Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2008 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,500+
Estimated Readership: 17,000+


If advice falls on deaf ears, does it make a sound?

Jonathan Bernstein


Editor's Note: I'm pleased to bring you articles from two guest authors related to the impact of today's economic conditions on the workplace.

Layoff Communications Principles
By Rick Amme

How companies convey this awful news reflects their values. Every situation is unique, but here are communication guidelines that I hope you never need.

Avoid a "bolt from the blue." Regularly brief employees on the condition of your business so that a cutback does not blindside them. A vice president I know did such a good job communicating that he got a standing ovation when he announced a plant closing. Employees wanted him to know they appreciated his efforts to keep them in the loop.

Scrupulously plan. Plot every step of a closing or layoff announcement like a complex military maneuver. The order of "battle" is crucial.

Tell supervisors first. Stunned personnel may not remember all you say and will later grill their supervisors for clarification. Let supervisors know what you know so they can repeat the important information. They can even participate in notification planning. You'll need their support.

Communicate fast. Since word will rocket after the first notifications begin, tell employees quickly to minimize the period of uncertainty. Compress time.

Notify personally. Employees should hear it in person from a manager and not via outsiders, email, telephone, mail, or the media. This can be difficult with multiple shifts spread over several days and word spreading. Do your best so that employees know you tried hard to tell them early.

Tell it as though their mother has died. Plant closings and layoffs are life altering, so pass the word with the same sensitivity of conveying news of a death.

Immediately give employees a senior official to yell at or cry with. I will never forget the face of an executive who let person after person ventilate to him after they were fired. He was a wreck, but felt it his duty to be available. Employees will tell the community how you treated them.

Provide all the transition benefits you can afford. The only reasonably good news you can offer is how the company will help employees move on. Transition assistance is humane and gives you something constructive to say.

Put benefits in writing. Traumatized people may not remember all you said, so give them a written explanation of company actions on their behalf.

Prepare messages and Q&A's. Draft key messages about the layoff or closing. They will be the outline for comments in person, meetings, news interviews, and news releases. Brainstorm worst-case questions that internal (including employees) and external audiences might ask and answer them. Involve the management team to avoid overlooking a thorny issue.

Notify stakeholders before telling the media. List all who should hear about the cuts directly from you and contact them. They will appreciate it and may provide essential support.

Tell everyone the same story. Give employees, customers, suppliers, government officials, analysts and the news media - all audiences - essentially the same information. Inconsistencies hurt credibility.

Make promises you can keep. Survivors of mass layoffs will want to know about future cuts. If no layoffs are planned, say so, but stress that the future cannot be foreseen or guaranteed.

Expect the unexpected. Closings and layoffs, like all crises, are full of uncertainty. You are dealing with human beings and a fast-moving grapevine. Adapt! Do your best so that your actions will be perceived as honorable and well-meaning.

Take care of the survivors. Treat them with the same respect, courtesy, and speed of notification as those who are fired. Don't leave them hanging, wondering about their status or your appreciation of them. After all, you will need them to keep the business running.

A good news release is important, but statements of spokespersons often have more impact. A good format for the release is a) brief statements of what is happening and why, b) expression of concern for employees and what will be done in their behalf, c) more detail on why the action is needed, and d) a one paragraph description of the company. However, sympathetic, employee-oriented comments by spokespeople often have more impact and are be perceived as more genuine by the press and other important audiences.

Rick Amme is President of Amme & Associates, a media/crisis communications company in Winston-Salem. He was a journalist for more than 20 years.

Editor's Note:

Tips on Managing Work and Life During a Crisis
By Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA

( - The uncertainty and drama surrounding today's financial market crisis has created increased pressure on all of us. Some worry whether or not they will continue to have a job while others deal with the challenges of laying people off, many of whom may have been colleagues and friends.

Stress is reaching epidemic numbers. The most recent American Psychological Association survey found that in September, eight out of 10 Americans cited money (81 percent) and the economy (80 percent) as their top sources of stress, compared with 75 percent and 66 percent respectively in April. More than half of Americans reported greater stress last month over work (67 percent), providing for their families (64 percent), housing costs (62 percent) and job stability (56 percent) than they did in April.1

How do we continue conducting business as usual while dealing with a crisis? Being prepared in anticipation of a crisis is key to our business survival and success. While unexpected events may be catastrophic in nature, it is the emotional intensity what may overwhelm our senses (and good judgment) during those challenging times.

As difficult as it seems, it is essential that we stay healthy during rough times. Stress affects the most vulnerable systems: some people will experience frequent migraine headaches, whereas others will develop gastrointestinal problems, and others will have high blood pressure. Stress may trigger panic attacks in some people and will affect others with clinical depression.

The following are general strategies I have found effective in my work as a crisis management consultant, as a physician, as well as in my own experience as a business owner.

Strategy #1: Assess the situation. If you are facing an unexpected event, whether it is a catastrophic-like event, the loss of your job, the loss of a significant family member or friend, ensure your own safety, your family's safety and the safety of those who work with you. There can be no blink in choosing people first. If you are in charge of managing others, people will always remember if you cared for them during stressful times.

Strategy #2: Concentrate on your "here and now." Ground yourself. Look at the immediate things you can do to control your situation. Focus on prioritizing your activities and avoid wasting time and effort. Help others around you concentrate on their immediate needs. Look for ways in which you can work together and help each other.

Strategy #3: Go back to your schedule or plan as soon as possible. Start with the simplest routine; make sure your pillars of physical health are in place (nutrition, sleep, exercise, and relaxation). Break it down to small steps if needed. Go back to your business plan. This plan should be easily available as during times of crisis or personal loss, or both, it may be very difficult to "remember" exactly what the next step was.

Strategy #4: Avoid making big changes during times of crisis. If you need to make some changes, make sure you go through the critical thinking process, such as looking at pros and cons or conducting a thorough SWOT analysis. This is not the time to gamble all your assets in an "all or nothing" approach. Be conservative and take risks in creating opportunities that you have previously analyzed and evaluated prior to taking action.

Strategy #5: Approach your trusted circle of friends. Many have shared with me they were not at their best intellectual ability during times of tremendous stress, and believe they made poor decisions they later regretted. Avoid being around people who are talking about the world coming to an end. It is very easy to fall into the spinning of negative thinking. Learn exactly what each of your friends can offer in a positive way. While some may offer their emotional support or be good listeners, others may offer their advice and help you make the decisions. Avoid isolating yourself and allow yourself to collaborate with others who may also be going through a hard time as well. You'd be surprised how many people around you may be willing to help you if you only asked.

Strategy #6: Establish significant relationships beyond your comfort group. During these stressful times, some people are finding their "comfort network" is gone, as they may have lost their job and close colleagues may have been laid off too. Having an extended networking group will assist you in your swift recovery, as you will continue to be in touch with others who may share common goals, as well as collaborate with others who may need your products or services.

Strategy #7: Assess your intervention. Evaluate what worked and what didn't work for you. Improve your overall plan and plan ahead. Invite your family members to help you during this stressful time. Consider this an opportunity to leave behind what was not working in your business and continue to improve your business and to simplify as much of the process as possible. While many expect a magic solution to resolve a time of crisis, the most effective strategies still consist of being consistently ready and organized on a regular basis.

1 The 2008 survey data was collected by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association during the periods of April 7-15 among 2,529 U.S. residents 18 or older; June 23-Aug. 13 (1,791 adults); and Sept. 19-23 (2,507 adults).

Dr. Gabriela Cora is an executive wellness coach, author, and keynote speaker in addition to practicing as a medical doctor. Her expertise in crisis leadership inspired her to design a powerful program assisting executives in Leading under Pressure¨: Maximize Your Health While Building Your Wealth. She's a key collaborator of Fortune 500 corporations and international organizations including the Coca-Cola Company, New York Life, the Pharmaceutical Industry, and the University of Miami. She has given presentations across the United States and internationally. Prior to launching the Executive Health & Institute, she was director, medical research specialist for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Lieutenant Commander for the US Public Health Service, and a clinical researcher at the prestigious National Institutes of Health.

For more information, visit

Reprinted with permission of


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.

Gerald Baron
Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of

"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, 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

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.


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.

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, as are our other titles.


Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,, 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


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,


All information contained herein is obtained by Jonathan Bernstein from sources believed by Jonathan Bernstein to be accurate and reliable.

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