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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein


"The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished."

--George Bernard Shaw


Media Interviews: Don't Open Any Doors
(c) 2001 Jerry Brown

Communicating With Impact

I like to think of media interviews as starting in an empty room, with lots of doors and a large window that looks out over a garden that represents the story you want to tell. Just you (or whoever's being interviewed) and the reporter are there. Your job is to open the window to the garden you want to show off to the reporter. The reporter wants to know what's behind all of the doors because s/he's looking for the most interesting story you have to offer -- even if it's one you don't want to tell.

Every time you answer a question, you potentially open one or more doors. If the reporter sees something behind one of those doors that looks interesting, s/he may lose interest in your garden and explore what's behind the door you just opened. If you opened the door to a skeleton-filled closet, a positive story can turn sour very quickly.

Even if the reporter doesn't find anything bad behind the door you opened, it still may be a distraction from the story you want to tell. And the more doors you open, the greater the risk that the story that gets written won't be the one you want to tell.

So, get the reporter to your garden as soon as possible. And keep her/him there. How? Have a clear agenda. Know what your message is. And stick to it. Keep the reporter interested in your garden and s/he won't go looking behind all those doors.

I often use this analogy when I'm doing media training. I've found almost everyone understands it -- including people with little or no media experience. As we go through the critiques of the trainees' taped interviews, they'll often say something like: "I opened a door there I shouldn't have." Or a colleague will say it for them. The analogy works because people understand it. And they understand when they've opened a door they didn't want to.

Keep the doors in mind for your interviews. And use the analogy with your clients, if you think it works. Happy gardening.

Jerry Brown publishes "Monday Morning Media Minute," from whence this article came. You can subscribe by writing to him, Jerry's specialities include Spokesperson Training, Media Consulting, Message Development and Crisis Communications.


Editor's Note: Until recently, Dana Adams was one of NBC's top correspondents, and now crisis managers everywhere can benefit from the fact that she's "one of us" as a media trainer. After I responded to a letter introducing her services, Dana was quick to submit this excellent article on managing the media during a crisis, to include some "mini-case histories" as infamous examples and VERY candid comments about her former industry.

You Can Run But You Can't Hide
by Dana Adams

The storm clouds known as bad publicity are gathering around your business and all you want to do is duck and take cover. Running from the press and not facing their questions is an easy out, but it is an option that is ill advised. Unfortunately, in our society a "no comment" is akin to "IÕm guilty." Unfair as that may be, itÕs true. Therefore, the best advice, when a crisis arises, is fight back and beat the press at their own game.

Any journalist who says he or she is completely objective about a story one hundred percent of the time is a liar. Nine times out of ten, a news organization goes after a story with a preconceived notion of who is the bad guy. As a former NBC news magazine correspondent, I speak from experience. If you happen to be the bad guy, not responding wonÕt stop the press from doing the story; theyÕll just go someplace else for sound bites. Rather than view this as a no-win situation, itÕs better to turn it to your advantage. Take control of the situation by feeding the press the information you want disseminated.

One recent example of how not responding to the press can damage a company was a story CBSÕs "48 Hours" did on in September of last year. The companyÕs CEO, Jay Walker, refused comment on a segment they were doing about unsatisfied customers who had purchased airline tickets through the companyÕs website. "48 Hours" managed to dig up a hand full of unhappy customers who complained that bidding was a tedious process and that if you did get a ticket for the price you requested it sometimes involved long layovers. In reality there was no story. Anyone who has used to purchase airline tickets knows that the reason tickets are so inexpensive is because one must put up with the bidding and sometimes-less-than-ideal routing. Walker had every reason to respond to this story, especially because it had very little merit. However, his failure to reply appeared callous and showed a lack of concern for his customers. If nothing else, he would have been so much better off saying the company was looking into the complaints with the hopes of resolving any unsatisfactory transactions. The companyÕs stock was already on a decline. In the week after the story, the companyÕs stock price fell fifty percent.

What you have to understand about journalists is they need sound bites. They also love confrontation. You want to make a reporterÕs day, toss him or her out of an office or put your hand up to the camera and say "no comment!"; thatÕs good videotape and it will become the focus of a story. Sit down and answer their questions with concern and kindness; the story becomes far less sensational and tends to stand out less.

If I can point to some of the best masters of utilizing the press to their advantage, it would be OJ SimpsonÕs defense team. I covered the trial for the NBC-owned stations. The so-called "Dream Team" knew the art of saying something while saying nothing. They ingratiated themselves to the press by learning reportersÕ names and giving sound bites on days when there was little to report. When they spoke, they got airtime. The result was clearly advantageous to their client, whether or not you agreed with the outcome.

This isnÕt to say facing the press and knowing what to say is easy. ThatÕs where media consultants come in. Facing the press without any preparation would be like taking the stand for cross-examination without any preparation by an attorney. I also recommend that people have consultants present for one-on-one interviews. You need to watch everything in an interview situation, from the camera angle to the lighting. I canÕt tell you how many times I have seen "the bad guy" back-lit with red lights! Just like an attorney would be present, a media consultant should be present to protect your rights.

Unfortunately, television news has become a profit-driven industry and because of this, news stories are more sensationalized and biased than ever before. Fortunately, there are people working level the playing field and give everyone a fair shot at a balanced story.

Dana Adams brings 15 years of on-air television experience in New York and Los Angeles to media consulting. Her company, Adams Broadcast Consulting, specializes in preparing people to face the media, especially in crisis situations. Adams can be reached through her website at or email at


Q: How do you track news about and related to your clients?

CM: Several methods (and I welcome submissions of others):

  • For news from virtually any major international media, I subscribe to Dow Jones News Retrieval ( There have been MANY times when I read about a client before they do because DJ sends the stories to my email box as soon as they're in.
  • When a client is the center of controversy, I seek out sites which may have been created or are being used by activists, either on newsgroups (which you can track through Deja News, or by doing keyword searches for activist websites via one of the better search engines (e.g.,


Crisis Manager is now available for "branding" by other firms and organizations, allowing you to get credit for providing it to your own contacts. This includes the possibility of foreign language translation. There is no charge for this permission if we agree on some simple terms of use. If you want more information on branding, or if you have the interest and resources necessary for foreign-language translation and distribution, please contact me,


Editor's Note: This is the complement to Dr. Lowe's article from the previous issue of CM, "Creating an Online Crisis PR Campaign and Event." It is extracted from "Internet Marketing in a Digital Economy," the Prentice Hall book she is co-authoring, due to be published this fall.

Virtual Newsroom: Web Design for Crisis

The Marketing Assessment Model
by Dr. Deborah Lowe and Dr. Thomas Matula

Internet Public Relations is creating an image for the company with a content-based website that creates excellence in three areas, including image creation, a media area, and a social responsibility area. It is integrating all the regular public relations functions, including working with the media, and adding the dimensions that a virtual public relations site can give a company. To effectively create media relations, it is important to design an excellent Virtual Newsroom. However, the Virtual Newsroom content as well as a crisis element is often not even considered in website design, even though it is at the heart of connecting with reporters, the community, government and activists.

To discover what elements should be in a good website, a Web Assessment Tool was developed to select a benchmark of excellence sites for people to see visual examples before developing their own website. In developing our Five Sun Marketing Web Assessment tool, it became apparent that, although many sites had some of the benchmark aspects that are excellent, the execution of many elements left a lot to be desired. There was no way for a company to know if their marketing, public relations, advertising or customer service was poor, average, above average, or excellent. There were some sites that had excellent category elements in the four and five star ranges but, in others, they fell down or lacked the category completely.

Five Sun Marketing Assessment Model

The Five Sun Marketing Assessment model is divided into categories including:

  • Web Design
  • Interactivity
  • Sales Presentation and Demonstration
  • Customer Personalization
  • Interactive Sales Promotion
  • Public Relations Virtual Newsroom
  • Community Connections
  • Social Responsibility Projects
  • Customer Service
  • Advertising

Each category has elements in it that are divided into five levels.

Level One

This is a website that has minimal features and marketing content. It will have some of the basic elements but not all of them.

Level Two

This is a website that has most of the basic elements but they are designed in a way that does not give any marketing impact. It is an average level site.

Level Three

This is a website that not only has all of the basic elements but has some outstanding features from a marketing perspective. However, although it is above average, it may not have the types of features that could give it a marketing competitive advantage.

Level Four

This is a website that has some advanced marketing elements and technology design features but some areas may need some improvement to bring the entire site to a higher level. Overall this is an excellent site.

Level Five

This is a level of future thinking on marketing website design and technology features that will become the industry standard in a short period of time. It is designed for companies to plan to create cutting edge features in a planned, focused manner. Not all companies will want to adopt Level Five features in all areas but may need to consider adopting some of them. Other features may be so expensive that only some companies initially will be able to afford to be a market leader adopter.

Because the categories are set up in these five levels, there are some overlapping of elements. If you have a basic element website, you still need those elements if you move up to Level Two and through to Level Five.

Most companies do not use a Marketing Web Assessment Tool because it is very expensive to acquire. Forrester Research markets their Web assessment tool at $10,000 with a $40,000 price tag for the assessment itself, while Price Waterhouse has a $40,000 marketing tool with a million dollar price tag for the assessment.

Editor's Note: To be continued in next issue! Dr. Deborah Lowe is a Full Professor of Marketing at San Francisco State University, teaching graduate courses in Internet Marketing, Digital Advertising, Public Relations in an Internet Age and graduate Marketing. She does consulting on Internet Marketing and Product Tampering Crisis Communications. Dr. Lowe can be contacted by email,


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These sites have proven valuable to my business and may do the same for yours. - Public Relations is a one-stop resource for public relations, corporate and marketing communications, and business people with 24 subject categories and more than 1200 direct links to content for PR & communications professionals plus chat, newsletter and more. Go to

"Media Insider" is a free service for the public relations community hosted by PR Newswire and ProfNet, its online resource linking reporters with expert sources. Updated daily with contributions from members, Insider reports on the people and new technologies behind the production of news. Go to


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