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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2009 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 5,000+
Estimated Readership: 18,000+


Audiences will forgive a misstep if it is appropriately owned up to and corrected. What they won't forgive is arrogance in the form of inaction.

Richard Levick



What do Charleston, Idyllwild, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo have in common?

They have been my temporary residences over the past month, during a sudden whirlwind of crisis preparedness work. The good news was that it sure helped pay the mortgage for a few more months, but the bad news was that I couldn't find the time to get even one issue of Crisis Manager out during September. My bad, definitely, and I apologize to all of you.

This issue, I'm going to do my best to make it up to you with some fine articles from three different guest authors:

In Rose Jensen's 5 Tips for Handling an Online Reputation Crisis, the author gives you some solid advice about what to do BEFORE you shoot from the hip (and possibly hit your foot). Given that many, perhaps most crises have an online component to them now, this is a must-read.

Then you can take a step back and examine what Bob Roemer calls a Crisis Response Communications Plan and the excellent analogy he draws to war gaming.

Finally, a topic that's written about very seldom. In Crisis Management, What Happens When It's All Over? my British colleague Jonathan Hemus talks about the clean-up phase, how to finish things off smoothly and, importantly, make sure that you've garnered the important lessons this most recent crisis has to offer you.

By no coincidence, since crisis management pros of this quality logically follow similar paths, I was fascinated by the fact that my own Post-Crisis Analysis Process has strong parallels to both Bob's and Jonathan's articles. It was based on military precedents, and is designed to - in quite some detail - teach you what you did well, what went wrong, and how to make improvements as a result.



5 Tips For Handling An Online Reputation Crisis
By Rose Jensen

Whether you're an individual or a business, managing your online reputation can have a big impact on your ability to work successfully. Discovering that it's gone south, despite your best efforts to protect it, can be a unnerving event. If you're facing this kind of crisis, or just want to be prepared, don't panic. Instead, use these tips and your own plan to handle the crisis effectively and productively.

1. Don't overreact.

While it can be tempting to freak out and immediately retaliate to whatever is said about you online, in the long run this can really do more harm than good. It can make you look unprofessional and may even confirm the kind of accusations being made about you. Instead, take some time to calm down and wait until you do act rationally to do anything about the situation.

2. Determine the impact.

The first step to dealing with your online reputation is to figure out how big of a deal the situation really is. If it's something small or from someone others are unlikely to encounter online you may not even need to do anything. Of course, if it has far-reaching potential then you'll need to address it head on.

3. Figure out why this happened.

There are a whole lot of reasons that someone can lash out at you online, from professional jealousy to personal grudges to the feeling that they were wronged by your business. You need to sit down and work out just why this happened in your case. It can be essential to figuring out how to deal with the situation and to making sure it doesn't happen again.

4. Talk it over with others.

You don't have to rush out and deal with a situation like this on your own or through an attorney. Take some time to bring together the main players in your business or people who are close to you to figure out the best plan of attack and decide what would look best for your reputation. After all, you don't just want to make things worse. Editor's Note: Heck, you might even think about hiring someone who knows a lot about online reputation management.

5. Spend time on an appropriate response.

Your response to an attack on your online reputation should be timely, of course, but it should also be well thought out and carefully planned. If you have made a mistake, how you deal with that situation will be quite different than how you would deal with a situation where you are being unjustly accused or defamed. Consider your actions carefully as on the web information spreads quickly and a misstep can cost you.

Rose Jensen writes about the best online universities, She welcomes your feedback at Rose.Jensen28@

Creating A Crisis Response Communication Plan
From When the Balloon Goes Up: The Communicators Guide to Crisis Response
By Bob Roemer

A plan is not a solution to a crisis, rather it is a tool that can guide you through the Initial Response - the early, chaotic hours typical of just about any emergency regardless of its nature - and help you plan and manage communications in the Primary Response and Recovery stages.

Ideally, the Crisis Response Communication Plan (hereafter "communication plan") should be integrated in the organization's general crisis plan. This is essential a coordinated, unified response, and helps business unit and staff group managers understand the support they can expect from public relations.

That's in a perfect world.

If the culture of the organization is such that the need for a crisis plan is not understood, get busy and put together a communication plan anyway, because regardless of the level of preparation in the rest of the organization, if an emergency occurs, you'll be expected to perform flawlessly while others are running for the bunker.

All communication plans should start with an introductory statement from the top person in the organization regarding how he or she expects the response to any emergency or crisis to proceed. Regardless of the level of preparation, any crisis produces some amount of panic and trepidation that, in the absence of senior management's specific guidance, can cause organizational paralysis.

To be effective, your communication plan must be an easy-to-reference document containing the decisions, actions, resources and contacts you and your team will need to represent your organization in the high pressure, high stakes atmosphere of a crisis. It must be written clearly and with enough detail so that the most junior member of your team can implement it without guidance. Ideally, a communication plan should be no more than 30 pages in length. The thicker the plan the less likely it will be used in the heat of battle.

Developing the Crisis Response Communication Plan: The War Game Process

War gaming is a methodical process military planners use to identify the multitude of decisions, actions and resources required for a particular operation. It's also an excellent process to use when creating a communication plan. One step at a time, beginning with how you might be notified of a situation, identify the decisions and actions necessary to initiate and sustain your response the way you desire it to be implemented.

Details are important. Include how the communication staff will support special decisions or requirements, such as initiating a product recall, advising neighbors near your plant to shelter-in-place or contacting customers regarding how you intend to supply them. This is hard, nuts-and-bolts work, but the results of this process will become the framework of an effective plan.

Make the process as realistic as possible. For example, given business travel, off-site meetings and vacations, assume that one-third of your communication team will be unavailable for the Initial Response.

War gaming will most likely reveal gaps in your response capabilities. For example, how will you meet the one-hour Initial Response standard if the crisis occurs at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night and you live 45 minutes from your office? With offsite network access, this is less of an issue than it once was, but again, details are important. If your email server is down, do you have an alternate means of communicating broadly?

There are seven steps to creating a communication plan using the war gaming process.

1. Conduct a capability analysis

A capability analysis will help determine your response strengths and weaknesses. Include a skills and experience assessment of your team, an inventory of communications equipment and any outside resources currently on retainer or other vendor agreements that are applicable in a crisis.

2. Select a likely operational scenario

Select an operational crisis scenario that is likely to occur in your organization based on its business, industry or sector to give context to the war gaming process.

3. Determine the ideal response sequence

Step-by-step, determine the best-case sequence of actions and decisions and the details required to support them in order to respond to the scenario.

Actions are the tasks required to implement the response. For example:

  • Prepare the initial statement and appoint a spokesperson
  • Activate the Web site crisis dark page
  • Issue a media advisory regarding a press conference

Decisions are the choices that must be made at critical points during the response. For example:

  • Does this situation require a press conference?
  • Should previously scheduled events or programs be can celled?
  • Should the CEO make a statement? Travel to the scene of the incident?

Details are the specific information and data the communication team will need to implement the actions and decisions in the plan. For example:

  • Communication team contact information
  • Location of the designated press conference room
  • Boilerplate statements
  • Contact information for outside public relations/communications agency
  • Contact information for the Information Technology support

Arrange these actions, decisions and details in a checklist format divided into hourly segments based on the capabilities of your communication team.

4. Create a resources needs list

Based on organizational priorities and budgetary constraints, prepare a list of the resources needed to implement the plan identified during the step above.

5. Test the plan

Conduct a tabletop exercise to evaluate the draft communication plan. In Chapter 15 we will get into more detail but, basically, a tabletop exercise is a step-by-step process in which those responsible for implementing the plan examine it in detail to determine its strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Virtually every exercise reveals opportunities to improve your plan, so don't introduce the communication plan to the organization until you and your team have tested and improved it with at least three tabletop exercises.

More intense testing of the plan comes with running a crisis drill. Crisis drills provide the opportunity for a full-scale dress rehearsal to test your team's ability to physically accomplish the appropriate tasks detailed in the plan. They can be as realistic and sophisticated as your needs require and your budget will allow. Because of the time taken and expense of planning and conducting them, it is recommended that you wait to hold a crisis drill until you and your team have completed several tabletop exercises using the new plan.

6. Repeat the process

Conduct a second war gaming process, this time using a non-operational scenario that could occur in your organization, such as fraud, executive malfeasance or reports of sexual harassment.

7. Repeat the process again

Conduct a third war gaming process using a worst-case scenario that could befall your organization. Include developments such as a power failure, no access to your offices or a natural disaster, for example a hurricane, flood or a tornado.

War gaming - a continuous process

Effective crisis managers always look for opportunities to improve their plans. Be vigilant for lessons from crises and emergencies that
occur in other organizations - including those outside your industry or sector - that could be used to improve your plan.

For example, if your plan calls for the evacuation of your offices under certain circumstances, the events in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina should cause you to take a detailed look at your plans to ensure they include specifics; for example, under what circumstances should an evacuation be ordered, who makes that decision, where people should go during the evacuation process and how you will account for all your people.

War game matrix

As you analyze each scenario and determine your response actions and decisions you may find it useful to record your findings in a matrix Editor's Note: Since the matrix is a graphic that can't be reproduced in the plain text version of this ezine, you can view it as an MS-Word document that can be downloaded here.

Writing the initial draft

Using the information and data assembled during your war game sessions, write the communication plan's initial draft. If your organization has a headquarters and remote locations, consider whether two versions of the plan are necessary: one for headquarters and the other with specific procedures for outlying facilities.

You may find it helpful to use a checklist format organized in one-hour segments. This technique can help focus your response efforts on manageable groups of actions and decisions rather than face a seemingly endless to-do list..

The one-hour segments are not meant to limit response progress. If you complete a given hour's actions and decisions ahead of schedule, you should press on with your response to the next hour.

Because each crisis is different, all actions and decisions do not apply to all situations; however, when implementing the plan you will want to periodically review those items you decide to bypass to determine if they are applicable based on new information or developments.

Bob Roemer is an adjunct faculty lecturer in the Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program at Northwestern and a crisis management consultant. Previously, Roemer logged two decades of public affairs and crisis response experience in the oil and chemical industries. He has front-line spokesman and community relations experience in a wide variety of crises and emergencies, including explosions with injuries and fatalities, pipeline leaks, murders, robberies, white-collar crimes and workplace health issues. Roemer served in the U.S. Army on active duty and in the Army Reserve as an Armor and Cavalry officer. He is also a graduate of the Army's Command and General Staff College. His book, "When the Balloon Goes Up: The Communicator's Guide to Crisis Response," is available at

Crisis Management - What Happens When It's All Over?
By Jonathan Hemus

Successfully getting through a crisis can be an energy drain for individuals as well companies: it seems to pervade every thought, decision, and action of executives, and their employees. When the crisis subsides, it's tempting to move on and return to "business as usual".This can be a big mistake.

Getting through a crisis successfully can suck every bit of energy from individuals as well as a company: it seems to occupy every thought, decision, and action of executives, and to some extent all employees. So when the heat of the crisis subsides, it's tempting to move on as quickly as possible and return to "business as usual". Big mistake.

Even when the crisis appears to be over and life starts to return to a state of normality there are still a number of items to be addressed, and they must not be ignored.

They include:

  • If appropriate, providing on-going counseling or other support to employees, family members, or others directly affected by the crisis.
  • Rebuilding and repairing any damage done to the brand or company reputation.
  • Following up with the media and other stakeholders to share the results of efforts to rectify the crisis and prevent any repeat of it.
  • Objectively assessing and analysing the manner in which the crisis was handled and any learnings as a result.

Analysis and modification of crisis management policies

Much time and effort goes into developing and implementing a crisis management plan, but no matter how diligently you work to perfect this plan there is only one true test of its efficacy. When a real crisis breaks, your team is called to action, your processes are implemented and your spokesman has to stand before a crowd of media reporters with cameras and microphones thrust into his face. That is when you will know whether your plan works or not. And you will also find out how confidently and professionally the people that you have chosen to implement this plan are able to handle the situation.

So, having had the "benefit" of a real crisis to test your plans and people to the limit, you owe it to yourself and your organisation to act on any shortcomings. It is always enlightening to reflect upon the past crisis and the manner in which it was handled. However, you must go beyond reflection and into analysis and then action. Determine what was done well and what was not. Evaluate whether all policies were followed in accordance with the documented procedures. If not, why not? Does the plan require modification based on your real life experience or do your people require more training to confidently and successfully apply it? Or perhaps a bit of both?

Applying the learnings

It can be very hard to view a crisis as an opportunity, but the truth is that it provides a unique opportunity to critique current crisis policies, and enhance and polish any items that require it. Successfully achieving this requires a determination to avoid both scapegoating and a "head in the sand" approach. If either of these attitudes prevail , you will not benefit from the valuable learnings that lie within your crisis experience.

And the danger of this is that the factors that caused the crisis to emerge in the first place may still be lying dormant within your organisation ready to create another crisis in a few month's time...

Jonathan Hemus is the founder of Insignia Communications, a consultancy specialising in corporate reputation management and crisis communication. His experience in crisis management for a range of global corporations and public sector organisations has helped to protect and preserve many reputations. For regular insights into corporate reputation management, log on to Insignia's blog.

We Have Blogs!!

Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. hosts two blogs on which you are invited to participate:

Bernstein Crisis Management Blog and Crisis Thoughts

The former is a fairly traditional series of blog posts, at least five new ones per week, usually making points about crises in the news. The second blog, Crisis Thoughts, is...different. You have to see it to understand!

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Now Available At The Crisis Manager Bookstore

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  • Crisis Management & The Law (CD)
  • Internet Counterintelligence (CD)
  • How To Conduct A Vulnerability Audit (CD)

Jonathan Bernstein also offers on-site and remote webcam and WebEx-based media training worldwide, using Keeping the Wolves at Bay as the basis for training. Write to for more information.

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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


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