© 2009 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 17,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Try to relax and enjoy the crisis.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Happy Birthday To Crisis Manager
By Jonathan Bernstein
It's amazing to me that this ezine is now nine years old, particularly since I don't feel or look any older.
The first issue was distributed on February 1, 2000, and the newsletter has gone out twice monthly with relatively rare exception) since then. All past issues are still archived here. Dozens of the articles have been reprinted, on and offline.
Crisis Manager has consistently received professional kudos, to include, just this past month, being named one of the "Top 10 Newsletters for PR Pros" by MarketingSherpa.com.
Thank all of my readers for your support, creative suggestions and loyalty!
Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This excellent behind-the-scenes look at an internationally publicized crisis was submitted in response to the contest announced in my last issue. That contest is still open!
The Kim Family Search
An Insider's Crisis Management Case Study
By Lieutenant Gregg Hastings
Within the field of law enforcement, crises happen every day. A traffic crash closes a major freeway or highway. An impaired driver seriously injures or kills someone. A major criminal investigation leads to the arrest of a dangerous criminal or prominent, well-known person. An officer is involved in a deadly use of force incident. A child is abducted and leads to an AMBER Alert being activated. A bomb explodes killing veteran police officers as we recently experienced December 12th at a Woodburn, Oregon bank.
There are crises that any organization or business can experience. A leak of information about an internal investigation that could be a major embarrassment to the organization. An announcement of a vote-of-no-confidence aimed at the organization's leadership. Budget problems and potential layoffs.
But none of these incidents came close to grabbing people's interest than that of an incident two years ago. Over an eight day period following Thanksgiving, media and people around the world followed the hourly developments of an intense search for the missing James Kim family from San Francisco in a remote section of southwest Oregon.
This incident could be the most covered, reviewed, and critiqued search effort in Oregon's history. It led to numerous post-search reviews, investigations, and protocol and law changes. A Pulitzer Prize was awarded to the state's major newspaper for "breaking news" coverage of the search effort and subsequent reporting of perceived problems in the following months. As a result of what the newspaper staff learned, their coverage and use of their website changed.
I have to admit that the extensive media and public interest caught me off guard. As the Department's only public information officer handling on-scene and off scene media during this incident, I learned many important lessons during this incident that tragically ended with the death of James Kim who was a father, husband, son, and well-known Internet technology personality for CNET. His wife and two children were found miraculously by a local resident flying his helicopter while acting on a hunch as searchers combed over 16,000 square miles in southwest Oregon.
Handling media inquires from around the world, participating in national and local interviews, and helping on scene media with their needs around-the-clock was exhausting and demanded instant attention. The valuable lessons learned have helped our agency in situations since that were much less significant.
- Look for signs of a developing crisis and don't hesitate to ask for help early in the event before it is too late. When media interest ramps up from local, to statewide, regional, to national, and finally internationally there are early signs that this will not be "routine". Get your communications team ready and decide where to strategically place trained personnel. Have call takers in place if the PIO needs to respond to the scene, and use technology to help communicate. Prior to this incident, nearly 5,900 people had been found or recovered through search efforts in Oregon. More than 120 people who were the subject of search and rescue missions are still missing. Ninety-three percent of search missions lasted less than 24 hours. Those facts are important to know but should not be the basis for thinking this incident is going to last less than 24 hours. Get prepared for the long-term by forming a group of trained individuals to help if needed.
- Don't be afraid to rely on your gut feeling and communicate on an emotional level. Working in an environment where we usually communicate "just the facts", I learned the power of empathy, compassion and a message of "not giving up" pulled people's interest in and kept the family's hopes up. This happened through what is said and from non-verbal spontaneous responses to the news as it developed. Honest emotions helped catch people's attention. I underestimated the impact until I saw how others were affected by this family's plight and the efforts of those trying to find them.
- Keep important stakeholders informed. Keep the family and those directly impacted informed before releasing significant information. Update key agency leaders, incident command, and government officials. In some cases you may not be able to control this, but take any steps you can to maintain the respect and trust of those relying on you to keep their best interests and confidentiality a top priority.
- Work closely with media, on and off scene. Try to understand and help address their needs. Get to know how you can help on-scene media meet their deadlines, news cycles, parking and personal needs. Provide adequate parking, access to restrooms (accommodate with portable restrooms if none available), and assess the impact that a growing media throng will have on the local community. Help arrange camera and reporter pools to minimize incident response impacts. During down times, walk through the media area and spend time checking in just to see how reporters and their support personnel are doing. This gave me the chance to squash bad rumors and see how the media is being affected by covering this story. It was during these times I found out some of the reporters knew James Kim and were personally affected by the tragedy.
- Use the Internet as a communication tool that allows off scene media and public to access information as it develops. All news releases were posted on our Department's website and the Internet news release distribution service website following every news conference. At the highest interest level time, there were over 116,000 hits on our agency's website. This was the day when Mr. Kim was found deceased in a creek. On average, our website may receive a couple hundred hits a week in the news release section. Media websites also saw a huge spike on this story. On that day, MSNBC.com received 1 million page views making it their top rated story. CNN.com received over 750,000 page views. San Francisco Chronicle homepage reported 3,300 page views per minute in the hour after the body was found. This was the same day the Iraq Report was released spelling out how our country should move forward in the Iraq war. The Kim Family story was the number one national story.
- "Stay within your lane". Speak about that which you are authorized and qualified to talk about. Work with the family or those impacted so you don't speak inappropriately about something that may offend them. Keep involved agencies in the loop and help coordinate their information releases if they are unable to do so. Speaking outside of our scope may draw unnecessary or negative attention, or may question what the designated spokesperson(s) said about an important aspect or fact related to the crisis. This may result in unwarranted criticism.
- Take care of yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help. The onslaught of media interest allowed me about one hour sleep a night for five days. I didn't eat for three days. Take additional clothes, money, and personal items in case you unexpectedly stay longer than anticipated. Keep in touch with your loved ones so they know you are OK. Bring in trusted help and consider development of a joint information team or center to assist with coordinating the distribution of incident information. A fatigued spokesperson is prone to make critical errors affecting the public's confidence and have a significant negative impact on an organization's reputation and credibility.
- Don't hide from the media and monitor what is reported. If you can't be found they will find others to speak who may cause more damage and distractions. Pay close attention to so-called "experts" being interviewed, and monitor the tone of reporting to help adjust your messages. It's important to correct reporting errors.
- Realize your job isn't over once the situation ends. Be prepared for the reporting coverage shift from positive to negative if the media takes on their "watchdog" role when trying to find what may have gone wrong. Know that people may feel the need to express their opinions and emotions. It took me several days to read and respond to emails and phone messages from people around the world who became so emotionally involved they felt compelled to write or call on the phone. Some messages were very critical, but many were complimentary of not only the search efforts but also the compassionate way we communicated as this incident developed.
A touching reminder of the power we as communicators can have came from a woman in North Carolina who said she was homeless and lived in a hotel. As were millions around the world, she watched the search unfold on a television and was moved to leave me a voicemail message just to say she was praying for all us. Several weeks later I received a large box in the mail from her. I waited six months before I finally decided to open the box as it sat in my office. I found the box contained at least 50 individually wrapped gifts with her letters of encouragement to the family and those involved in the search effort. I was humbled by the thought that may be we reached someone like her in an unforgettable way. Her kind thoughts, as well as the lessons learned because of this incident, are reminders that we can effectively reach and help people understand what is happening. It is something I will never forget.
Lieutenant Gregg Hastings is 30-year veteran of the Oregon State Police. He has served as Public Information Officer for nine of the last 12 years and is the Department's statewide media contact person.
Blog Getting Very Active
There is a LOT more posting going on at the Bernstein Crisis Management blog now and that's going to continue, mostly material you will NOT find in the ezine. So if you'd like even more crisis management-related insights, go to: bernsteincrisismanagement.blogspot.com and/or add it to your RSS feeds.
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 email@example.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.
All information contained herein is obtained by Jonathan Bernstein from sources believed by Jonathan Bernstein to be accurate and reliable.
Because of the possibility of human and mechanical error as well as other factors, neither Jonathan Bernstein nor Bernstein Crisis Management is responsible for any errors or omissions. All information is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Bernstein Crisis Management and Jonathan Bernstein make no representations and disclaim all express, implied, and statutory warranties of any kind to the user and/or any third party including, without limitation, warranties as to accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability, or fitness for any particular purpose.
Unless due to willful tortuous misconduct or gross negligence, Jonathan Bernstein and Bernstein Crisis Management shall have no liability in tort, contract, or otherwise (and as permitted by law, product liability), to the user and/or any third party.
Under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
A service of this newsletter is to provide news summaries and/or snippets to readers. In such instances articles and/or snippets will be reprinted as they are received from the originating party or as they are displayed on the originating website or in the original article. As we do not write the news, we merely point readers to it, under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever due to the distribution of said news articles or snippets that lead readers to a full article on a news service's website, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Authors of the original news story and their publications shall be exclusively held liable. Any corrections to news stories are not mandatory and shall be printed at the discretion of the list moderator after evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF
Do you know people who are Crisis Managers, whether they want to be or not? Please pass this newsletter on to them!
Subscribe to the free, twice-monthly email newsletter below. After entering your email address, you will receive a message asking you to confirm your subscription in order to prevent someone else from adding you to the list without permission. YOU MUST CONFIRM YOUR SUBSCRIPTION OR YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE THE NEWSLETTER.
Articles in "Crisis Manager" were, unless otherwise noted, written and copyrighted by Jonathan Bernstein. Permission to reprint will often be granted for no charge. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.