Michigan State paid Weber Shandwick $500,000 for crisis comms support

Weber Shandwick stepped down from its work for MSU earlier this month - work that involved social media monitoring of conversations around the Larry Nassar abuse crisis.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

NEW YORK: Weber Shandwick was paid a total of $517,343 by Michigan State University for its work surrounding the Larry Nassar controversy, according to a Lansing State Journal report.

Nassar was a former doctor for MSU and U.S.A. Gymnastics that abused scores of his former juvenile patients. He was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to three sexual conduct cases in February. He was also sentenced for 60 years for possession of child pornography last December.

The Interpublic Group firm was retained to "monitor the social media accounts" of Nassar’s victims and their families, journalists, celebrities, and politicians, the Lansing State Journal story says, citing documents obtained through a public records request.

PRWeek previously reported Weber Shandwick stepped down from its work for MSU, effective March 9.

Weber Shandwick’s work totaled more than 1,440 hours across 18 different employees, whose hourly rates ranged between $200 and $600.

"Five of those employees billed MSU for more than $50,000, including one who billed for $96,900 and another who billed for $120,893," according to the Lansing State Journal report.

The story has since been picked up by the New York Daily News, Deadspin, NPR, and other outlets.

In a statement to the Lansing State Journal, Kimberly Dixon, director of global corporate communications, said, "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."

Weber Shandwick rebuffed the media’s characterization of its work for Michigan State University in regards to the Nassar case in a statement provided to PRWeek.

"While we normally don’t comment on our client assignments, we feel it’s important in the case of the news coverage of our work for Michigan State University because it does not accurately reflect our work," Weber Shandwick said in a statement. "The majority of our work involved crisis counsel to address the tragedy. We were not hired to monitor victims’ social media accounts."

The statement added that Weber forwarded traditional media and publicly available social media to its clients pertaining to the "horrible tragedy" at MSU, including statements made online by the victims.

"The victims were and continue to be the most important voices in the conversation," the statement explained.

Weber Shandwick’s work on the account provoked strong condemnation across social media, including from comms pros.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with comment from Weber on March 29. The headline was also adjusted to reflect the wider scope of Weber's work on the account beyond pure social media monitoring.

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