A New York-based public relations firm in January billed Michigan State University for $517,343 for more than 1,440 hours of work. The job? Tracking social media activity surrounding the case of former osteopathic physician and team doctor Larry Nassar, convicted of sexually abusing MSU student-athletes and USA Gymnastics athletes.
The firm, Weber Shandwick, monitored the accounts of victims and their families, journalists, celebrities and politicians, according to a report in the Lansing State Journal. It also collected and evaluated news stories.
Previously, Michigan State’s Office of Communication and Brand Strategy had conducted the aforementioned tasks, with some in that office still doing so into January.
“Weber Shandwick was retained by outside counsel to Michigan State University in late December 2017 to provide communications support. Weber Shandwick’s work has since ended,” the firm stated in an email to the State Journal. “As part of Weber Shandwick’s work providing communications counsel, the firm monitored media and social media conversations surrounding the university, which included posts from the survivors of the Larry Nassar case.”
According to the State Journal, summaries of articles and social media activity, including how much attention certain tweets or stories were getting online, were emailed to other MSU spokespeople or to top university officials. Once Weber Shandwick took over, emails were sent to MSU’s outside attorneys for the lawsuits related to Nassar.
Media summaries recapping the previous day’s coverage were sent to then MSU President Lou Anna Simon, the members of the Board of Trustees, the university’s in-house attorneys and others, the State Journal reported.
More than 250 individuals are suing Michigan State and USA Gymnastics in federal court, claiming Nassar abused them and the organizations didn’t do enough to protect them.
It is believed the Nassar situation has already cost Michigan State an eight-figure sum.