Let me start out by saying that I still believe that Penn State is a great school, one of the best in the country. And the students there have chosen wisely I am sure. But I do have to say that I am completely torn up about the happenings there, both as a father and a marketer.
I don't know the facts and I don't know all the layers, and I can't begin to know what's true and false. I do know, however, that I am a Dad with a daughter who's a freshman at Penn State.
I sent her there because, after a long exhausting search, I completely and whole-heartily knew that it was the right place for her to go: Happy Valley. With each visit, I got more and more comfortable with the belief that she would have an incredible experience there. I even wrote a blog post about it last April, with such joy in my heart.
She is in the school of education, and each and every person I met couldn't have been more nice and more helpful. We were confident in our choice. It never occurred to me that the administration I was meeting would ever put her in harm's way or at the very least not help her if they saw her in harm's way. Never occurred to me.
But now to hear the allegations! Children allegedly not only put in harm's way, but no one coming to the rescue. Unbelievable. And inconsistent. These are children! My child is there! I know that as a Dad I now am a bit concerned about her safety.
The other thing I do know is that the great brand that I saw in Penn State is getting tarnished. Not that it matters, really, in comparison to the horror that we are hearing about what the children allegedly went through. We are witnessing a great educational institution (among the best in the country), with a top-ranking athletic program (among the best in the world), and with a legendary football hero (among the best in history) start to break down. We are witnessing the loss of brand equity.
Now perhaps we had over-inflated it a bit, or at the very least never dreamed of the bad things potentially going on behind the scenes. But that great brand that on many levels those children trusted, and on every level I trust for my daughter, is not completely/entirely what we thought.
Does Joe Paterno deserve to have his football achievements and legacy basically striped? Does he deserve to be denied the moment of walking on that football field for the last time, in celebration of 46 years? I'm not going to comment because I don't know the facts. I do know that he is part of an IRL demolition of a brand. His brand, as well as that of Penn State. And that's sad. A public relations nightmare? Who cares ... it's a human nightmare. And that's coming from a tried and true marketer ... and a Dad.
No where near as sad as what those children might have gone through the years. No where near as sad as the grief that I see those students expressing, whether they understand the facts or the complexity of it all or not. They are torn up, and it's very sad. Penn State means something to them, and now they are not sure of what's going on. They see the school that they've grown to love being ridiculed but they don't understand all the facts. And the facts are mixing with emotions and conjecture. Tough times. But it is truly a great school and I know that it will survive, and my daughter and her friends will end up having the experience they were hoping for.
I just hope that someone is taking care of those children. I'm going to take care of mine. The rest of the brand can figure it itself out by itself.
What's your experience? Jim.
President of Lippe Taylor
Author of The Experience Effect