© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein
A NEW MEANING TO "WORLD WAR"
by Jonathan Bernstein
Never in the history of mankind has warfare been conducted on a truly global basis in terms of both participants and the media that connects them -- because "media" no longer simply means "the press," it means every form of communication, with particular emphasis on the Internet. When President Bush made his "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" speech before Congress, he drew an immediate, "real time" line in the sand for the entire world -- and the responses of the past few weeks, including the military attacks on Afghanistan, are being felt, read about, viewed and discussed by the majority of people in the majority of nations. It has brought new meaning to the phrase "world war."
What does this mean for your near- and long-term crisis preparedness, crisis response and issues management? The September 11 attacks caught most of us by surprise, few were truly ready for the impact, but now you have no excuse and will be held especially accountable for any failure to prepare for the direct or indirect effects of this war on your organization.
This is a good time to:
- Review your existing crisis communications plan to determine if it is truly adequate to the challenges of an environment where conditions that WILL affect your organization can occur at any moment. I have created a self-evaluation tool for a presentation to the upcoming American Corporate Counsel Association conference that I will share with my readers, on request -- write to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the Crisis Communications Preparedness Checklist. Please provide your name, title and organization -- the information will be kept private, but I do like to track my inquiries.
- Release news, just in the next couple of days post-attack or in the future when the media gets entirely caught up in war news, that you'd just as soon get ignored or "buried." I acknowledge that I'm being pretty bluntly realistic -- the fact is that most organizations, at one time or another, have bad news and may have a legal requirement to release it. Any honest CEO or director of PR will admit that while they never pray for negative media-distracting news to happen to others, they are quietly grateful when their news, in comparison, isn't so bad and merits less attention than it otherwise would.
- Think globally. The terrorist organizations vow to strike at THEIR enemies anywhere they exist. If you have offices, personnel, key suppliers or customers overseas, they could be affected by what terrorists choose to do in their regions of the world. What affects them, affects you, and vice versa. How many businesses worldwide were affected, for example, by suspension of U.S. airline service, to include air delivery of mail and overnight service, for some time after the September 11 attacks?
- Hold brainstorming sessions at which staff AT ALL LEVELS are encouraged to suggest ways in which the war could negatively -- or positively -- impact your businesses. It's morale building as well as productive. Some organizations may need to tweak, or even re-write, their business plans. And all planning needs to be HIGHLY flexible.
- Keep the two-way communication going, actively, with all your important audiences, make sure you have an accurate finger on the pulse of those whose feelings can dramatically impact your future. The fact that people don't like to talk about their fear doesn't mean it's not there, doesn't mean that it's not affecting their decisions.
This is a bad time to:
- Release news, just in the next couple of days post-attack or in the future when the media gets entirely caught up in war news, that is "routine" in nature. The chances of decent coverage will be dramatically reduced.
- Go too far with your "business as usual" pitch to your organization. Make sure you don't communicate the sense that "we don't think our staff and customers really need any more assurance at this point so we're going back to communicating as if there weren't a war going on." Keep those employee assistance programs, in-house or "rented," available to help your employees cope -- it will pay for itself many times over in terms of productivity. If you can't afford such a service, make sure your employees know where there is community counseling available.
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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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