did much worse damage than if the coaches and authorities had been up-front and public about the allegations, years ago when they had first been notified.

    This backwards way of thinking reminds me of your last post in which you talked about political candidates’ ineptitude over handling sex scandals. The candidates’ way of thinking they can cover up the allegations or ignore them inevitably leads to their destruction. It’s the same with the Penn State coaches: they thought they would get away with hiding the truth, but in the end the years spent covering up led to a worse public reaction.

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  13. angelica jackson

    I have to agree. If these individuals are receiving advice from their PR and not taking they are definitely damaging their careers. Especially the Penn State situation is th worst by far. This harms the credibility and overall safety of the school. Which can harm Penn State’s application rate. Due to this the high reputation of the Penn State has been highly affected.
    As for Cain, its best if he just either own up to his situation because simply stating “I don’t remember ” is not acceptable, and it is not an answer.

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  14. Phil Hecken

    Since I included two hyperlinks, I have a comment in moderation. I’ll repost it below (without links). Feel free to ignore this once the comment is freed from the mod queue.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Perry’s debate performances have been the stuff of legend, almost as memorable as Lloyd Bentsen’s immortal, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” reply to J. Danforth Quayle’s quip, “I have as much ‘sperience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did..” Forgetting a policy position is not unforgivable, but it’s just one in a long line of faux pas’ and missteps.

    I have a feeling that “whatever doesn’t kill Cain will only make him stronger.” If GOP primary voters don’t buy into the media’s investigations (and nothing worse than what has already come out comes out), he’ll survive and emerge stronger. Clearly he’s wounded, and Gingrich has become the new flavor of the week. Which, regardless of your opinion of Gingrich, is a good thing, since he’s clearly the most cerebral of all the GOP contenders — and I for one would love to see President Obama pick up the challenge of several non-moderated “Lincoln/Douglas-style” debates that Gingrich has suggested.

    The situation at PSU is just sordid and getting more so by the day. If you haven’t yet read the Sandusky Grand Jury report, this is just unconscionable. I likened this to some of Catholic church pedophile-priest scandals last week, and Jon Stewart echoed my thoughts exactly a day or so later. Like Professor Morosoff says, the PR damage from this fallout will last for years.

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  15. samwilbur

    Cain is probably in more danger, because he “mis-remembered” his past; Perry had a brain-freeze, although I’m sure its not a reach to say he’s not sure what and how he’s gonna cut so many programs…The big winners of the debates so far? Obama…and Romney as a slight second, although his flip-flopping isn’t helping his case either.

    The Penn State situation has been incredibly difficult to watch and hear about and worse is to come; Recruits are choosing other places to play, and more importantly students are even second-guessing heading to that school. The brand has been tarnished, perhaps beyond full repair, which is why the board has fired many already and probably will fire everyone–clean house–wipe the slate clean. It’s a PR nightmare and so many people look horrible here; meanwhile, Paterno once seen as a legend–a man of incredible character and respect–has had severe reputation damage. Not saying they don’t deserve it–just saying it will be incredibly difficult to overcome these things and from a PR standpoint both Paterno and the school he built to national status in both football and academics, are forever damaged.

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  16. Phil Hecken

    Perry’s debate performances have been the stuff of legend, almost as memorable as Lloyd Bentsen’s immortal, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” reply to J. Danforth Quayle’s quip, “I have as much ‘sperience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did..” Forgetting a policy position is not unforgivable, but it’s just one in a long line of faux pas’ and missteps.

    I have a feeling that “whatever doesn’t kill Cain will only make him stronger.” If GOP primary voters don’t buy into the media’s investigations (and nothing worse than what has already come out comes out), he’ll survive and emerge stronger. Clearly he’s wounded, and Gingrich has become the new flavor of the week. Which, regardless of your opinion of Gingrich, is a good thing, since he’s clearly the most cerebral of all the GOP contenders — and I for one would love to see President Obama pick up the challenge of several non-moderated “Lincoln/Douglas-style” debates that Gingrich has suggested.

    The situation at PSU is just sordid and getting more so by the day. If you haven’t yet read the Sandusky Grand Jury report, this is just unconscionable. I likened this to some of Catholic church pedophile-priest scandals last week, and Jon Stewart echoed my thoughts exactly a day or so later. Like Professor Morosoff says, the PR damage from this fallout will last for years.

    Reply
  17. Tom Church

    I watched Rick Perry’s memory lapse and found it quite funny. May I ask, to what extent do PR professionals train their clients in speech-making?

    Reply

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