AdAge on PR

by Roger Pynn

When Advertising Age asked the question “Can PR Save the Penn State Brand?” on its website July 25, it reinforced the essential difference between advertising and public relations.  PR can’t save anything.

Good advice from public relations counselors can help.  But only good leadership listening to good advisors and taking strong action will save the brand.  Advertising agencies shouldn’t try to sell their clients on saving a brand in crisis with some new creative approach, nor should they tell them that full-page apologies and pledges to do better in the future are the answer.

Anyone who thinks that Penn State’s tarnished brand will be saved in the short-term is naïve, but the AdAge article suggests “… it’s been effective in diverting much of the media discussion away from whether the school attempted to cover up the scandal toward the subject of over-zealousness over football programs in universities in general.”

The issues facing Penn State are numerous … but at the top are culture and leadership.  Stakeholders will look to see whether its leaders take actions that force positive change in the culture.  Cultures are like battleships … they change course slowly.

The magazine turned to APCO Executive Director Kirk Stewart, an old friend and former Nike communications chief, who hit the nail on the head with his answer:  “I was surprised that the university didn’t step up and do some self-imposed sanctions, as opposed to waiting for the NCAA.  That leadership opportunity may have been squandered.”

For the sake of a great institution, that’s the kind of advice I hope Penn State will receive.

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