Edelman CEO Richard Edelman addressed the board of trustees of client Penn State University Aug. 26, outlining a strategy for the embattled institution to repair its image.
Edelman and Harrisburg, Pa., firm La Torre Communications were tapped in April to guide the reputation recovery of the institution, after Ketchum worked the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal and Kekst and Company advised its board.
Edelman in a presentation to trustees outlining a detailed plan he called an "inside-out" approach to highlight its leadership in academics, athletics and service, also urged the university to work with media to affect stories written about the scandal.
"We have been playing defense for the last four or five months, since we've been engaged," Edelman told the trustees. "The Sandusky trial, the Freeh report, the NCAA sanctions -- all of these have, you know, put us in a position of back foot. In a sense all we can do is be responsive in all those ways. Now is the time ... to make the pivot."
Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5, 2011, followed within days by the resignations of football coach Joe Patero and university president Graham Spanier, and Edelman acknowledged that there will be "tough days" ahead.
"The first Sandusky victim and those kinds of things are going to be a continuous stream," he said. "The key point about reputation management is you cannot go into your tortoise shell and wait for things to change."
Part of the PR firm’s strategy includes a “Faces of Penn State” campaign rolling out next week to highlight student, faculty and alumni accomplishments across various media.
University trustees have posted video of Edelman's presentation on YouTube (Edelman starts around the two-hour, nine-minute mark).
Edelman said a “BP solution” of national advertising is “not appropriate” for Penn State. “It is a bad use of money, relative to the impact,” he said, adding that paid media could be implemented a year from now. "We have to earn the right to do paid media."
Penn State, which was hit with its first civil suit on Aug. 24 related to alleged sexual abuse, opens its football season Sept. 1 against Ohio University.
"We are going to run simultaneous programs on defense and offense," said Edelman. "We have basically just been doing defense."