Category Archives: crisis communication

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OOPS! White House Accidentally IDs CIA Spy Chief

Double-checking is never a waste of time when it comes to crisis management

Late last month the White House made headlines when it accidentally exposed the CIA’s top officer in Kabul, Afghanistan. In case you missed the story, here’s a rundown, from a Washington Post article by Greg Miller:

The CIA officer was one of 15 senior U.S. officials identified as taking part in a military briefing for Obama at Bagram air base, a sprawling military compound north of Kabul. Others included U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in the country.

Their names were included on a list of participants in the briefing provided by U.S. military officials to the White House press office.

The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.

Believe it or not, the Washington Post reporter tasked with assembling the report on the briefing actually noticed the odd inclusion of someone labeled “station chief”, typically a position which includes one’s identity remaining classified, and asked White House press officials if it was intentional, something they initially confirmed.

After the list went live, senior White House officials noticed the mistake, and we’re certain a frantic scramble to remove it ensued. Although the media was largely cooperative, the list had already been published in some places, and the damage was done, placing this high-level CIA officer and his loved ones in serious danger.

What’s the crisis management lesson here? Simple – check, double check, have a trusted colleague check, then check again a few more times before publishing ANYTHING that’s going to the public. Especially in a crisis situation, you can not afford to have bad or confidential information making its way out, and believe us when we say that the news media is not going to pay your slip-up the same respect it does one from the White House and CIA. Once it’s out it will stay out, and if it makes for a juicy story you can even expect it to be amplified.

The need for rapid communication is real, but the damage you can do by putting out information you shouldn’t have is immense, so be very, very careful.

The BCM Blogging Team


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Crisis Management Quotables…on Why Hiding Doesn’t Cut It

Duck and cover is not a crisis management strategy

Leave it to a legendary college football coach to understand dealing with the media! Paul “Bear” Bryant spent 25 years as the University of Alabama’s head coach, amassing an absolutely incredible 323-85-17 record and chalking up an immense number of press interactions on the way, stats we think qualify him to deliver this week’s Crisis Management Quotable:

“In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.” — Bear Bryant

We’d bet Bryant would be astounded, and probably quite satisfied, to see that his statement is true today to an extent he could have never imagined.

The media has always been quite tenacious when it comes to uncovering a crisis, but now they’re not the only ones chasing the latest scandal. Thanks in large part to social media, and of course the ‘net in general, there are legions of amateur e-reporters out there hungry for the next big story to share. They will dig up dirt, they will figure out who’s responsible, and if you duck for cover until you’re forced into the open you’ll be left with an even bigger crisis management hole to dig yourself out of.

Erik Bernstein
Social Media Manager
Bernstein Crisis Management

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Crisis Management: 30 Lessons from 30 Years

Decades of crisis management experience at your fingertips

Bernstein Crisis Management president Jonathan Bernstein has been in the trenches of crisis management since before “crisis management” existed as a clearly defined field. Along the way he’s learned many, many lessons, sometimes the hard way, and now he’s distilled that knowledge down into 30 powerful thoughts that could help our readers avoid some of that pain themselves.

Here’s just a brief glimpse of the newly published “30 Lessons from 30 Years of Crisis Management”:

1. Not planning for crises is the same thing as planning to have a crisis.

2. One hostile and/or ego-driven person with a computer and some Internet savvy can do a huge amount of damage to any organization.

3. Damaging information present on the Internet spreads virally, being reprinted by other websites and/or even news organizations regardless of accuracy. Ignoring it will only make matters worse.

4. All legal threats – e.g., threatened lawsuits, regulatory investigations – are potential threats to reputation and should be brought to the attention of whoever is responsible for reputation management/PR as soon as they’re identified. Typically, however, legal counsel and even senior company management delay notifying their PR advisor, internal or external, until the stuff hits the fan or will do so imminently. Rushed consideration of PR strategy and messaging is seldom as good as that which can be produced given more lead time.

5. There are PR agencies and consultants who – out of greed or ego – fail to consider how much damage they do to their clients by claiming to have more crisis management capabilities than, in fact, they do.

Hungry for more? You can read the rest of the article, here, and of course access the full Bernstein Crisis Management library, here.

The BCM Blogging Team

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Crisis Management Quotables on…Nobody Likes a Lecture

Communication is a two-way street

Many of our Quotables come from celebrities or famous philosophers, but how about one from a man who’s been in the trenches of the crisis management field for decades?

Communication that isn’t interactive is lecturing — Jonathan Bernstein

Already reconsidering the value of your past crisis communications efforts? You’re not alone. This quote holds more weight than ever today, where social media has produced the widespread expectation of a constant two-way conversation.

Lectures bring back memories of mind-numbing hours in a dusty classroom, but interaction, ahhh, that’s a whole different, and far more exciting, avenue! Whether it’s providing a Twitter handle people can contact, an email address (that you’ll actually monitor and respond from), or a phone number where stakeholders can get ahold of a real, live person, allow for the possibility of interaction and watch as your communications serve their intended purpose more effectively.

The BCM Blogging Team

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We’d Take Mike Rowe on our Crisis Team

[Editor's note: A big thank you to frequent contributor Kim May for sending this case our way! If you spot a story you think would be a good fit for our blogs, email]

Whether you agree with his position or not, it’s undeniable that Rowe has natural crisis management ability

Many look at taking on the job of spokesman for an organization as just that, a job. What they often fail to realize is that by taking on such a role you attach yourself to the organization you’re representing, and, often, its troubles as well.

Take the case of Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”, who ran smack into a wall of controversy after providing a voice-over for a Walmart ad pushing the company’s goal of bringing manufacturing back to the States. Worker’s right group Jobs with Justice pounced on Rowe as a way to draw attention to their push for Walmart to increase wages, and published an open letter bashing Rowe’s choice, as well as his general support of the company’s initiative, and asked the public to do the same.

Rowe, to what we’re certain is the delight of Walmart execs, stepped up big time in the crisis management department, penning a detailed, eloquent, and distinctly human response on his personal Facebook page addressed to Jobs with Justice spokeswoman Ori Korin:

Dear Ori:

You’ll be pleased to know that my office has received your letter, and 5,048 others just like it. While I’m sympathetic to your objectives and sensitive to the needs of your members, I must say that your tactics have had the same effect as a flood of telemarketing calls during my dinner, or a bag of dog crap set ablaze on my front porch. Now, instead of overseeing scholarship applications and other Foundation matters, my already beleaguered staff must sift through a sea of robo-letters in search of legitimate correspondence from hard-hitting investigative journalists like Matt & Aimee.

It’s a little ironic, don’t you think? On the one hand, Jobs with Justice is concerned that everyday people are being overwhelmed by heavy workloads. But you don’t think twice about flooding an unsuspecting non-profit foundation with an endless stream of form letters. Anyway, my answer to you is the same as it was after I got your first letter a week ago. You guys are in a labor dispute, and my foundation doesn’t take sides between employers and employees. Another 5,000 form letters won’t change my position on that – though it just might inspire the nice woman who oversees my Foundation to throw herself out the window. (Her name is Mary, by the way, and her demise is now on you.)

Let me really spell this out though, so there’s no confusion at all. I care about the people you represent. That’s precisely why I set up a foundation and some scholarship funds. I’m trying to encourage hardworking people who are unhappy in their jobs to make a meaningful change in their life. A lasting change. And I believe this change is most likely to occur when people are willing to learn a skill that’s in demand. Happily, worthwhile opportunities are everywhere. Our country has a massive skills gap, and the chance to retool and retrain has never been better.

We’re not enemies, Ori. We’re just fighting different battles. You’re trying to wring out a modest increase for people who feel unappreciated by their employer and unhappy in their work. I’m trying to get those same people excited about possibilities and opportunities that go beyond their current positions. Frankly – and I say this with all due respect – I don’t believe that your strategy is in the long-term interest of your members, or for that matter, anyone who wants to improve their lives in a meaningful way.

Think about it, Ori. Many of the workers you represent have jobs that could very well become obsolete in just a few years. Automation, technology, automatic checkouts…the writing is on the wall. But the skilled trades are different. Welders, auto technicians, carpenters, masons, construction workers, healthcare…these opportunities are real, and the rewards go far beyond the minimum wage – whatever that might turn out to be. Walmart may have cornered the market on retail jobs, but the world’s a lot bigger than Walmart.

Anyway, I want to help. Please forward your members this link.

Surely, if you’ve got time to send five thousand identical letters to the same email address, you’ve got time to pass this on to your members. But do me a favor – just send it once. People hate form letters.

Is it a bit rough around the edges? Of course, but then so is Rowe. The man’s made a career out of representing the American working spirit, and his refusal to depart from that in order to reply to a crisis situation is not only refreshing, but also serves to cement his sincerity. His avoidance of becoming enmeshed in the ongoing labor dispute is admirable as well. He acknowledges, states his reasoning for not becoming involved, then shares what he’s doing on his own to help workers enter the workplace qualified for more skilled, higher-paying jobs.

While you may not like Rowe’s position on Walmart, it’s hard to argue his crisis management chops. If Rowe ever wants a second career in the field, we’d gladly take him on our team.

The BCM Blogging Team

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