Advice for Church Officials in Drinking and Driving Case

Jonathan Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, Jonathan Bernstein, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

We share the crisis management steps they should be taking

Details are emerging in the case of the Maryland bishop who struck and killed a bicyclist while drunk driving this past December, and although church leadership has taken a step in the right direction by sharing some details, it’s not enough. To their credit, the Episcopal Church of the United States has released a partial timeline of events which includes reports from members that indicate the accused, Rev. Heather Elizabeth Cook, was intoxicated at previous church events, and that those concerns were passed on to those in power.

However, as Bernstein Crisis Management president Jonathan Bernstein told the Baltimore Sun’s Jonathan Pitts, releasing part of the information is just not enough:

“Crisis managers believe that if there’s negative information that is going to come out at some point – and in this age of the Internet and social media, it’s going to come out — you’re better off releasing it yourself, taking a stab at positioning it rather than waiting and letting it be positioned for you,” said Jonathan Bernstein, CEO of the California-based firm Bernstein Crisis Management.

The court of public opinion can be more damaging to an organization than anything that happens in a courtroom, Bernstein said, and many in his field have “gone to school on” the Roman Catholic Church, which was widely perceived as being less than forthcoming during its widely publicized sex-abuse scandals.

“I’m sure they’re concerned about legal ramifications, but what they’re also thinking about is their primary stakeholders,” he said. “They want their parishioners to know they’re not going to hide, to know that, yes, they make mistakes, but when they make them and realize it, they turn around and do the right thing. Honesty and humility go a long, long way toward surviving a crisis.”

The reality of this situation is that a tragic event has occurred, and although some information has been released it’s not enough to answer the questions being posed.  One of our favorite crisis management sayings is, “in the absence of communication, rumor and innuendo will fill the gap”, and right now there are more gaps than filled spaces in this case.

The BCM Blogging Team

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