Defensive Strategy

The Latest Brand to Bungle a Crisis: Notre Dame

24 Nov 2010  

We’ve all learned a lot about brands and crisis management in recent months. 

First, even the best brands can run into major issues.  Toyota, one of the world’s most admired companies, took a huge hit as stories surfaced about potential safety and quality issues earlier this year.  BP and J&J have taken hits, too.

Second, it is quite clear that the way to respond to a crisis is to be proactive, open, and honest.  Avoiding the issue doesn’t help.   Kellogg professors Adam Galinsky and Daniel Diermeier recently published a fascinating study highlighting the risks of saying “no comment.”  You can read about that study here:

Third, the worst thing you can do is make light of the situation.  People quickly attacked BP CEO Tony Hayward for some rather inappropriate comments.

So it is astonishing to watch the fiasco developing this week at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is a well known and respected brand.  The university has a long history and a reputation for educational excellence, grounded in solid and powerful values.  The school’s website proudly quotes its founder, Edward Sorin stating, “This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.”

On Sunday the Chicago Tribune published a shocking story.  Earlier this fall a student from a nearby university claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.  She reported the accusations.  Apparently her claims were not aggressively pursued.  She committed suicide. 

The Chicago Tribune story suggests that Notre Dame has done little to investigate the situation.  The university didn’t report it to the police.  The university didn’t communicate extensively with the student’s family.  Indeed, the family has now hired its own investigator to look into the situation.  The football player in question still plays every week for Notre Dame, proudly representing the school.

This is all a horrifying story.  But it gets worse.

At a recent news conference, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly joked about the situation.  He also made it clear that he takes no responsibility for anything related to the story.

Notre Dame’s leaders still haven’t officially commented. 

The story is now shifting, as people apparently try to duck responsibility.

You can read the latest disconcerting update from today’s Chicago Tribune here:,0,2775540.story

This is no way to manage a brand.  It is no way to handle a crisis.  It is also no way to run a university with a reputation for integrity and honesty.

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