PR firm says it wasn't hired by MSU 'to monitor victims'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Rachael Denhollander, the outspoken sex-assault victim of disgraced and convicted doctor Larry Nassar, speaks to the media after Judge Janice Cunningham handed down a sentence of 40-125 years in prison for Nassar on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Charlotte, Michigan.

The public relations firm hired by Michigan State University to track online activity related to former sports doctor Larry Nassar in January says it was hired for "crisis counsel."

A statement released Thursday by New York-based Weber Shandwick comes a day after reports revealed the company billed MSU $517,343 for 1,440 hours of work done by 18 employees, according to documents obtained by the Lansing State Journal through a public records request.

The firm outlined and evaluated related news coverage and engagement on social media posts, throughout the two weeks where nearly 200 women eventually confronted Nassar in court, including Olympic gymnasts. 

The work previously had been done by university employees, though some of that continued alongside the outside firm’s work.

Weber Shandwick, which was hired by the university in December, said it doesn't normally comment on clients, but media reports "did not accurately reflect" its work. 

"The majority of our work involved crisis counsel to address the tragedy," according to the statement. "We were not hired to monitor victims’ social media accounts. As with any assignment, we forwarded to our clients traditional media and publicly available social media pertaining to the horrible tragedy at MSU, including statements made online by the victims."

The firm recapped media reports about the university’s then-president, Lou Anna Simon, attending the second day of Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Ingham County and tracked speculation about her possible resignation, which she submitted in her letter hours after Nassar was sentenced.

Weber Shandwick also stated it began working in late December until early March, when it resigned the account. 

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