Michigan State University paid a public relations firm more than $500,000 to track the social media activities involving Larry Nassar’s case, including monitoring the accounts of the women abused by Nassar.
The New York-based firm, Weber Shandwick, collected and analyzed news articles and accounts of survivors and their families, celebrities, politicians and journalists. It billed the university a total of $517,343 for more than 1,440 hours of work, in just the month of January, according to documents.
The invoice showed the company billed for work done by 18 different employees who charged an hourly rate of $200 to $600.
Weber Shandwick no longer works for the university, an MSU spokeswoman reported. She did not, however, give the reason for it.
“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,” Kimberly Dixon, director of global corporate communications for the firm, 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.”
The emails sent to top officials of MSU by the company included summaries of social media activity, including how much coverage and attention tweets and articles were getting online. They were then sent to the MSU President Lou Anna Simon, the board members, the university’s in-house attorneys and outside attorneys for the case related to Nassar.
In one such excerpt, a Weber Shandwick employee, recounted the events of the first day of Nassar’s sentencing. She included the tweets by Jacob Denhollander, the husband of Rachel Denhollander, who was the first woman to come forward and accuse Nassar of sexual assault. She also added social media responses by Olympian gymnast Aly Raisman and her mother.
Weber Shandwick also recapped media stories on President Simon’s attendance at the second day of Nassar’s hearing, the gossip surrounding her resignation and her resignation letter after Nassar’s last sentencing day and the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would open an investigation into the university’s botched handling of the Nassar controversy.
The firm also gave their input about whether public sentiment against the university was positive or negative.
“While unrelated to the victim impact statements, we have observed conversations that are critical of MSU related to the news that Richard Spencer will speak at the university," a Weber Shandwick employee wrote on the morning of Jan. 19. “Much of the negative conversation ties MSU's actions around Nassar and Spencer together, criticizing MSU for allowing both men on campus.”
On Jan. 25, one day after Nassar was sentenced and Simon resigned, Weber Shandwick emails MSU communications staff informing them of social media mentions of MSU and Nassar had increased by 17 percent to a total of 381,000. It included 45,000 tweets about Nassar’s sentencing at the time it happened.
The 54-year-old disgraced MSU physician was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting female gymnasts and other patients, in wake of the heart-wrenching testimony from 160 of his victims.
William Strampel, Nassar’s former boss was also recently charged with sexual assault and two counts of willful neglect of duty, as part of Sessions’ investigation into MSU.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters: Brendan McDermid