© 2000 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Don't play ostrich -- remember what part of you is still sticking out of the sand!
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Company-Wide Media Contact Policy
All too often, employees who should not be speaking to the media end up being quoted in print. You can prevent some crises and minimize the
negative impact of others by establishing a company-wide media contact policy clearly identifying what anyone should do if contacted about the organization, whether the contact is made at work or home.
Make sure everyone knows how to reach at least one authorized spokesperson at any time of day. You'll be saved a lot of grief! What type of training should that spokesperson receive? That will be the
subject of a future issue!
A Crisis Management Case History: The Internet as Catalyst for Crises
It seemed appropriate, for this premiere of an email newsletter on Crisis Management, to demonstrate the role the Internet is playing as a
catalyst for crises. Situations which used to remain strictly localized are now being broadcast nationally or inter-nationally through cyberspace,
often inciting similar situations in remote locales. PR "containment" efforts are rendered much more complex. New paradigms of communication are evolving on an almost-daily basis. Here's a typical,
partially fictional case history:
- Local customers of a national, publicly held company protest certain company decisions.
- Customers create a private email list for intra-group communication and a website on which their allegations and demands are posted.
- Customers contact area media using email,fax and phone.
- Local company PR representatives conduct usually-effective containment tactics such as meetings with customers, balanced response to media, letters to non-involved customers.Management believes it has found a solution acceptable to the majority of customers.
Crisis Expands Via Internet
- Within a couple of months, three other company locations, in widely separated parts of the country, are targeted by customer groups who have read about the first protest as a result of Web site and email communication, as well as by perusal of online media coverage.
- Customers at new protest locations are familiar with all details of management settlement elsewhere and want the same or better deals, even though their situations differed somewhat factually. They have a faster "smart protesting" learning curve because they can emulate the most-effective tactics employed at first location while developing new ones of their own.
- Regional and national media begin to read of the multi-location situation because they automatically track news of the company using various online news services and begin to ask if there is some substantive problems at the parent company.
- Corporate-level PR now becomes involved in managing multi-location situation with national implications.
Evolution in Company PR Philosophy
As a result of these situations, which are eventually resolved via compromise after "too much" negative publicity and customer distress, the affected company:
- Establishes a policy of considering and preparing for the Internet-based proliferation of crisis situations as part of its formal crisis management planning process.
- Trains its in-house PR staff to use the Internet both proactively and reactively via enhanced website communication, self-subscribing customer email newsletters, monitoring newsgroup discussions about the company, and providing easy-to-use, rapid-response mechanisms for customer inquiries by email.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: A reporter who's always played fair with our company really wants to interview our CEO about nasty rumors that have some basis in fact. She's on a tight deadline. Should we do it?
CM: All things being equal, you want to do what you can for a friendly reporter. BUT...don't let a reporter's deadline push you into responding more quickly than you can prepare for, and never assume that a "friendly when news is good" reporter will cut you any slack
when news is bad. She might...or might not. Management should start thinking about what they might say publicly as soon as they know negative news might get out, even if it's months in advance, so it takes
less time to prepare for a constructive interview. If you're not prepared in advance, tell the reporter that you appreciate her interest and that you're still gathering information necessary to give an accurate
interview. As the media is usually a useful means of reaching some of your audiences, get back to the reporter when you're ready to talk.
Q: What's the biggest mistake any company can make with regard to crisis management preparedness?
CM: Not being prepared! It's astounding how many companies prepare for physical emergencies (fire, earthquake, etc.), have
succession plans, have computer-crash plans, but do not have a crisis management plan. As a result, their response to PR crises is slowed dramatically, resulting in more damage.
Q: What could OJ Simpson have done to have a PR win regardless of what happened legally?
CM: He could have voluntarily taken two or more polygraph exams, including a Voice Stress Analysis test, and publicly announced the
results -- assuming, of course, that they came out in his favor. Regardless of its acceptability in court, it would have had a lot of weight in the public eye. Heck, he could still do it. Candidly, I have to
believe that Johnnie Cochran thought of that, he's very PR savvy -- so you have to wonder why it wasn't done or, if it was, why we've never heard the results.
Questions for "Crisis Manager on the Spot" or about other topics? Comments? Should this newsletter be longer, or be distributed more
than twice a month? And, I would appreciate knowing how you heard about "Crisis Manager." Write to Jonathan Bernstein.
Do you know people who are Crisis Managers, whether they want to be or not? Please pass this newsletter on to them!
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Articles in "Crisis Manager" were, unless otherwise noted, written and copyrighted by Jonathan Bernstein. Permission to reprint will usually be granted for no charge. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.