There is no greater evidence that a public relations debacle has become part of the cultural consciousness than making Saturday Night Live — so today we offer our very bittersweet congratulations to Rutgers University for finding its way into the zeitgeist via a big old PR fail.
The revered higher education brand suffered a PR meltdown last week as video featuring the school’s basketball coach Mike Rice abusing his players surfaced and quickly went viral. The coach was fired and the athletic director resigned, though both are receiving handsome payouts as they depart. The entire situation is, well, crazy — and guest host Melissa McCarthy and the SNL staff successfully captured that craziness in the skit featured above.
For PR professionals, watching a public relations debacle make it to SNL makes us shiver as we laugh. Our job is to take control of the narrative and prevent bad news from gaining traction, and we know that the situation is officially beyond reach when the show’s writers feel the need to make it their own. Now all Rutgers can do is ride out the storm, embrace transparency and work diligently to rectify what went wrong.
In our humble opinions, Rutgers must not panic. It should take time to make the right decisions, maintain open communication with its students, staff, alumni and the public, and keep its composure. These are tough times, but the school has taken the first steps toward owning the problem, which means that its administrative team is not in denial. Acknowledging the problem is critical to fixing it.
Laughing at it, on the other hand, is something best left to the experts.