When the College of Communications scheduled Former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, P.J. Crowley, to speak at the Ben Bronstein Lecture in ethics and public relations, they certainly couldn’t have expected it to fall at a more appropriate time.
Hosted in the HUB auditorium, Crowley’s lecture, titled “The Right to Know and the Need to Share”, focused on “Sustaining a credible strategic narrative in an Age of Terror, Political Turmoil and WikiLeaks. The entire lecture, including the question and answer portion at the end, was about one hour long. Not only did he touch on his resignation and the reason why (his comments made about WikiLeaks at a seminar at M.I.T. for those of you who don’t know) but also gave some sound advice on the importance of being trustworthy and credible and the growing importance of the new media in today’s government. Here’s a roundup of some of his most important points:
- The media does not directly dictate policy, but it has a major role in shaping public opinion. Public opinion is a major factor in policy making.
- The Facebook/Twitter/YouTube effect has now allowed everyone to watch what goes on in government, policy making, scandals, etc. and with a front row seat. It is allowing the public to connect more dots and receive news and information and be able to put it into context.
- The news unfurls in real time, thanks to the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube effect once again, and therefore requires that bureaucracies to respond in real time as well.
- You can follow P.J. Crowley on Twitter. @PJCrowley
- Time used to be on the government’s side, but as of late, the tables have turned and it is now on the side of the media.
- “Watch the gap” : keep the distance between what you say and what you do as narrow as possible. What we do is often more powerful than what we say.
- We must always have a reputation of being trustworthy, credible and legitmate. Without these, we will not succeed.
During the question and answer portion, a student asked about the current Sandusky charges. More specifically, how Crowley feels the University has been handling the scandal. Crowley stated that he thinks there has not been enough focus on the victims of the tragedy and that as a publicly funded institution, the University should be more communicative with the public. And as far as their public relations? Their preparation for all of this was non-existent, even though it was a long time coming. Here’s some of what he said:
“If you’re inside an organization you tend to get tunnel vision at a point in time. Everybody who is leading this great institution, they’ve grown up in this great institution, they believe in it. They’ve been here for 20 or 30 years. And this is what makes Penn State great but in these kinds of situations, outside council can be very valuable. Somebody who is looking at a story in a different way. Sometimes it’s best to step outside your bubble and go ‘Okay, how bad is this?’ and have somebody apply not just your values but broader values and come back and give you an alternative view.”
Now is a time greater than ever to remember what an important and necessary role ethics plays in not just communications, but in any profession.