Group Gordon’s Charlotte Marratta examines why a college admissions scandal got caught in the media spotlight.
The recent college admissions bribery scandal has been storming headlines for the past week. Sure, parents have been paying large sums of money to get their children into the school of their choice for decades. But they’ve been doing so in subtler, or at least legal, ways, like donating a library or paying for pricey test prep. Now, with revelations that high-profile parents engaged in illegal activities, it’s a scandal. Now everyone’s paying attention. Looking at the scandal from a PR perspective can reveal some key factors that led media and public attention to snowball.
First, the celebrity hook draws attention. Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman’s involvement in the case has given the scandal sparkle in the eyes of the media and the public. Their faces are at the top of almost every article about the case. To top it off, Loughlin’s daughter’s influencer status has added even more fuel to the fire, with brands like Sephora and TRESemmé discontinuing or questioning their relationship with her. As the media focuses its attention on Loughlin and Huffman, little attention is being paid to the other 31 parents involved in the case.
Described with words like “conspiracy,” “fraud,” “cheat,” “bribery,” “scandal,” and “scheme,” the absurdity and over-the-top nature of the case has made it perversely fascinating. The sheer amount of money involved is enough to turn heads. Paying test proctors to change test scores, photoshopping children’s faces onto the bodies of athletes, paying coaches to lie to their admissions offices – the details of the cheating, lying, and bribery that took place all serve to illustrate the shocking story, driving media coverage with a particularly compelling and outrageous narrative.
The college admissions exposé has raised a more deep-seated issue, sparking an important conversation that is long overdue about the cutthroat, sometimes corrupt, nature of the admissions process at elite universities, and the socioeconomic disparities they exacerbate. The public is outraged by the blatant unfairness of college admissions processes nationwide, disgusted by the super-wealthy’s ability to play the system, and sadly, not surprised by the nefarious activities revealed in the investigation. The widespread public scrutiny has opened up yet another vehicle for media coverage – opinion pieces. As the scandal has captivated the country, a variety of public figures, talking heads, celebrities, and columnists have weighed in.
So, if you’re wondering why this scandal has reverberated so widely, keep in mind the following driving factors of the media frenzy: a celebrity hook, a level of absurdity, and a deep-seated issue that resonates with the public’s consciousness.