In December of 2013, editor of the GVSU Lanthorn, Lizzy Balboa, wrote and editorial questioning the idea of donor’s names being placed on various buildings and landmarks around the GVSU campus. As most would expect, this created significant backlash among the GVSU community and provided a perfect crisis communications situation for members to evaluate. During our chapter meeting on March 26, members were divided into teams to participate in a case study competition with guest judges Tim Penning, Adrienne Wallace and Derek DeVries. Members were asked to evaluate the Lanthorn editorial case and effectively apply the PRSSA Code of Ethics when determining how they would have better handled the situation. 
            With more research in their hands, the PRSSA chapter was broken into four teams. Each team had 15 minutes to figure out what went wrong, what was handled well and what needed to be changed in this situation. With that in mind the teams quickly got to work creating recommendations from the point of view of the administrative staff at GVSU based on how to effectively and respectfully respond to this situation from a PR standpoint.

            With PRSSA’s Code of Ethics in place, the teams provided thought out, creative solutions to this situation.  In the end, a majority of the groups had decided to respond to the donors through a newsletter. They thought this would be a good course of action because it kept them in the loop of what was going on. Some argued that the donors shouldn’t be told; what they don’t know won’t hurt them. But in the work of public relations, we all know that the truth will eventually come out, and it will be more costly if we wait to bear the news. All of the groups had good research; they understood the situation inside and out. One thing was prominent among all the teams; it was best to have a single spokesperson throughout the entire situation. In a time of crisis you need one person funneling the information to the publics. If too many people get talking, it’s hard to account for everything that everyone has said. Having one spokesperson means having one consistent message. This is essential in a crisis situation.

           After the groups planned out their recommendations and pitched it to our judges, the judges had to make a hard decision. In the end, they chose Group 3 based on their decision to implement the RACE (Research, Action, Communication and Evaluation) process. The judges agreed that it’s important to use this process in a crisis situation because it’s important to have a backbone, and a definite plan to fall back on. The judges also appreciated the recommendation for a crisis plan for the future. “PR is known to clean up the mess and make it look pretty” said Derek DeVries, PRSSA mentor and senior associate at Lambert, Edwards & Associates. Being proactive in situations is the key to success. Overall, the case study competition helped members to perform a througouh evaluation of a real-life PR crisis situation and effectively apply ethical guidelines to the situation. Plus a little friendly competition never hurts either! 
– Kelsey Juergens 
PRSSA Members