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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2000 Jonathan Bernstein


"That reporter interviewed me for over an hour and didn't even report the most important information I gave him!" -- typical statement by angry executive who has never been media-trained.


The OhNo Awards!

Crisis Management mistakes can be highly instructive. They can give us the opportunity to avoid similar gaffs.

As the grand high poobah of this publication, I hereby announce creation of "The OhNo Awards," which I will hand out irregularly when I find -- or you recommend -- a suitable candidate. The dubious honor takes its name from "OhNo the Ostrich," the startled-looking bird with the large target on its butt which serves as the logo for the HTML version of this newsletter.

I recognize that my information sources MIGHT have the information wrong or out of context from time to time -- but I also know that "if you don't say it, they can't repeat it."

Our first winner -- Jeff Klocke, marketing director for the Santa Monica Pier. A front-page Los Angeles Times story on July 5 reported on a horrible multiple shooting (three cops, two innocent bystanders) and hostage situation at the Pier on the Fourth of July, which was fortunately resolved with no deaths. The pier was closed most of the day as a result, prompting this reported comment from Klocke:

"(the closure) was a huge disappointment for us. July Four is one of our most popular days."

Probably a huge disappointment to the victims too, huh Jeff?

Your comments and submissions of future candidates are encouraged; write to


Email -- The Great Liberator

Email is a powerful tool which can be used to prevent, create or react to crises. It is not just a means of sending messages to friends and business contacts. Can you imagine what happened to "public relations," by whatever name, when instantaneous wire, and then telephone, communication allowed information sharing over great distances? Email brings a whole new level of communications opportunities, and challenges, to all of us.


  • Email feels safer to most users. The absence of another person or voice when writing seems to embolden users, whether using a pseudonym or not, to say things when they might not otherwise.

  • Email gives users the "instant gratification" of transmitting information, opinions or feelings without being put on hold, reaching annoying voicemail or encountering busy signals.

  • Email allows one to share messages with others rapidly -- you don't have to make 10 phone calls to get the same message to 10 people (or 100). Having a phone number in your offline address book doesn't do that for you -- having an email address in your online address book DOES.

  • The ease of cutting and pasting from email, and of sending MS-Word (or other wordprocessing docs) makes it possible for cooperative communication between groups of similar purpose -- whether they be internal, "friendly" groups or external, "activist" groups.

  • Done using technology which does not require a technical degree, email allows for safe, anonymous communication (the nasty hackers caught by the federal government and others usually have been caught because they talked about their communication in discussion groups and elsewhere, not because their original messages were traceable -- and most businesses don't have the means for backtracking any anonymous communications).

  • Most of my business and personal contacts PREFER email to phone contact or "snail mail" for routine communication. It's easier to access, read fast and "dispose of as appropriate."

  • Email "opt in" lists -- where people say they WANT to receive email on certain subjects -- are WIDELY available and avoid the annoyance (and negative impression-making) of prospects (e.g., your customers) receiving "spam," the electronic equivalent of junk mail.

  • You could probably add a lot of bullet points to the above -- and, fact, I encourage you to do so for future publication. Write to And hand this article to any of yournior management who don't yet "get it," maybe it will help!


From Skepticism to Success -- Turning Around Public Opinion
A Duffey Communications Case History

(Editor's Note: I was very impressed with both the thoroughness of Duffey Communications' management of a difficult situation and Morgan Stanley's apparent willingness to acknowledge they'd probably erred in their initial approach to public and community relations. My thanks to Duffey Account Supervisor Brian Rubenstein for making this material available.)


Morgan Stanley Dean Witter trades electricity through its commodities desk and has established South Eastern Electric Development (SEED) Corp. to build and operate natural gas-powered electric generation facilities.

SEED Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary, generates electricity to supply utility companies the power needed to meet growing industrial and residential demands. In November 1998 officials at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter contacted Duffey Communications when two newspapers in Georgia and Alabama published stories announcing the company’s plans to build a 100-megawatt, natural gas-powered, peak-power electric generation facility near the River Ridge subdivision in nearby Smiths, Ala. Although Duffey had previously recommended proactive community relations activities to inform and build support from the public and officials, Morgan Stanley opted to forego this approach, believing the community would either recognize the benefits or show indifference.

At the time, SEED Corp. was awaiting the approval of two crucial permits: a construction permit to supply natural gas to the facility, and an Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) operating permit. A lack of active communications within the community resulted in an information void, which the public quickly filled with speculative and false data. One article fanned the opposition firestorm through biased reporting, insinuating that corporate and governmental secrecy existed and the project would endanger the community. An atmosphere of fear and distrust evolved within the community, and growing public opposition soon placed the $25 million project in great jeopardy. Duffey Communications:

  • Met with the client to learn the details about the project, including technology, chronology, plans, and involved parties such as citizens, legislators, governmental agencies, media, vendors, etc.; Identified local media and launched a system to track and gather all related print and broadcast coverage; Reviewed media coverage to identify misinformation and opposition message points;

  • Pinpointed key local and state legislators, Lee County, Ala. commissioners and county engineers; Attended two public town hall meetings with more than 200 citizens in attendance to learn that community opposition was nearly unanimous. Local media covered the meetings, with one reporter printing very critical and biased articles that further inflamed the situation.

  • Researched other similar community outreach programs, and flooded the client with articles and case studies that reinforced Duffey’s proposed strategy.


Duffey quickly began work on a four-pronged community relations plan that included the following components: message management, media relations, community outreach and public affairs. The first three  components would ease community fears, and the fourth would build relationships with key community influencers.


  1. Quell community opposition by neutralizing misinformation.

  2. Communicate how the facility will benefit the area.

  3. Position SEED Corp. as a good corporate neighbor.

  4. Create a favorable atmosphere that results in the completion and operation of the facility.


  1. Identify key messages for the SEED spokesperson and train him on message management by reviewing possible citizen, legislator and media questions.

  2. Humanize the SEED spokesperson through media relations and meeting with community and business groups.

  3. Identify opposition message points, which relied on misinformation, and gather facts to address their concerns.

  4.  Target Audiences: Residents, key local and state officials, print and broadcast media, civic and business organizations, and education officials.


Duffey created a message triangle and Q&A documents to help the SEED spokesperson answer all media and community inquiries while delivering the following key messages:

1) We have brought on some of the top energy experts in the nation to ensure that this plant is safe, clean and quiet; 2) We plan to be active members of and a good neighbor to this community for a long time to come, and look forward to clearing up these misunderstandings and establishing a responsible and trusting relationship with our neighbors; 3) We have worked very closely with local community officials and state agencies throughout this process, and have made sure that all the necessary filings, disclosures and paperwork have been completed fully and accurately.

  • A local P.O. box and toll-free phone number were established to provide residents convenient ways to voice their concerns and help SEED Corp. establish a local presence.

  • Duffey produced a full-page advertisement to thank the citizens for attending the public meetings, express SEED Corp.’s desire to work with residents, reinforce the facts about the facility, and advertise the toll-free number and P.O. box. The ad was placed in the Phoenix Citizen and the Opelika-Auburn News.

  • To address community misinformation and to explain how the facility would benefit the community, the agency developed a comprehensive brochure for 2,000 residents within two miles of the facility. Two additional brochure mailings helped reinforce the facts.

  • The agency scheduled individual meetings with local and state legislators and Lee County commissioners. Each official received a Powerpoint presentation handout and a pocket-sized tip sheet explaining facts about the facility.

  • Since most opposition existed in River Ridge, the agency targeted the president of the neighborhood’s homeowners association. Duffey sent a letter to the homeowners association president to open communications between the residents and SEED Corp., but she declined the meeting on advice from her attorney. A follow-up letter of regret was distributed to local and state officials and was verbally communicated to the media and area residents.

  • Duffey scheduled editorial board meetings with all media to communicate facility facts and to encourage reporters to contact SEED Corp. first when researching stories.

  • A news release announcing that SEED Corp. was moving ahead with its project was distributed. Duffey also drafted a letter-to-the-editor to address misinformation and communicate facility facts.

  • Duffey scheduled presentations with local civic and business groups so SEED Corp. could present its message points and answer inquiries.

  • In addition to other philanthropic recommendations, the agency met with local education officials to pinpoint how SEED Corp. could support the county’s school system. Duffey recommended that SEED Corp financially support the development of a distance learning computer laboratory and sponsor science camp facility tours for students. Duffey distributed a VIP event invitation to local government officials, media and residents to inform them of SEED Corp.’s support of the schools. Duffey also coordinated all details of the check presentation.


  1. Quell community opposition by neutralizing misinformation.

    • By distributing factual information on all fronts, pressure was lifted from local and state legislators and they were better prepared to address community concerns.

    • The brochure mailings, full-page advertisements, letter-to-the-editor, and community meetings helped quash opposition. River Ridge residents contacted SEED Corp. to communicate their support of the project and to state that the homeowners’ association president did not represent their views. Supporters in the community estimate resident opposition was slashed by 50 percent.

    • Editorial board meetings and the news release resulted in objective and often supportive coverage. Reporters contacted SEED Corp. first rather than requesting reaction statements to community accusations and hearsay.

  2. Communicate how the facility will benefit the area.

    • Duffey used the brochures, community meetings, policymaker meetings, advertisements, and media relations activities to communicate and/or reinforce how the SEED Corp. facility would benefit the community. Benefits include: 1) More than $190,000 in additional tax revenue for Lee County 2) Increased electrical capacity to meet growing residential and industrial demand in East Alabama, particularly during the hot summer months. 3) The long-term possibility of lower electricity rates. 4) An economic impact on the community exceeding $60 million.

  3. Position SEED Corp. as a good corporate neighbor.

    • SEED Corp. financially supported the development of a distance learning lab for Smiths Station Schools. The $18,000 check presentation received extensive media coverage including a full-page photo spread in the community section of all three local papers: The Ledger-Enquirer, Opelika-Auburn News and The Phoenix Citizen. In addition, SEED Corp has offered to sponsor a science camp facility tour for students and continually encourages all members of the community to participate in a facility tour.

  4. Create a favorable atmosphere that resulted in the completion and operation of the facility.

    • SEED Corp. received approval for both permits, freeing the $25 million project from a state of risk.

    • All resident appeals were denied, including a stay on construction.

    • The facility began generating and selling power in June 1999.

    • This community outreach program has been adopted by Morgan Stanley to better prepare the company for future projects.

(Duffey Communications,, is an Atlanta-based crisis communications firm serving clients such as Kinko's, Kroger, CenturyTel and Best Software.)


Q: What do you do when you're a PR consultant or in-house PR person working a crisis which you know BEGS for the employment of effective Crisis Management tactics -- but legal counsel INSISTS on "no comment?"

CM: First, on rare occasion, the legal situation is SO threatening that saying nothing at all IS the best thing to do. However, in my experience, it is usually possible to make public comments in a manner which does not, in fact, threaten the legal situation. In many cases, it can actually help the legal case by, de facto, influencing regulators, legislators and the jury pool. As you may know, I'm a regular columnist on Crisis Management for Arizona Attorney, journal of the Arizona Bar Association. A growing number of lawyers in Arizona have, to their credit awakened to the construction use of Crisis Management PR as part of their overall legal strategy. You might want to read -- and refer others -- to my latest column for Arizona Attorney. It's called "Influencing the Jury Pool" and you'll find the link at Other articles on the same page have also proven useful for giving recalcitrant decision-makers a different perspective on Crisis Management.


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