In an effort for transparency – I am a Penn State graduate. As I sit here and watch the Louis Freeh press conference regarding his investigation – I am reminded of the line of the alma mater that says “may no act of ours bring shame.”

Those words echo the overall meaning of the Penn State brand that I experienced as a student on campus. The Penn State way was not just football – as pointed out by David Jones of Penn Live – it was doing the right thing for yourself and your community. To be a well-rounded individual who contributes to society. (See THON – which raised 10+ million dollars for children with cancer). Basically the Penn State brand I know.

Unfortunately – most people don’t see the Penn State brand that I know exists. You see…your brand is one of the most important aspects of any business – whether you are a public institution or a for-profit company – and it’s all about instilling trust in your brand. Scott Span of Tolero Solutions has said “Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, both personal and professional, and when it is broken, it is extremely hard to repair.”

One of the conclusions by Freeh and his team was that 4 senior officials at Penn State chose to avoid bad publicity over doing what was legally obligated by the University. There are MANY lessons everyone can learn from this experience. But this is a marketing blog – so we’re going to focus on a marketing best practice that Penn State failed at following.

When it comes to protecting your brand – whether it’s a legal issue or not – transparency is the one key marketing best practice one can apply to their organization – and ensure everyone from top to bottom understands.

You see…if you are caught concealing information – the bad publicity you will receive when it surfaces is far worse than what would happen if you self reported it when it happened.

If one self reports an incident – the public is more likely to forgive you sooner than if you are caught red handed. It’s called trust. And your organization’s marketing should focus on gaining your customers trust.

This pertains to even simple situations. For example – when I was Director of Email Marketing – even when a link didn’t work in an email we sent out or there was a typo – or some other error took place – we sent out a “we’re sorry” email with the correct information. And ironically – we had some of our highest open and click rates when we did.

So how do you handle something in your organization that could potentially bring bad publicity?

1. Gather the facts. What happened? Who did it involve? What process failed? And what are you going to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again? Understand the situation and understand what the potential outcomes are if you do nothing.

2. Create your plan. How are you going to address these issues? People want to know you have a plan in place to fix whatever transpired. Create a step by step process that includes what you’re doing now and how you’re going to verify things are still working down the road.

3. Be open, honest, and transparent. Remember as a kid – if you lied to your parents your punishment was far worse than if you just told them the truth? Well – it works in the general public as well and for your brand. Be open, honest, and transparent about what happened. Allow for people to ask questions. And be sure to check-in periodically with the general public on where you are with that plan.

4. Fix it and demonstrate you are being responsible in your future behavior. Report on your progress – whether slow or fast. Show what new processes were put into place and how they have changed the way you do business. People like to see ownership and accountability.

So although there are many lessons to learn from the Penn State scandal – if one were to ever stick out when it comes to protecting your brand – it’s ensuring your culture – from interns to senior leadership –understands the philosophy “may no act of ours bring shame.”

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