© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein
NOW WE'RE ALL CRISIS MANAGERS
When I came up with the slogan for this ezine, never did I imagine a day when every resident of the United States would become, in his or her own way, a crisis manager. Every organization in this nation had to participate in crisis management, and many of our friends and business associates overseas had to engage in their own crisis communications activities because of their ties to us.
Our national leaders have urged us all to return to business as usual as soon as possible, while remaining vigilant. However, for me, my peers and certain other professions, crisis IS "business as usual." And, via this newsletter, I have also made public education part of my business.
Hence, on the heels of my September 11 special edition, I believe it's appropriate to vary from my standard format in order to share some thoughts about lessons learned. And, also, to ask you, my readers, to submit similar material for future issues.
Already, I know that I will eventually be receiving a case history from a PR pro who is currently managing media relations for some of the urban search and rescue teams working frantically at the World Trade Center. I'm sure that many of your organizations, or clients, had to implement your crisis communications plans -- or make up some on the spot -- in response to the terrorism. The "domino" effect of airline service suspension, alone, must have had dramatically negative impact on many organizations.
Whether you did it the right way, the wrong way, or something in between, please share with us if you can. Send material to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JUST A THOUGHT
"The notion of business as usual in America is suspended until further notice."
Ian Mitroff, crisis management consultant and business professor at the University of Southern California.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
The Essence of Crisis Communications
This is a time to return to the basics, the essence, of crisis communications, to remember some fundamentals such as:
- In times of crisis, feelings are as important, and often more important, than facts. Deal with the FEELINGS of your most important audiences -- which almost always comes down to dealing with one of two fears. Fear that they'll lose something they have. Or fear that they'll not get something they need. Fear that may not come out, initially, as fear, but as anger, as depression, as anxiety.
- Your most important audiences are your INTERNAL audiences. Those employed by or close enough to you to be considered "family" from a business perspective. If they feel (there's that word again) secure, that your organization is doing "the right thing" at this moment, that you care about them, then they will communicate that sense of confidence in dealing with your external audiences.
- Two-way communication is a vital part of crisis management. All of your audiences should have had, and continue to have, a means for giving you their feedback, their comments, related to the crisis as it affects your organization. It not only provides you with useful information -- it makes them feel empowered and cared for.
- Crises have a ripple effect. It doesn't have to be YOUR organization at the focus of a crisis for you to be affected, as has been so dramatically illustrated by the grounding of all air travel for some days. Are you fully prepared, not only operationally, but in terms of crisis communications response, if a key supplier "goes down" for any reason? If your shippers aren't shipping? If one or more key employees die or are injured? If parts you use for your product are being produced by a supplier who's suddenly under federal investigation? We all focus on the big cases -- not only the September 11 attacks, but Bridgestone/Firestone and the like. But quietly, EVERY DAY, businesses suffer from the downstream effect of crises for which they were inadequately prepared.
- Assess the damage, now and in the months ahead. Don't assume that there has been no long-term negative impact on your organization just because everything seems to be returning to normal. Closely monitor the behavior and feedback of all your audiences, maybe even schedule special forums for discussing "how things are going" with various groups. I can envision the owners of high-rise office buildings, for example, facing some long-term nervousness by existing and prospective tenants.
- Learn from your mistakes. Were you able to respond, rapidly and effectively, to how this crisis affected your organization? If not, why not? The crisis is NOT over and even if not repeated in exactly this form, crises will happen. No organization is invulnerable.
The Price of Complacency
Two days after the terrorist horror of September 11, I was asked to write an article about how American organizations were responding to this national crisis for The PR Network, an affiliation of public relations, marketing communications and advertising professionals who use the Internet to network and share information.
Right-Way and Wrong-Way Responses
I saved email from various sources that seemed to represent an excellent cross-section of right- and wrong-way responses to the crisis. I'm not talking about the prime players such as the City of New York and the airlines, but other businesses and organizations downline from Crisis Central. Here are some of them, with my comments added.
- RIGHT WAY: The Association of Trial Lawyers of America urged its members not to file lawsuits stemming from Tuesday's attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, saying it was the first time the group had sought such a moratorium. A PR ploy? Maybe. But a good "let's not take advantage of the situation" message that hopefully others will emulate.
- RIGHT WAY: Every organization in America that organized employee blood drives, donated money to the Red Cross, extended due dates on bill payments, and similar acts of charity and compassion. Bonus points to those who did it without issuing a boastful press release, which can actually undermine the perceived generosity of the gift.
- WRONG WAY: Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming every group who doesn't agree with their right-wing position for allowing "the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve." Strictly from a PR perspective, the evangelists, like the terrorists, have probably achieved exactly the opposite of their intended goal.
- RIGHT WAY: Finally, below, I reprint in full a letter which came from Vanguard, manager of my parent firm's retirement program. I saw similar letters from other organizations, but I believe this one did a particularly good job of dealing with both feelings and facts, honestly and succinctly.
A MESSAGE FROM VANGUARD
First, let us say that our thoughts are with everyone touched by the tragic events of September 11. This is a difficult time for our country, and we are all profoundly affected by this tragedy.
Although the operations of U.S. financial markets have been temporarily disrupted, Vanguard is open for business today and is ready to serve you. In accordance with Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, Vanguard (and non-Vanguard) mutual funds will be priced at the next calculated net asset value.
We don't pretend to know how investors and the markets will respond in the short term. But in the long term-which is where most investors should focus-the financial markets are driven not by emotion or reactions but rather by fundamental economic conditions.
The important question for you to consider when evaluating your investment program is whether anything has changed in terms of your goals, personal financial situation, or time horizon. If none of those factors has changed, you should be wary of altering your long-term plan.
We are committed to helping you in any way possible. Please feel free to contact us-either at vanguard.com or over the phone-if we can be of assistance.
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Jonathan Bernstein is president & CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national public relations agency specializing in crisis response, issues management and litigation consulting. Prior to entering the PR world, Bernstein was an investigative reporter, preceded by five years in U.S. Army Military Intelligence. Click Here for information on the firm's services or call (626) 825-3838.
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