With Michigan State facing questions in its complicity to Larry Nassar's systemic molestation of underage girls during his time at the university, its PR took another hit on Wednesday. The Lansing State Journal uncovered that PR firm Weber Shandwick billed Michigan State over $500,000 for its services in January. The firm's services included monitoring the accounts of victims and their families, journalists, politicians and celebrities.
All things told, Weber Shandwick's bill was $517,343 for over 1,440 hours of work. The Journal obtained the documents through a public records request. Before Weber Shandwick, the work was done by members of Michigan State University's Office of Communication and Brand Strategy, some of whom continued the work in January.
Kimberly Dixon, the firm's director of global corporate communications, told The Lansing State Journal that "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.
"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."
The Journal found that the work was done by 18 employees that billed $200-$600 per hour. Five of the bills were over $50,000, including one that was $96,900 and another that totaled $120,893.
The Journal posted alleged screenshots of Weber Shandwick's work. One bullet reads: "Conversation continues to be driven by a current group of influencers -- victims of Nassar, their families, as well as regional and national journalists." The next bullet lists some of the key influencers driving the conversation.
Weber Shandwick's relationship with the university was already reported on by PRWeek Magazine, which found that the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates -- hired by Michigan State -- paid Weber Shandwick a $50,000 non-refundable retainer. According to The Journal, Michigan State had been billed $9.69 million by law firms for work relating to Nassar, as of March 2. The total does not include Skadden.
The firm, naturally, took a particular interest in conversations that were critical of the university itself. Michigan State remains under heavy scrutiny, particularly, Nassar's former boss, earlier in the week.
Nassar will presumably spend the rest of his life in prison after being sentenced for the possession of child pornography and molestation of underage girls.
Weber Shandwick has since issued a statement to CBSSports.com, saying that the work done was predominately "crisis counsel" and that it was not hired to monitor accounts, but rather sent its client information pertaining to the tragedy, as "with any assignment."
Weber Shandwick added "The victims were and continue to be the most important voices in the conversation. "