In August 2012, the head of the world’s largest public relations firm, Edelman, made a pitch to Penn State College’s Board of Trustees to take on among the greatest pr tasks in current history: resurrecting the college’s image in the wake of the sex abuse scandal including former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“We will go to nationwide media, stories on very first anniversaries we need to shape,” stated Richard Edelman. “Stand certain set of allies-those people always called by NYT, CNN, and so on eg Sonnenfeld re governance. Then when he goes on TV hell say great things about Penn State.”
Edelman got the job. And lo and behold, recently USA Today ran an op-ed by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management, a regular TELEVISION analyst on business governance, and a college classmate and pal of Edelman’s, under the heading: “Penn State is worthy of terrific praise.” The column overflows with acclaims for the college management’s efforts to rebuild after the Sandusky scandal:
However as opposed to fight [NCAA sanctions] as numerous alumni demanded, the Penn State board changed. The board examined the truths, and saw the failures of oversight and insufficient protection of children. They faced a classic recovery problem, and courageously made the right choice …
Among the first, and most crucial, steps on this path was the consultation Rodney Erickson, a 30-year veteran of the university and its previous provost, to step in to fill the leadership void of the ousted predecessor Graham Spanier. In short, they worked with a Jimmy Stewart-like pillar of integrity and responsibility …
. The board wisely drew on its tank of internal talent too, asking board member and Merck Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Frazier to chair Penn States special investigation committee. Frazier is not only a revered Chief Executive Officer however likewise was the general counsel of Merck who was well battle-tested in public controversy …
Is it truly that easy around the world of upper-echelon public relations? Pledge a possible client you’ll get an apparently neutral voice of authority to state good things about them. Win the agreement. Get previously mentioned voice of authority to state the good thing.
Not so, stated both Edelman and Sonnenfeld when I reached them Monday afternoon. Sonnenfeld at firstinitially refuted that Edelman had actually even been invoking him in 2012 as a potential commentator on Penn State; rather, he stated, Edelman had actually been recommending him as a paid consultant to the trustees, an overture Sonnenfeld says he later on got from the college and decreased. But I read back to him Edelman’s pitch, which clearly provides up Sonnenfeld as a possible source of positive public commentary on Penn State. Did the UNITED STATE Today column simply stand for the fulfillment of that pitch?
No wayNo chance, says Sonnenfeld. He stated he developed of doing a column on Penn State at the tip of William E. Brit Kirwan, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, after the 2 guys had been talking about Penn State at a meeting last fall of the National Commission on College and UniversityInstitution of higher learning Governance. Yes, Sonnenfeld stated, he and Edelman are old close friends (they went to Harvard College and Harvard Business School together and Edelman’s company is likewise a partner in the Yale Chief Executive Management Institute run by Sonnenfeld), however Sonnenfeld noted occasions when he has actually tweaked Edelman’s clients, such as Samsung and Chesapeake Energy and its former Chief Executive Officer, Aubrey McClendon. “I do not do that type of work,” Sonnenfeld told me. “I didn’t author anything as an agent for anybody. I have a profile of buddies across the spectrum, however they do not have anything to do with dictating what I compose.” Had Edelman called him encouraging him to offer favorable commentary on Penn State? “I could have discussed it with him,” he said. “I’m not going to definitively say I didn’t have a discussion with him. However this was independent.”
Edelman, for his part, freely acknowledged having actually reached out to Sonnenfeld about Penn State, however stated it was done not to stimulate him to write the column but merely to offer Penn State’s account of its post-Sandusky steps in order to notify any future commentary on Penn State Sonnenfeld might provide. “Exactly what I was describing [to the trustees] was a timeless pr technique, which is you discover experts in a field and afterwards you brief the specialists and you wish that when national media calls them that they [are positivedeclare],” Edelman informed me. “You go to the Delphic oracles and get them to assess your side of the tale in occasion that they are called … Jeff was amongst the experts we went to go to with in the wake of being worked with.” But Sonnendfelds column was no plant by Edelman, he stated. He writes his own stuff,” he stated. “This is a public relations plan that we performed for Penn State, but he has his own viewpoints and can articulating them … Jeff is a character and has his own honesty and will write whatever he thinks.”
So there you have it: a little window into the world of high-stakes image-shaping, a venture that has actually become as huge a fixation in the greater education world as it has long been in the corporate one. Penn State terribly needed a credibility upgrade. In the pages of among the country’s most significant papers, an executive from another university gaveconsidered that upgrade a big boost. There was a background to that glowing column that, at the reallyat the minimum, put the praise in a different point of view. But readers (or at least those outside the “profile of good friends”) would not have actually understood that.
Caveat lector, and caution TV observator.