Rutgers and the power of video
First, disclaimers. As many readers of this blog know, I was born into a Rutgers family, I am a proud alum, I am a donor to Rutgers Athletics and because of that I know and am friends with Tim Pernetti and others in the Rutgers Athletic department.
This has not been a good 24 hours for my alma mater. But as a PR person it was agonizing watching the institution and people you know and love struggle with the crisis. Personally, I truly believe that Tim Pernetti was doing what he thought was in the best interests of Mike Rice and the university when he decided to give him a second chance in December. While a three-game suspension, a fine, a loss of salary and ongoing counseling do not seem to be much, they were tough penalties and at the time they were accepted by fans, alumni and the media as appropriate.
And then came yesterday. And the video.
You can debate the context, having the scenes of cursing, ball throwing and shoving edited together like some sort of ESPN Bottom Ten highlight reel. You can debate the source, a disgruntled former employee and his lawyers trying to extract a bit a flesh from an employer who wouldn’t renew his contract.
What you cannot debate is its impact.
In my presentation to Richmond’s PRSA Chapter last week on the subject of content, I emphasized the power of images as it relates to content. This is a prime example.
When Pernetti announced the suspension of Rice in December, there were a few eyes raised but it rarely registered a blip on the SportsCenter meter. In the subsequent months, Rutgers basketball team was on TV about a dozen times and the suspension was mentioned but the national reaction was almost nil.
But add the images and then comes the outrage.
From a PR and media perspective, I truly hope that there was no high-fiving in Bristol today when news broke of the Rice firing. It takes no journalistic talent to be handed a video like that on a silver platter, interview the former disgruntled employee and players who have left the program and then report it like you broke Watergate. It also takes no journalistic talent to jump on the “they all should be fired” bandwagon like many national sports reporters did yesterday on Twitter. There are many facts that may still come out and if some of them really want to earn their money they should work to unearth them instead of trying to increase the worth of their 140-character personal brand as has become the trend today among sports journalists.
In addition, this reinforces to those of us in the business that the power of the written word is waning. This story was “reported” in December. But its true impact was not felt until now, until we could SEE the actual events not just read about them. It is very different to hear reports of a coach throwing balls at players during practice, cursing at them, using slurs, and seeing it with your own eyes. I am guilty with the rest of the Loyal Sons who accepted the initial punishment. After seeing it yesterday I couldn’t come up with one good reason to justify Rice’s continued representation of my school.
There will be continued debate about the initial punishment, about whether others should be fired and who is ultimately responsible. There will be a great deal of second guessing and more credit taken and piling on by the national media.
But at the end of the day the lesson for us PR folks in these days of social media, tablets, smart phones, YouTube and multi-screening all comes down to one thing that we should never forget or take for granted.
Pernetti (and I will tell him this the next time I see or talk to him and YES I still support him) did something that a former TV executive never should have done.
He underestimated the power of video.