© 2008 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 17,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information.
Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture, as quoted in Newsweek
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: Every now and then I like to feature articles that take us back to basics, as does this "Crisis Management 101" kinda article from Larry Rosenfield, a new (and hopefully repeat) contributor to this ezine.]
Prepare to be Blindsided
Tips for Crisis Management
By Larry Rosenfeld
While crises can't be predicted, planning and preparation can make the difference between coming out on top or going under.
A company's reputation is king, especially in the government market, where buying decisions hinge on past performance and trust. However,
scrutiny reaches an extreme level when a crisis strikes, thrusting companies into the court of public opinion.
Cancelled contracts, disgruntled employees, backdated options, security breaches, C-level employees facing lawsuits, classified
information leaks, natural disasters, employee deaths -- all companies in the government space can encounter any of these
crises and more.
A crisis can be as simple as a lost laptop PC with classified information or as high-profile as employees arrested for illegal
activities. Consider the multitude of negative headlines resulting from DynCorp employees' involvement with illicit drug trafficking
and the more recent Blackwater scandal.
Crises can happen to any company, even the most ethical and best of breed, at any time. What's more, a crisis doesn't stop with the
loss of a contract; it can cause irrevocable damage to a company's reputation, brand, revenue and valuation.
The only certainty a company faces when dealing with a crisis is that it will occur when least expected - and being caught off guard
can be the kiss of death.
Control the chaos
The public, including media and key stakeholders, demands an immediate response during a crisis. The expectation of instant
action requires reactive decision-making. But there are many proactive tactics that companies can employ before a crisis erupts.
By planning in advance, companies can develop an effective, comprehensive crisis management plan that enables an immediate,
transparent exchange of information when a crisis does occur. Developing proactive response strategies can mean the difference
between successfully maintaining control over a crisis and simply surviving it.
While the case for effective crisis communications is evident, the action plan may not be as straightforward. What should a company
plan for? How should it plan? Who should do the planning?
The overarching goal of a crisis management plan is to provide a blueprint for the company that will establish and maintain control
over the messages and information given to the public during a crisis. A comprehensive crisis management plan will take into
account all possible situations, all potential publicity and all influencing factors.
In the event of an emergency or controversy, a crisis communication plan specifies policies and procedures for the coordination of
communications in the organization and between it and any relevant parties. They include customers, prospects, shareholders, regulatory
bodies, employees and the media.
When developing a crisis management plan, there are some important aspects to consider:
- Designate a crisis management team. Successful crisis management begins with an executive team that understands the need for preparation, planning, transparency, information sharing and accountability. Prior to a crisis, identify individuals who are relevant to each crisis scenario.
- Appoint a spokesperson. Companies should designate one C-level executive who is media trained to serve as the public face of the company throughout a crisis. A single spokesperson ensures that key messages are conveyed consistently across all media and to all external audiences.
- Prepare for potential crisis scenarios. While it is impossible to see the future, it is possible to predict potential crises that a company might face based on past incidents, competitors' experiences and the regulatory climate of the industry (i.e., failure to perform on a contract is a crisis for government contractors).
- Have internal ground rules in place. Take the time to develop, discuss and educate employees and management on specific rules they must follow when facing a crisis. For instance, only those who have been delegated to speak to customers, media and the public at large should do so.
- Take an integrated approach. Don't limit a crisis management plan to traditional techniques: take advantage of the wide range of Web 2.0 technologies available that enable instantaneous communications. Prepare for a crisis by creating a dark site (a Web site that remains inactive until needed), activating RSS feeds, monitoring/controlling blogs and organizing e-mail blasts.
- Develop targeted messaging. Consider the audiences that need to be addressed in a crisis situation, as well as the questions they will want answered. Keep in mind that these audiences extend beyond reporters and should include partners, stockholders, employees, subcontractors, etc.
- Create contact lists. Develop and maintain contact lists of key media, partners, stakeholders and employees so they are readily available when a crisis hits. This enables immediate, accurate communications, ensuring that VIPs are receiving information directly from the company in a timely manner.
- Be truthful. While this seems an obvious point, many companies instead attempt to stretch or cover the truth when dealing with a crisis in hopes of saving their reputations. However, the only way for a company to establish itself as trustworthy and ethical is to actually be trustworthy and ethical. No crisis management tactic can fully remove the stigma of dishonesty.
Control is the key to managing any situation. As all successful managers know, control is a direct result of comprehensive planning and preparation. Crisis planning and management is no different. It is more than a binder on a credenza or flying in a troubleshooter when the phone rings.
When a company's reputation and valuation is on the line, everything is at stake. Taking strategic action to prepare a comprehensive and effective crisis management plan ensures that a company will be prepared to weather the storm, saving its brand equity, reputation and future.
Larry Rosenfeld is the founder and chief executive officer of Sage Communications, in Vienna, VA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revenge of the Experts
You know that "Just a Thought" quote at the top of this newsletter? It comes from a Newsweek article called "Revenge of the Experts". It leads off with:
"By any name, the current incarnation of the Internet is known for giving power to the people. Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia collect the creations of unpaid amateurs while kicking pros to the curb -- or at least deflating their stature to that of the ordinary Netizen. But now some of the same entrepreneurs that funded the user-generated revolution are paying professionals to edit and produce online content. In short, the expert is back."
A great read!
Social Media Will Change Your Business
Another great read (from your editor, who loves the fact that mainstream pubs are getting really geeky) is a fabulous BusinessWeek article. It talks about how blogs were the "heart of the story" in 2005, but now organizations need to know how to integrate social media -- FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube, etc., into their communications planning.
This is not only a must-read, but a must-pass-along-to-your-entire-management-team read.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Keeping the Wolves at Bay 3.0 Reviewed
"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" is much more than another media training guide - it is perhaps one of the most concise, insightful, useful and savvy guides to strategic thinking about reputation issues available.
Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of Crisisblogger.com
"It's like a Swiss Army knife -- lots of cool tools in a compact package. In case of emergency, grab this."
Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
Publisher, About Public Relations
The spiral-bound print manual is available for $25, the PDF version for $10. Both can be ordered at www.thecrisismanager.com.
Jonathan Bernstein also offers on-site media training worldwide, using this manual as the basis for training. Write to email@example.com.
Internet Counter-Intelligence CD-ROM
In a one-hour teleseminar recorded in December 2007, search engine optimization expert Diana Huff interviewed Jonathan Bernstein, a pathfinder and innovator in the field of Internet-centered crisis management, who described how a wide range of companies have been damaged by the Internet's virtual terrorists, and how some companies have been responding effectively.
In this one-hour session, you'll learn how to conduct your own Internet vulnerability audit; develop strategies for identifying your foes -- activists, disgruntled employees, or unhappy customers -- and tracking Internet chatter; build the case within your organization for ensuring someone is monitoring the blogosphere, news, and Internet forums every day; plan for an Internet crisis and, when one hits, assess the situation to determine an appropriate response; develop the action steps you can take to neutralize attacks, including starting your own blog and developing collateral such as brochures, video, podcasts, and Web links to other reputable and informative sites; and effectively use search engine optimization tactics -- not just because you want customers to find your products -- but so you can beat these guys at their own game!
Available at www.thecrisismanager.com.
Disaster Prep 101
Bernstein Crisis Management is pleased to present one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly family preparedness texts available today. "Disaster Prep 101." by Paul Purcell, goes above and beyond the simplistic "72-hour kit" concept and provides simple, yet detailed educational material that will drastically improve the ability of any family to respond to all manner of disasters or emergencies. This preparedness package contains over 400 pages of well-organized, original preparedness material written in an easy-to-understand, non-panic format; 80 pages of family data forms and worksheets (many of which are also useful to the employer); and a 2-CD set containing two interactive and searchable links collections for additional educational sources; all the family data forms and worksheets in softcopy format; and a complete emergency reference library of over 450 additional books and training manuals! US$59.95. Available here.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GUEST AUTHORS are very welcome to submit material for "Crisis Manager." There is no fee paid, but most guest authors have reported receiving business inquiries as a result of appearing in this publication. Case histories, experience-based lessons, commentary on current news events and editorial opinion are all eligible for consideration. Submission is not a guarantee of acceptance.
When I find a site that I think will be useful to my readers or site visitors, I put it on our Links page. If you have a site that would be of specific use to crisis managers and want to discuss a link exchange or other cooperative effort, please write to me, email@example.com.
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