26 February 2009

School sex scandal a classic

The sex scandal enveloping Knox Grammar in Sydney will go down as one of the “best” examples of PR mismanagement.

My Issues and Crisis Management students began studying the case after the first teacher was arrested. At the time of writing (a week later) three teachers had been arrested. It's a "living" case study - one I knew would become "hot" because the pattern has become so regular, and I've been through a similar school system, in which abuse is covered up.

One of the most bewildering aspects of the affair is the School’s reaction: say nothing. It even went as far to instruct its alumni to stay silent. Amazing, but sadly true. Possibly this is a reaction to legal advice.

But the school digs its own grave by admitting it knew of the issue five years in advance. This indicates (a) scant regard for the truth and (b) a pitiful approach to risk and reputation management.

If all they had done was show some concern for the alleged victims, then things may not have gotten so out of hand.

Meantime, the PR students at Notre Dame have a “living” crisis, which is sure to get worse before it passes.

For the school, the damage to its reputation will be hard to fix.

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The PR Lab is a consultancy, specialising on research, reputation management, social media, media relations and the development of measurable strategies that produce results. It is run by Dr Greg Smith, a former journalist and PR professional. Greg worked on daily newspapers in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. He held senior PR positions in the Australian Defence Force, Sydney Olympics and national not-for-profits. He has also lectured in PR at Edith Cowan University and the University of Notre Dame Australia.