University Crisis PR is Sorely Lacking
Early in February, the media reported a student at B.C. Institute of Technology in Burnaby (British Columbia) was charged for recording and observing men in a campus bathroom. If the incident had just happened, the report would have been bad news, but good timing. Unfortunately for the college and the students who had been uninformed, it happened (at least the first time they know about it) in November, when Chieh-Sen Yang was charged. But, the RCMP says there is a strong possibility that additional incidents happened.
In the cbc/british-columbia article, Alyn Edwards at Peak Communicators says, “Places of learning have a duty to provide a safe environment for students, faculty and members of the public. Timely and full disclosure of any dangerous situation and action taken is not an option.”
And, that’s where the problem with Universities using PR lies…
Crisis management isn’t just about making sure a company, or college’s reputation remains intact, it’s also about all the other issues, such as student and faculty safety. When a story like this happens, you can take that first initial hit to reputation and face up to what needs to happen. Or you can let it lie – building emotional interest – until it is discovered and then you face each new element coming out as a separate hit to how the public views your business.
The administration issued a statement, more than two months after charges were filed. BCIT president Kathy Kinloch said, “This incident has… encouraged me to reflect on our communication approach with our campus community. I believe we can improve. You have my assurance we will communicate with you in a timely way in future.”
Thinking about it and promising to do better in future is a start, but her statement didn’t talk about why they waited, and it didn’t address specific ideas of how to make things better, or what protocols would be put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again. What she could have done is limitless, but some possibilities might include increasing the security presence, better lighting, reminding students of counseling services available to them, adding courses or workshops teaching self-defense, safety measures, or allowing students to have discussions on how to improve things.
The University could also show new written protocols for how crises will be handled in the future. They could take an easy lesson from a nearby school, the University of Victoria when they reported sexual assault incidents almost immediately and along with the information they provided viable information for the students to use so they could feel safe, or get help if they were attacked.
For all businesses, there’s a big lesson to be learned. You may want to hide the ugly truth away, but remember, it won’t stay hidden and the longer it sits moldering away, the uglier it gets. And the more stress you’ve gone through waiting for it to seep out into the light of day. Don’t wait, face the problem head on and offer help in dealing with any fallout.