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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2009 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,500+
Estimated Readership: 17,000+


It is hardest to stand by our principles when they seem to run counter to our agenda.

Source Unknown


Editor's Note: I'm pleased to bring readers two fine pieces by fellow crisis management professionals. Rick Kelly is also my leading "go to" guy when I'm overworked or unavailable, while Janine Hills and I continue to look for ways to work together -- or at least for her to get me invited to speak at a conference in South Africa. I'm also adding what I intend to be a regular feature, a summary of the latest posts at the Bernstein Crisis Management Blog, as well as something new in my "blatant self promotion" Crisis Manager Business Announcements.

I Ain't Lyin'...This Time
By Rick Kelly

"I ain't lyin', this time I'm tellin' the truth."
- Bluesman Little Sammy Davis

The recent foibles of sports figures Alex Rodriguez and Michael Phelps provide an interesting study in reputation management for those of us in the biz.

Let's start with A-Rod, the freshest example. In an interview with baseball journalist Peter Gammons, after being outed in an investigative piece by Sports Illustrated for using performance-enhancing drugs, Rodriguez came clean - kind of. He acknowledged that he "did take a banned substance" and said he is "very sorry and deeply regretful."

Days earlier, a photo of Phelps apparently partaking of a recreation-enhancing drug at a college party wafted across the Internet. He quickly acknowledged that he had "engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment."

Crisis comm. 101: after screwing up, rebuilding your reputation begins with a mea culpa. Let's break these two down and see how they stack up:

Rodriguez admitted using "a banned substance" and apologized for that. Then, while asserting that he has "absolutely no excuse," he then proceeded to provide several. He said he "felt an enormous amount of pressure," and that "back then, it was a different culture."

He pointed to his na•vetˇ, the Texas heat, the "loosey-goosey era," and "trusting the wrong people." Then, for good measure, he clumsily attempted to throw the reporter, Selena Roberts, under the bus - not once or twice, but five times during the interview.

He said he was not aware that he had ever failed a drug test until confronted with that unpleasant fact by Ms. Roberts a few days earlier. Although he vividly recalled his no-more-steroid epiphany while "laying in my bed in Surprise, Arizona," he couldn't seem to remember where he obtained the drugs, nor did he seem to know what specific drugs he took. He even dropped the name of nutrition supplement provider GNC three times (note to GNC: call me regarding your reputation management needs if you don't already have crisis comm. counsel).

Rodriguez also admitted to not being truthful, aka lying, when he told CBS' Katie Couric in an interview last year that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs. He concluded the Gammons interview with the following nugget: "I feel the truth will always set you free," thus teeing it up nicely for the next installment of Seth Meyers' "Really?" on Saturday Night Live.

As for Phelps, he issued a written statement, reminding people of his age (23) and saying he had "acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."

One could buy the "youthful indiscretion" excuse a little more easily had it not been for his DUI bust four years ago, when it was illegal for him to drink, let alone drink and drive, and after which he made his initial promise never to let us down again.

On the other hand, he could have said the photo was doctored, that the bong wasn't loaded or that the substance in it was something other than marijuana - although, come to think if it, tobacco use might have been an even greater stain on his reputation.

Instead, he owned up to it. Then, to his further credit, he shut up.

A few days later, when USA Swimming suspended him for three months, Phelps quickly accepted the sanction with minimal comment. He didn't protest or "explain" when Kellogg Co. dropped its sponsorship of him (an irony not lost on those who contend that potheads and Frosted Flakes simply belong together).

So, let's grade these mea culpas. Apparently surprised that Rodriguez would be even that forthcoming, many sports pundits seemed to give him higher-than-average marks. I give him a D, perhaps generously, for

1) not really taking responsibility,

2) his vague and evasive answers to specific questions and

3) attempting to throw the reporter under the bus (hey, A-Rod, even if she's a stalker like you say, that doesn't mean her story was wrong, does it?).

The fact that Phelps' drug use was not performance enhancing might tend to lighten the criticism of him compared with Rodriguez. No one would suggest that his Olympic success is due to his dead-on impressions of several of the characters in Reefer Madness. Other than playing the youth card, he avoided trying to rationalize his behavior. Still, this makes the second time he's pledged not to embarrass himself or his sport. Let's give him an Incomplete - at least until we figure out whether this time, he's tellin' the truth.

Rick Kelly is Senior Associate Director of Crisis Communications for Harrisburg, PA-based TRIAD Strategies. Contact:

Raising Your Corporate Reputation
By Janine Hills

Reputation management has become a vital business tool. No longer is it a soft skill but a core responsibility of each and every employee and all involved stakeholders within the organisation.

The importance of stakeholder relationships has and continues to play a vital role within the corporate arena.

An organisation's reputation is derived from how stakeholders perceive the organisation, its communication and behaviour within the marketplace. Stakeholders are the people behind an organisation's reputation and the representatives of the image of the organisation. Therefore, the reputation of a company is vitally important for a number of reasons; not least because employees of all levels are ambassadors of the organisation. Employees can easily influence the reputation of the company by communicating positive or negative messages to other people, both inside and outside the organisation.

As a result, it is crucial to ensure that the reputation of the company is nurtured at all times. The dynamics of stakeholder relationships should never be undermined. Building collaborative stakeholder relationships should be embedded within all communications strategies. This will enable fostering of stakeholder relationships, building and leveraging of long-term investment relationships, which in turn may pave growth opportunities for an organisation within the marketplace. As a company's reputation takes years and dedication to build, strong relations with stakeholders need to be fostered and maintained to avoid the devastating results of reputational damage which, once lost, can take from nine months to five years to rebuild. It is important for organisations to know who the organisation influences and impacts on. Establishment and differentiation of stakeholders and key stakeholders enables adequate preparation for any issues within the organisation.

Not all stakeholders have the same influence or impact on the organisation. Some have perceptional power and value within the marketplace and others don't. Identifying key stakeholders will enable ease in tailoring messages accordingly and in aligning the goals of the stakeholders with the objectives of the company. Superior stakeholder satisfaction is therefore critical for successful organisations, especially in such an aggressively competitive market.

Eight steps to building effective stakeholder relationships:

  1. Develop a stakeholder strategy on communication.
  2. Determine a process for execution of strategies.
  3. Consistently involve, engage and feedback.
  4. Understand each stakeholder, the role they play, know the communication tools at hand and identify messages to be filtered through to the various mediums.
  5. Media train key spokespeople on dealing with sensitive issues and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
  6. Manage specific stakeholders' expectations and issues - customers, investors, suppliers, employees, the media, activists and governments.
  7. Explore ways to enhance relationships with various stakeholders.
  8. Measure, assess and evaluate stakeholder relationship influence - implement improvement.

Frequent and consistent engagement with stakeholders is essential to managing the reputation of an organisation. Engagement enables communication on various issues within an organisation. It also encourages all influential parties to come together to discuss possible approaches to overcoming conflicting agendas and promotes a consistent, open and balanced dialogue.

There are specific times in the development of any business when good stakeholder relationships become even more critical in determining the reputation of an organisation. To minimise damage to an organisation's reputation, especially in crisis communication or change management instances, communication with all stakeholders becomes even more vital.

In order to be effective, communication needs to be proactive, open, two-way and, most importantly, credible to show that you are on top of your game. Communication will be effective only if stakeholders perceive it to have integrity and integrity is the cornerstone of a good reputation.

The process of stakeholder relationship-building should be an ongoing one, to be seen as an opportunity for management to recognise that the relationship between individuals and the organisation is sacrosanct and powerful.

As your ally, stakeholders are an organisation's best word-of-mouth marketing. As an enemy, they can destroy you and your brand. For brand purposes of growth and brand prosperity, it is always important to effectively manage the relationship and interface between an organisation and its stakeholders.

Janine Hills, founder and CEO of Vuma Reputation Management, is a successful business woman, an extreme sports enthusiast and has spent 10 years of her life at the feet of a spiritual master in an Ashram. The Vuma team have built a reputation as industry leaders in the reputation management arena in South Africa. Vuma Reputation Management are also experts in Business Communication, Call Centre Reputation Management, Stakeholder Reputation management, Media Training, Crisis Management amongst others.

Recent Blog Posts

Want more? There are almost-daily blog posts now at the Bernstein Crisis Management blog. Recent posts include:

  • Bikini Blunder
  • The Largest Media Outlet in the Universe
  • A Finger Lickin' Secret
  • Will The Real Todd Black Please Stand Up?
  • Did You Really Say That?


SEO Support Services

Regular readers already know that Chesa Keane is the SEO guru I work with to create online reputation management plans and programs. But behind the scenes, the labor required to keep blogs going, to republish client articles all over the Internet, to support linking strategy, gotta be done by someone. Sometimes it's a client staff member. And sometimes it's the talented Erik Bernstein. Yup. A chip off the old Crisis Manager. Erik is now a regular member of our team, as SEO Support Specialist and Freelance Writer. His services can be contracted as part of or independent from other Bernstein Crisis Management assignments.

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

Teleseminar Recordings Available

Train an entire organization for the $95 cost of a single CD-ROM!

The following one-hour teleseminar recordings are now available at The Crisis Manager Store:

  • How to Conduct a Vulnerability Audit
  • Crisis Management & The Law
  • The Nastiest Media Tricks and How to Prevent Them
  • Internet Counterintelligence


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.


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.


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

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