© 2008 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 17,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
In a crisis, don't hide behind anything or anybody. They're going to find you anyway.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: A very useful case history recently published in the Philippines and reprinted here with permission.
Sulpicio Lines handling crisis poorlyPR experts
By Lala Rimando
As days passed after M/V Princess of the Stars capsized in rough waters during a typhoon, the public witnessed Sulpicio Lines' handling of the crisisand it is proving to be another story of a tragedy.
"It's a classic case of a PR (public relations) disaster," said Greg Garcia, a marketing expert and an advertising consultant to political figures.
Except for an initial sympathy message that was sent to media outfits, Sulpicio Lines had neither a sympathetic-looking spokesperson nor a system to update and handle the grieving relatives as days dragged on.
Media interviews showed that instead of sympathy, distraught relatives who flocked to the Sulpico offices in Manila and Cebu cities had to hurdle irate guards and hostile company lawyers.
It was an opportunity missed, Garcia noted. "The company should have set up a holding area for these people who obviously belong to the lower classes of the society. If they were taken cared ofthere was ample supply of water, coffee, biscuitand the company also provided grief counseling, gave them free flowers, let them attend masses and offer tributes, they could have been a perfect PR opportunity."
One of the initial statements of Sulpicio Lines was that P200,000 was allotted for the families of each casualty.
"That was so insensitive," Garcia said. "It seems that they (Sulpicio Lines) are just equating the value of life with money. They are portraying themselves as a company with no heart, and just showing off their pockets," Garcia added.
Garcia pointed to how the agony of the ship passengers' relatives constantly figured in the media coverage of the disaster. He cited the case of Levie Padua who has two relatives onboard the ship.
Padua still could not mourn properly for his two missing relatives, both passengers of the capsized vessel. Four days after the tragedy and even after the capsized vessel has been covered by the international media and condolences to the victims' families have poured in from everywhere, he climbed a tower near Sulpicio's Manila office to demand from the company that he and other companions, relatives of the over 700 unaccounted passengers, be brought to Cebu City to identify their loved ones among the retrieved dead bodies.
"This is a global tragedy, but a relative has to take extreme measures to get attention of the ship owners," Garcia said. "Something is miserably wrong,"
How companies manage a crisis defines them as corporate citizens practicing their social responsibility. The stakes are higher when lives are lost.
With a number of tragedies in the country involving local companies, crisis management experts in the Philippines have an almost standard list of musts and shoulds in times of emergencies.
As soon as the incident occurs and is made known to the public, the crisis management experts say the first few hours are crucial. A credible representative from the family owners, the chief executive officer, or another high-ranking management executive should deliver a sympathy message at once.
"It's not the time to reason out. Just be sympathetic. Show nothing but sympathy. Never mind first whether it was your fault or nature's fault, just go out there and show sorrow for what happened," said a crisis management expert who has handled several high- profile corporate crises in the past 15 years.
Immediately after, a company spokesperson should be assigned to respond to succeeding queries. Garcia said the choice of a spokesperson is also important since he or she will be the company's public face whose looks and demeanor during every media appearance will be scrutinized.
Future judgment on the company will largely be on his or her conduct during the crisis. "Get the most sympathetic spokesperson who is effective in responding to questions from the press and the relatives," Garcia added.
In every interaction with the public, the crisis management expert who requested not to be identified said, "The spokesperson should credibly show that you are a caring and responsible company and you don't want people to die."
Projecting the company's "caring" side is crucial because it will have an impact on consumers' trust. "The spokesperson should explain the side of the company and why they should be trusted again. "The message is: This incident is just a glitch. Give me another chance," added the crisis expert.
All these are efforts to hurdle the crisis because, as the crisis expert said, "You are still a going concern. After this crisis, you still want your customers to come back and patronize you again."
Availability of information
The spokesperson, however, is just a messenger, letting the public know how the company is handling the crisis.
"There should be an update every so often on the details of what the company is doing. Is it coordinating with the authorities, the divers, the local officials in the search and rescue efforts?" the crisis expert said.
Again, the "caring" company should project that "We are doing everything we can to find out what happened to your parents, siblings, relatives, loved ones," he said. "But don't give them false hopes. If you cannot do some things or provide certain information yet, explain that to the relatives."
What is important is that the company is accessible to those who need information the most. "In the absence of any information, you worsen the people's potential loss," he said.
Previous tragedies, which were handled well, proved how availability of information from the company paid off. These include the Glorietta blast in October 2007, which killed 11 mall goers and injured more than a hundred, the Cebu Pacific plane crash in
February 1998 that killed all 104 passengers, and the "Wowowee" stampede during a February 2006 show of ABS-CBN (the parent company of this website) where more than 80 perished.
In these three instances, the companies followed the guidelines prescribed in crisis management: The top honchos were sympathetic, their spokespersons were capable and looked sympathetic, and mitigation measures were detailed out regularly.
Petron Corporation, whose contracted tanker ship sank in rough waters off Guimaras Island in 2006, learned these crisis management lessons when it corrected what was previously a defensive stance. They addressed the furious reactions towards their first public statement, which highlighted the legal veil between Petron and the ship owner, with a much improved media communication team, just to convince the public that it is a company that genuinely cares.
In the case of Cebu Pacific's 1998 crash, relatives were immediately flown to the crash site in Misamis Oriental and were provided free accommodation
As for the Glorietta bombing, Fernando Zobel, chairman of the mall operator, Ayala Land, did not just provide monetary support but a personal touch too. Away from the media glare, he went to the hospitals to tend to the injured and attended wakes and personally expressed his condolences to the bereaved families of the victims. They were provided P1 million in cash assistance and assured of rental income from a donated residential property.
"The cash assistance was way beyond what the law prescribes. It was the compensation package to all the casualties' families, and we did not compute anymore based on their income capacity," said a source intimately familiar with the company decisions.
Crisis management lessons
Despite the risks involved in the business, the crisis experts noted how the ship's owners still seemed to be unprepared for eventualities like this.
Sulpicio Lines is no stranger to sea mishaps. The capsized M/V Princess of the Stars is their fourth tragedy at sea. The other major sea mishap was the 1987 sinking of the overloaded M/V Dona Paz, which collided with an oil tanker. The death toll was more than 4,000.
Sulpicio Lines is just one of the many family-owned companies in the Philippines that have not been proactive enough to consider investing in crisis preparedness, the crisis expert said.
Crisis preparedness involves building a reservoir of goodwill.
Goodwill is built from intangibles, like product and company awards, consumer trust in the company's brands, and consistent recognition of philanthropic efforts to reach out to the business' stakeholders.
Colin Hubo, who heads the University of Asia and the Pacific's Center for Social Responsibility, explained that "companies make the extra investment in doing philanthropy and engaging with stakeholders because they are building social credits. If something goes wrong, or when a crisis hits, they can draw on this reservoir."
In other words, it's much better to be proactive by building a good reputation now than try to fix it later.
Reprinted with permission from ABS-CBN
Who Needs Paid Lead Services?
By Jonathan Bernstein
A news lead service one that lets you know when reporters are looking for certain types of stories is not only useful for those engaged in proactive PR. From such services, I've learned:
- When one of my clients is the subject of an investigative story, even before they've been contacted.
- When one of my clients' competitors is the focus of negative news inquiries, which may prompt internal review by MY client to ensure they don't have similar weaknesses.
- Categorically, what industries are currently attracting the most attention from reporters likely to damage reputation.
News lead services I'm not going to name them, but one of the biggest rhymes with CostaLotNet are all fine and dandy for big agencies or larger corporations that can afford them, but they are notoriously pricey for smaller practitioners. not-for-profits, etc.
Along comes Peter Shankman, www.shankman.com, who describes himself as "CEO, Entrepreneur, Adventurist." He has started Help A Reporter, a FREE service based at http://helpareporter.com. And what he says on that web page is worth quoting here:
"Each day, you'll receive up to three emails, each with anywhere from 2-10 queries per email. They'll all be labeled with [shankman.com] in the subject line, for easy filtering. If you see a query you can answer, go for it! HelpAReporter.com really is that simple.
"I built this list because a lot of my friends are reporters, and they call me all the time for sources. Rather than go through my contact lists each time, I figured I could push the requests out to people who actually have something to say.
"These requests only come from reporters directly to me. I never take queries from that other service, I never SPAM, and I'm not going to do anything with your email other than send you these reporter requests when they arrive in my in-box.
"So a few things about this list: First off, yes, it's free. It takes me a few minutes each day to do this, and the good Karma is immeasurable. So I'm not charging. If you really feel like sending me a donation or something, why not just send a few bucks to an animal hospital or animal rescue society somewhere. Some good places are Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, or The National Search Dog Foundation. That'll keep the good Karma flowing.
"Next: This is really the only thing I ask: By joining this list, just promise me and yourself that you'll ask yourself before you send a response: Is this response really on target? Is this response really going to help the journalist, or is this just a BS way for me to get my client in front of the reporter? If you have to think for more than three seconds, chances are, you shouldn't send the response.
"In the end, we could probably all stand to do this a bit more, huh?
"That's it. No other rules. Sometimes the journalists will request anonymity, in which case, you'll email me directly, and I'll forward. Otherwise, I'll include journalist contact info at the bottom of the list."
I think Peter could well do to the high-priced lead services what craigslist has done to the newspaper advertising business, make them either find a better business model, or fail.
He already has 14,000+ members on his mail list, which was started only a short time ago. His leads are varied and good, and there are sometimes more than the 10-lead limit he thought there would be. Sign up! Help a Reporter, http://www.helpareporter.com.
Jonathan Bernstein wrote this article wearing his "Dances With Woofs" t-shirt.
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
In addition to individual and business usage, the manual is now being required as a textbook at Seton Hall University, Grand Canyon University, and Singapore Management University, amongst others. It is available in both PDF and hard copy formats at www.thecrisismanager.com, with reseller arrangements available for collegiate bookstores.
Jonathan Bernstein also offers on-site media training worldwide, using this manual as the basis for training. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, as are our other titles.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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