The Penn State sexual abuse scandal and tragedy will prove a significant moment in future crisis public relations case studies. For now, nearly all the attention has rightfully focused on the main elements of this epically sad case… and this blog will certainly comment from time to time as the story continues.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that major PR crises like Penn State always have people on the periphery who get drawn in, sometimes without realizing it… and amazingly, sometimes by squarely planting their foot right in the mess. A prime suspect this time is Ashton Kutcher, who just recently dealt with a PR crisis when caught shilling for pet investments on his current TV show, Two & A Half Men.
Kutcher issued an incredibly insensitive tweet after Penn State fired football coach Joe Paterno, gasping “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” Clearly sensing public and online sentiment was effectively unanimously aligned against him, Kutcher later tweeted “Didn’t have the full story” and tried to apologize for his comments. (See here and here for our take on previous high-profile Twitter apologies.)
Ok, fine, you might think — Kutcher at least owned up to his mistake, and didn’t want to appear indifferent to the scandal’s abuse victims. Ideally he’d have left things alone at this point, unlike what he did in a past battle (also related to the matter of sexual abuse) with the Village Voice over whether he has his facts straight on human trafficking.
Instead, Kutcher made things even worse by announcing in a blog post that he’s turning over control of Twitter to a team of professional handlers. This seems to be an overreaction to the entire matter; couldn’t Kutcher simply say he will wait to know all relevant facts when tweeting on major news stories? Not only that, celebrities and major brands get the most mileage out of social media when fans and followers perceive that they’re hearing updates straight from the source, and not by wizards behind a curtain.
Simply put, Kutcher’s best crisis management strategy would have been to stand by his apology, and keep being himself and tweeting away.