CHAPEL HILL: Duke has hired Burson-Marsteller on a strictly advisory role to assist the University with crisis communications work in the wake of its lacrosse team scandal.John Furnass, Duke's SVP for public affairs and government relations, confirmed the hiring of Burson, saying the school and agency signed the contract last week. Billings are undisclosed.
Two Duke lacrosse players have been indicted for allegedly raping and kidnapping a stripper who they hired to perform at a party. The lacrosse season has been cancelled, a third student is allegedly under investigation, and the university has weathered persistent media coverage, due to the class and race issues the incident raises.
While Furnass would not get into details, he said the university chose Burson for its crisis comms prowess.
"We believe we've had as good a communications function as any university in the country," Furnass said, adding that it had been consulting with other universities and trustees since the crisis broke in March.
Furnass characterized the role as "advisory," on a project basis, saying, "We're driving this agenda." Burson is handling the account out of its New York office. He added that Burson's team had confirmed that Duke's approach since the scandal breaking was correct, which the university found reassuring.
Duke's strategy has been to deflect questions regarding the criminal investigation and focus its efforts on talking to the community about what steps it will take to ensure something like this never happens again.
"The challenge has been to make it clear to the news media that we're not going to engage in the daily ins and outs of the legal case," David Jarmul, Duke's associate VP for news and communications, told PRWeek in April.