University President Can’t Say or Do The Right Thing

Crisis PR can be exceptionally tough.

We’ve been there. You’re in a conference room or on a conference call, alongside protectors, egos and lawyers. Fear of saying the wrong thing competes with fear of getting fired for the leading emotion driving the conversation from those on the inside. Sometimes, as an outside voice, you just try to lead the conversation to the best possible, not the ideal, place, cutting the best deal you can to do right by your client.

Blogging about crisis PR can be exceptionally easy. Especially today.

Here’s the statement, in the midst of emotional testimony by dozens of women sexually assaulted by an employee, after days of scrutiny following enormous missteps that followed years of what appears to be denial or worse, from Michigan State University Lou Anna Simon, following a reprieve by her popularly-elected Board of Trustees:

“I continue to appreciate the confidence of the Board and the many people who have reached out to me, and to them, who have the best interested of MSU at heart. I have always done my best to lead MSU and I will continue to do so today and tomorrow.”

For the victims of Larry Nassar? Nothing. For those concerned about the safety of students on her campus? Nothing. For the ashamed MSU alumni? Nothing. For those calling for change, any change, in culture on campus? Nothing.

As I wrote the other day and as we so often see, the specter of litigation seems to be driving decision-making. But I challenge anyone to explain how communicating compassion and reassurance to audiences crying for leadership could make any lawsuit any worse than it will inevitably be, given the facts that have emerged.

We have told many executives facing crises, including one just last week, don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. Focus squarely on saying the right thing.

In order for that to be credible, it needs to reflect doing the right thing.

None of that happened here. Now, this crisis will only grow in intensity.