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Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2000 Jonathan Bernstein


Dear Readers:

After wrestling with myself, an exhausting process, I lost two falls out of three to my Inner Humorist, who insisted on devoting this issue to an allegorical case history which is best read aloud, and not at mealtime.

If this is your first issue of Crisis Manager, PLEASE be assured that it's nothing like my typical newsletters. OK, well, maybe it's SOMETHING like my typical newsletters in the sense of showcasing my cheek-embedded tongue. But I'm usually more serious, truly.

Then again, maybe I still am.

My best to all, with continued thanks for your subscription.

Jonathan Bernstein
Publisher & Editor


(Editor's Note: This was received by satellite from an anonymous source to be identified further herein.)

The Great Confusion: An Allegory of Issues Management

The Situation

On Epluribusunum, a planet circling a star in a galaxy far, far away, democracy ruled. The central government of the planet had representatives from every nation-state, but some nation-states had more representatives than others because they were more populous. Similarly, the world's highest official -- The Principal Peter -- was elected based on a system which allocated a certain number of votes to each nation-state. If a candidate won the popular vote in his or her nation-state, all of that sovereign territory's vote allocation went to that candidate. Great believers in honest labeling, the people called the electoral system "The Great Confusion."

For many years, The Great Confusion had, usually with minimal muss and fuss, sent representative after representative, Principal Peter after Principal Peter, to the world's capitol city, BlackHole. There were hundreds of short-term challenges to the system over the decades, but all of them were remanded to the Court of Apathy, the nation's highest and most powerful decision-making body, from whence they never again emerged.

In the year of this case history, however, something odd happened. While the election of representatives went pretty much as usual, the battle for the Principal Petership was fierce and ineffable. One candidate, Whoami Now, garnered the most popular votes of the combined nation-states. But the other candidate, Shal-O Goodoldboy, appeared to have won the most total nation-state votes, the core of The Great Confusion. There was, however, a glitch.

In Flatland, a heavily populated nation-state known best for its many varieties of poisonous and carnivorous reptiles, local officials had decided to enhance The Great Confusion by using different voting systems and ballots from district to district. Additionally, they granted great discretion on interpretation of voting rules to individuals whose education on the subject was roughly equal to the training given Epluribusunumites about how to fly without the aid of a machine, and whose compensation was largely in the form of indeterminate ego-gratification and all the liquid stimulant they could drink.

Incredibly, miraculously, strangely, tragically, the Flatland system -- and systems like it in most of the nation-states -- had operated unchallenged and uncontroversial for lo all these years. This time, however, Flatland's collective votes for Principal Peter would apparently swing the election to the candidate who won the nation-state's popular election. And no one knew who that really was because, faced with that reality, but with Whoami Now trailing in the vote count, his supporters launched an all-out legal and public relations battle to somehow amend the system, retroactively, in a manner which benefited their candidate. Immediately, Shal-O Goodoldboy's fans and staff launched a counter-offensive. The largest historical gathering of another powerful institution, the Court of Public Opinion, was in session worldwide.

Issues/Crisis Management Tactics Employed

Experts in the law - known as StirShys because of their mandatory graduation from the special university located in the city of StirShy, part of the nation-state of Loophole -- had, of course, their own methods of challenging the system. This case history focuses primarily on the tactics employed by Epluribusunum's Public Relations Crisis Communicators, or PRCCs. To wit (at least half-way):

  • PRCCs detected, investigated, created, exaggerated and enunciated every possible detail which could, even remotely, suggest that opposition PRCCs viewpoints were invalid.

  • Self-appointed PRCCs, including many local, nation-state and national elected officials, added their opinions and observations to the mix. In fact, some became PRCCs just to have a chance to get some visibility, even though the issues had nothing to do with them, believing that "any publicity is good publicity."

  • PRCCs invaded the Court of Apathy and incited mobs of normally unconscious citizens to protest issues which most couldn't have explained even if enticed by an offer of free facelifts, a best-seller in Flatland.

In one of the most bizarre partnerships in the planet's history, The Hack Guild -- which operated the print and broadcast media of Epluribusunum -- COMPLETELY bought into, complimented, reinforced, endorsed and amplified the tactics employed by every PRCC in the world. It was rumored that they reversed their normal antipathy towards cooperating with professional PRCCs on the advice of a guru known as the Prophet Motive.

The Aftermath

Unfortunately, the PRCC who clandestinely sent me this case history from Epluribusunum had his transmission cut a little short, and I cannot say who eventually won the position of Principal Peter. You may not believe this, but the incredible resources devoted to both creating and attempting to resolve this challenge were all done just so that the winning party could take office for four years and, in fact, wield little direct power. I know, you would think he would be elected for a decade, or a lifetime, given how hotly the PRCCs, StirShys and others waged war with The Great Confusion and its Flatland incarnation.

Some other results, however, included:

  • Virtual assurance that neither candidate would be able to run for office again.

  • A complete undermining of public confidence in The Great Confusion.

  • MUCH higher public awareness of just how many PRCCs, professional and self-appointed, there were in the world.

  • Record sales of print ads and broadcast air time.

Hypothetical Alternative

How COULD this have turned out, if the right PRCC, at the right time and place, had acted a little differently?

Let's say that Whoami Now's chief PRCC, Meister Spin, had advised his candidate -- once it became clear that the process was going to get bogged down in both the Courts of Law and the Court of Public Opinion - to use the situation as an opportunity to overcome any remaining negative perceptions the public had about the politician. An opportunity to manage four years of public opinion about Shal-O Goodoldboy. And an opportunity to be elected Principal Peter, after that four-year delay, by a huge mandate instead of a legal technicality.

Meister Spin, in this hypothetical situation, could have recommended that Whoami Now:

  • Gracefully concede defeat to Shal-O Goodoldboy.

  • Call for representatives and PRCCs of Whoami's political persuasion to cease any public outcry immediately.

  • Announce the creation of the Election Normalization Uniformity Foundation (ENUF), a nonprofit think tank devoted to standardizing and reforming the electoral system. ENUF would include "the common citizen" as well as those typically involved in politics, and have a firm goal of achieving a workable system in two years.

  • Leave it to the Hack Guild to keep a heavy focus on every move the new Principal Peter makes, complete with sly innuendos about how it might have been different if Whoami won.

  • Proudly comment on the progress of ENUF, while keeping hands off so as not to be accused of manipulation.

  • Target certain key media and influence groups to whom Whoami could give interviews or make speeches in the years between elections, always tactfully offering opinions on how he might have handled any issue with which Shal-O was struggling. The not-so-hidden message, of course, being "I could have done this better."

  • Suggest that his loyalists follow a similar pattern of tasteful, but tactical, behavior to help ensure that they become the overwhelming majority government when Whoami is elected.

And who knows? Maybe that's exactly what happened. Or maybe Shal-O's advisors came up with a similar plan rather than suffer the ignominy of having their victory overturned by the courts? We may never know what happened on Epluribusunum, but perhaps some of us can learn from it, regardless.

(Editor's Note: OK, now I become a risk-taker. Did you like the article? If you did and have friends in the media who might enjoy or reprint it, please pass it on. If you'd like me to periodically stray from more traditional case histories to write more like this one, let me know. And if you hated it you'll send me very diplomatic comments rather than cancelling your subscription, yes? As always, you can reach me by sending email to


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