Before I jump in to the Urban Meyer debacle that culminated with a press conference this week, full disclosure: I have two kids at Penn State and one that just graduated. This is not motivated by any Big 10 rivalry between Penn State and Ohio State. It offers another example of what NOT to do when your company or personal brand are in a media quagmire.
We have seen several media crises before – most recently with Papa John’s and the United Airlines seat scuffle.
If you don’t already know, a few weeks ago Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer was called into question on how he mishandled allegations of domestic violence between one of his longtime assistant coaches and spouse, Courtney Smith.
In situations like these, it always comes down to what did the person know and when did they know it?
Putting the intricacies of the case aside, Ohio State and Meyer mishandled the situation, which culminated with a disastrous press conference on Wednesday and a three-game suspension imposed by the university to its coach.
During the press conference, Ohio State and Meyer seemed to be more concerned about the tarnished reputation of their university and Buckeye Nation rather than the victim, Smith, according to ESPN senior writer Heather Dinich.
We have covered other media crises before on this blog such as Chipotle and even offered a PR 101 on how to handle them. This situation offers another opportunity to reiterate the key components of dealing with a crisis. If we had the opportunity to coach Ohio State’s coach before the press conference, here is what would be recommended:
- Acknowledgement – Take ownership of the allegation and convey that it could have been handled more seriously and swiftly.
- Empathy – Convey the sensitivity of the situation and offer a heart-felt apology directly to those who were harmed. In this case, Smith.
- Action – Identify what went wrong and communicate the action plan that is being implemented to intercept these situations before they further materialize.
To rebuild and restore trust, Meyer has a lot of work to do. Despite the national championships, sideline accolades and in-game performances, Meyer’s legacy will be tarnished by his mishandling of this situation.
UPDATE: In the “too little too late” category, Urban Meyer on Friday apologized to Courtney Smith, two days after not acknowledging her directly in a news conference. This continues to stoke the fire of this PR firestorm.