Many lessons were learned in the past year at Penn State about handling public relations. Newcomers to the university should also be able to apply skills that were learned.
The position of vice president for marketing and communications is now vacant following Bill Mahon’s resignation from the post to serve as a senior lecturer in the College of Communications.
The vice president’s duties are connected to the areas of public relations, media realtions, crisis communications, branding and marketing research.
To help search for candidates, Heyman Associates was recruited by the university.
As Heyman and those involved in the selection at Penn State consider candidates, they should make sure to keep in mind that this position should be first and foremost about communicating openly.
He or she needs to be transparent in the face of issues and address them head on. The hesitancy to address sensitive issues in great detail — related to the Jerry Sandusky case or otherwise — should change for the better. Public information officials understandably highlight the positive stories, like awards won or successful sports seasons, but it’s important to also be willing to acknowledge the “bad press,” too.
It’s important that he not let protecting the reputation of the university get in the way of dispersing information. That lesson was learned the hard way at Penn State.
The emphasis of this executive vice president should not be on drastically rebranding the university but making the most of what’s already here to be proud of.
The achievements of students and faculty should define the brand that makes Penn State what it is — not predetermined slogans like “It’s Your Time” and “One Team.” It would be a cop out of the new administrator to dismiss everything that makes Penn State such a great place for it to form a new identity.
The person in charge of this area moving forward needs to understand the distinct separation between public information and marketing.
His or her focus should be on communicating frequently and openly with the Penn State community to keep us all informed — telling our story, for better and worse, will be better for us all in the end.