John Surma – Crisis Management & PR 101

If you didn’t turn off the CMAs last night and turn on CNN / ESPN / Any-Other-Channel like I did to watch the Penn State Press Conference last night, you should take 22 minutes to watch it here.

There. Now that you’ve either watched it here or watched it last night, I just want to call attention to a few things (that should hopefully be quite obvious).

Statement: John Surma is the man.

I don’t know this guy personally. He is the vice chairman of the PSU Board of Trustees, CEO and president of U.S. Steel. Surman is also a total PR / Crisis Management rockstar.

This post is not about JoePa, Sandusky, or the details of the heinous situation that Penn State has found themselves in. This post is about taking a lesson from the way Surma handled the borderline-riotous “journalists” that were in that room last night. From the top of the presser, Surma was professional, cool, calm, and collected. Not ONCE did he show a quiver in his voice, show any sort of self-doubt, or question the decision that was made. Many of the “questions” asked in that room were more direct-attack than actual journalistic inquisition. And really, this type of behavior isn’t necessarily uncommon. When a case or situation is as emotion-filled as this one, it’s not hard to expect that something like this would happen – so Surma was clearly prepared. He deflected questions that were unnecessary, he steered the room back on track, and he never entertained ideas that might force him to show weakness of any kind.

Okay, so again, I’m stating the obvious.

Here’s my point:

PR and Crisis Management 101 all boil down to how you handle yourself in a negative situation. Do you own or work for a business? What about a personal brand? Got one of those? Or both? (Guess what, if you’re reading this, there’s a 99.999999% chance that you have a personal brand of some sort and/or work for an organization that has a reputation).

Well, guess what? At SOME point in your professional (and personal) life, you’re going to have to deal with a negative situation or negative press. How you handle that negativity can completely define you for years to come.

Up until last night, Penn State was getting an “F” in PR and Crisis Management 101. They clearly were not talking to each other, communicating, nor were they on the same page in any sense of the word.

But John Surma brought the first sense of professionalism to the table and took the first steps to repairing the university’s reputation.

So, follow the example of Surma and learn a little about PR and Crisis Management 101.

  • When the inkling of negative PR arises, gather your head troops (administration, upper management, etc) and discuss the situation and come up with a course of action, addressing any and all aspects that could damage your reputation. Treat the situation like a triage unit in a hospital – treat the most serious things first and work your way down (or up, however you look at it).
  • Once you’ve got the head honchos on board and on point, address the rest of your staff / organization and let them know thedealio. The entire dealio. Keeping people in the dark can only bite you in the rear later.
  • Then, prepare a statement and, if necessary, address the public (if applicable – I’m generalizing here).
  • And above all, throughout it ALL, maintain your calm, strong professionalism and DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT let your emotions get in the way.

There you have it.

What do you think? What can we learn from the Penn State situation? What can we learn from John Surma?