© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
If you and your colleagues are spending most of your time on news releases and very little time preparing for interviews, you may want to re-examine your priorities. Interviews are where the news is. And, when a story goes bad, the interview is more likely to be the cause than the news release.
From "Monday Morning Media Minute" ezine published by Jerry Brown, APR, firstname.lastname@example.org
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
by Jonathan Bernstein
Preventing and preparing for crises is sometimes about making very simple changes to the systems we use to enhance communications. Increasing the number of available phone lines to handle the overflow when a crisis occurs. Creating broadcast fax and email lists, centralized where you can find them, and backed up regularly.
Using comprehensible document names is an often-neglected method of crisis prevention. Names which do not clearly identify the subject matter to someone other than the document creator -- and perhaps not even to him/her -- can actually create crises where none need exist, and exacerbate those already underway.
In the early stages of a crisis, information collection is critical to decision making. What did we actually talk about in that staff meeting ten months ago? Where is that letter Jim in Chicago sent to Bob Smith in New York on October 22, 1999?
Let's say the former document is named "SMET3.doc" and the latter has been dubbed JIM415.doc (because it was his 415th letter that year).
If the individuals who created them (a) no longer work there or (b) have created so many documents since that there's no way they can remember what's what, you'll be a long time finding what you need.
On the other hand, because all major word-processing programs now allow for "long file names," the documents could have been named, respectively:
"Staff Meeting 06.15.00.doc"
"Jim Letter to Bob S. 10.22.99.doc".
The decimal-point dating system is preferred by most computer programs, which don't like slashes (/) in filenames. Not all programs end in .doc, of course, but they still allow the long names. No need to stick to the old "eight character limit."
Maybe it's a sign of my advancing age (I turn 50 on April 8), but I'll be darned if I can look at a computer folder full of client-generated documents collected over even a few months and remember which document is which if they have not used "written for ease of access" long filenames. I've even started taking to renaming obtusely named files when saving them from email to my hard drive.
During breaking crises, every minute someone spends frantically opening and closing files (even on their own computer, much less someone else's), looking for the docs they need, results in response delay and/or hampers effective decision-making. And it's completely avoidable.
Take a look at your documents directory, or your admin assistant's directory. Do you both know what all those documents are, just by the name given? If not, consider allocating some admin time to renaming the most important files -- and start using comprehensible names from now on. You'll be glad you did, and so will anyone with whom you need to share those documents.
Bernstein Crisis Management IS EXPANDING
No, this is not, despite my reputation for humorous asides, an April Fool's joke.
It appears probable that I will be expanding what has been a one-man consultancy since 1994 into a larger agency focused exclusively on Crisis Communications. To that end, although details have yet to be finalized, I am reviewing resumes of senior-level PR professionals with relevant experience. Please feel free to email or fax me your resume if you meet these minimum-necessary requirements for a senior-level (title to be determined) crisis communications consultant position:
MUST HAVE: No less than 10 years experience in public relations with a strong emphasis on crisis communications. Qualifications and characteristics one would expect of a V.P. or Senior V.P. at a national PR agency. Willingness to work out of Los Angeles County.
GOOD TO HAVE: Multi-industry experience; new business development skills (we have a strong referral network and not everyone is expected to be a "rainmaker," although those that are will receive additional compensation.
Experienced pros wishing to be considered for positions with my firm can be assured that competitive employment contracts, including benefits and revenue sharing, will be available.
Email (MS-Word, WordPerfect or HTML) to email@example.com or fax to (877) 471-1573. And because I'm still a one-man show, with limited time, please don't call; I can't provide more details on the expanded agency at this time, but I promise that if your resume looks like a fit, I'll call you.
A SPECIAL NOTE TO MY EXISTING CLIENTS AND CONTACTS: I am committed to ensuring my personal availability to each of you regardless of the size of my agency. I know that my ability to provide rapid response is part of why you have retained my services. At the same time, some of you have expressed a wish that I had "backup" -- and now I will.
Thanks -- when more details can be announced, you'll read them here!
Editor's Note: I get a lot of useful reader feedback on past articles, case histories and other ezine features, and starting with this issue I'm going to periodically use that feedback instead of a case history or, as in Crisis Manager on the Spot, below, in lieu of my being the one to answer reader questions.
Comment on "Dealing with the Media During a Crisis," by Karen Friedman, Crisis Manager 03.01.01:
The story regarding the industrial accident at the "ABC Company" was right on the mark. Having been the company spokesperson for nearly twenty years at a relatively large manufacturing site, I can relate to the scenario described. Companies need to realize their obligation to manage their relationship with the media - particularly in the early stages of a critical incident. Unfortunately, many managers still believe that what goes on inside the walls of their company is no one else's business or they lack the confidence or training to deal with an assertive media. As pointed out in the article, the story will run with or without the company's involvement...a lesson that many companies often have to learn the hard way.
Thomas M. Drury, Managing Director
Comment on "The Great Red Wine C.A.P.E.R." by G. Mark Towhey, Crisis Manager 03.15.01:
Drury & Associates, LLC
I am a PR consultant for a major pharmaceutical company, and management always wants a scenario 1, scenario 2, etc. kind of PR plan for various "stuff" that's going to become public. Because I know these things are never black and white, I feel wrong in submitting such a plan that appears to be a fixed plan. I think it's a great way to start though...as long as the client is not so naive to think the plan will go off without a hitch.
Julie Cook, Media Relations Consultant
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
CM: In our 03.01.01 issue, Sherri Nelson, manager of guest relations for the Olive Garden restaurant chain, asked for reader input about "how other customer service/consumer relations departments participate in crisis management in their companies." That resulted in the following comprehensive response from UK-based Mike Seymour (firstname.lastname@example.org), director of risk management, First&42nd, and author of "Effective Crisis Management - Worldwide Principles and Practice."
MS: Sherri Nelson raises a very important point in recognising the importance of the customer service/relations department in any organisation. In a crisis I always consider that they represent the true "front line" for a company. Your customer relations people -- whether in person, on the telephone or responding to e-mails -- are at the interface with the outside world. Their attitudes, style and method of handling the public will define how your company is seen and remembered. Forget top management, smart PROs, voluble salespeople or slick adverts - when a crisis breaks, the reputations of your company, your product and your brand are very much in the hands of those people dealing with worried, concerned, angry and frightened consumers -- and those journalists and citizen groups posing as consumers or customers in order to gauge how the situation is being handled.
The second point about customer relations/services in a crisis is their capability for gathering real time information on the attitudes and rumours swirling around your crisis. I have used a fast track reporting system to maintain an overwatch over the way consumers, the media and other key groups are perceiving company performance during a crisis. By gathering and analysing information from customer relations - in these cases telephone hotlines or information services - and matching it with media relations information and other sources, we were able to anticipate new areas of concerns and equip our people with the right answers; on several occasions we have been able to pick up and anticipate new story lines and be ready to respond to the media ahead of them breaking.
If you accept these roles of the customer service/consumer relations department, I would suggest that it is essential to:
- Incorporate this "front line" service into your crisis communication plans - even pre-preparing outline scripts and Q&A lists against known risk scenarios.
- Ensure they are included in alert and call out cascade systems.
- Give them crisis training tailored to ensure that they have experienced the pressures of handling complex crisis situations when they will be inundated with cross and frightened and demanding people.
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Crisis Manager and the Bernstein Crisis Management website will now periodically include book, software and related product/service reviews. To suggest items for review, write to email@example.com or contact Jonathan Bernstein, Bernstein Crisis Management, 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016, (626) 825-3838.
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