Mark Grimm


Take Paterno’s Statue Down: Penn State’s PR Disaster

Penn State’s sex abuse scandal can no longer be attributed to one man, convicted pervert Jerry Sandusky. The university’s top leaders had a “total disregard” for the welfare of the children involved. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s independent report makes that clear: “The most powerful men at Penn St. failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

When it comes to crisis communications, there is no substitute for doing the right thing. The top people at Penn State chose not to. There is no amount of spin that can change that. Going forward, Penn State needs to fire everyone involved in the scandal, have a clear plan for preventing it from ever happening again, and work hard to help abuse victims.

And get rid of the Joe Paterno statue.

Freeh’s report states the recently deceased football coach “was an integral part of the act to conceal.” How can anyone concerned for kids pass by that statue each day? No amount of football wins buys you a free pass to conceal such abuse when children are in harm’s way.

Penn State leaders failed to act because they feared the bad publicity would affect its reputation. Note to Penn State: How did that strategy work for you? Let’s hope this lesson is a wake-up call for other administrators consumed with college pride and luxury boxes.

The writer is a communication crisis expert and former sportscaster. For more on crisis communication principles, click here.

How to Get People to Read Your E-mails

We all do it a lot. Send e-mails. So how can we boost the odds they’ll be read?

1- Think carefully about your slug (short phrase in the subject box)
Give recipients a reason to read your note. Reveal the email’s most important thing and highlight it in three to five words. Easy words. Never send an e-mail without a slug. It’s a missed opportunity and makes it look like spam.

2- Get to the Point
Quickly state the reason for the note. Cut all unnecessary words. Always ask this before sending an email, “Can I cut this down?”

3– Avoid Jargon
Bureaucratic speak is an attention killer. Don’t write you want to “explore various modalities.” Who talks like that? Be conversational and clear. Congress passed the Plain Writing Act to make government documents clearer. This is one phrase from the act: “create any right or benefits, substantive or procedural, enforceable by administrative or judicial action.” See what I mean?

4- Make It Eye-Friendly
Use short sentences and paragraphs with a professional font. Avoid goofy color schemes. But don’t be afraid to insert a text box to highlight a key point or quote.

5- Make it Relevant to THEM
The email isn’t really about you, it’s about them. Why should they care?

Try these five suggestions and let me know how you did. Thanks.

More about clarity here