Baylor University’s public relations and brand nightmare is well known, now that the real nightmare -- of what happened to numerous female students -- has come to light.
The damage to the Baylor brand is nothing less than massive. The world beyond Waco now perceives Baylor as hypocritical, two-faced, deceptive and hostile to the notion of protecting young women from sexual predators.
How can the private, faith-focused university repair the self-inflicted destruction of its reputation?
Baylor must relentlessly pursue four major themes as it builds its recovery strategy. It must be:
Genuine - The administration must be real in dealing with the situation. Double speak and overly sanitized talking points will be utterly obvious and reviled. The lawyers must not be allowed to shut down efforts to come clean, to genuinely apologize and to admit profound wrongs and horrifying mistakes.
Authentic - Genuine remorse and acceptance of blame must be backed up by meaningful actions. The firing of Art Briles and departure of Ken Starr, both seen as central to the scandal, are good first steps. If other university staff are found to be significantly involved, the purges must continue. But Baylor also must take steps to help the women who were the victims, and to prevent future abuses.
Bold - Baby steps won’t cut it. Baylor needs to do something bold and courageous to prove to the world that it seriously wants to change. Baylor needs a stunning, show-stopping moment to reverse the trajectory of its reputation. An announcement of something that leaves absolutely no doubt that Baylor will never again be the same university it was before -- the one that allowed the horrors that brought it down in the first place.
Persistent - Reputations and brands are not built in a day. At best it will be years before Baylor establishes a new and positive brand identity. The university has no choice but to work toward that goal relentlessly. By tirelessly pursuing positive change, Baylor must resist the temptation to believe that the outside world is being unfair or excessively harsh. It’s going to be a long haul.
- Eric Whittington