© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
The trouble with learning from experience is that the test comes first and the lesson afterwards.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Safety and Security Messages
by Jonathan Bernstein
It's been slightly over a month since the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C. and NYC. We are now, almost certainly, being attacked via bioterrorism. And there's been a clear trend established regarding the types of targets selected, although only God knows if the trend will continue.
If I was at a business or location that was in any way considered to be a national icon or very closely identified with America and American values, I'd probably be pretty darn nervous right now.
And, since most of us -- even if we aren't parts of such organizations -- regularly work with and/or visit them, or have friends and family who work for them, we're feeling less-than-confident in our safety and security, too.
I am assuming that every organization receiving this newsletter is currently in the process of creating and/or updating their crisis communications plan. If September 11 and the events thereafter have not been a sufficient wake-up call to any key decision makers who are blocking this process, I reiterate my previous suggestion that they promptly retire to the closest ostrich farm.
Even before the plan creation or updating has been completed, however, I recommend that "safety and security" messages be created and distributed ASAP. If you need to take operational steps to back up those messages, such as increasing security, those actions should be perceived as a vital step to minimize or avoid damage or harm to people. Because while you may or may not be held liable, in a court of law, for failure to protect people in the event of a safety and security-related crisis, you will most certainly be convicted in the court of public opinion if you have failed to communicate adequately.
The very best types of message that all leaders can communicate are ones of courage, and resolve. We must be prudent, not cowardly. For, as an anonymous email reminded me recently:
"If we allow the actions of the terrorists to cause us to live in fear, if we are afraid to fly, afraid to travel, afraid to live our lives, then all of those American flags that we have been flying might as well be white."
Phil Cogan Joins Bernstein Crisis Management as Executive V.P.
Editor's Note: I am very pleased, and privileged, to announce this news. Phil is a "Crisis Manager" reader and contacted me when I mentioned my agency's planned expansion in previous editions of the ezine. We had reached agreement for him to join the company months before the events of September 11 -- and then his final government assignment, ironically, was in response to the terrorist attacks. I can't imagine a better combination of skills and experience to offer our clients at this time in history.
One of the nation's most experienced government crisis communicators has joined Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. as executive vice president. Phil Cogan was formerly the deputy director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Office of Emergency Information and Public Affairs. His last disaster assignment for the government involved coordinating media coverage of federal search and rescue operations at the World Trade Center's "ground zero".
Prior to joining FEMA, Cogan was a print and broadcast journalist and military public affairs officer. During his 23-year career with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) he supervised federal government emergency communications activities following disaster declarations issued by five Presidents involving almost all 50 states.
In addition to his journalism and natural disaster experience, Cogan has been involved in planning for a wide range of man-made disasters, including radiological emergencies, terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction, (including chemical and biological weapons), nuclear attack, hazardous materials incidents, earthquakes, chemical weapons incidents at U.S. military bases, and major athletic and political event emergencies. He supported stand-by emergency communications operations for two Space Shuttle launches carrying radioactive payloads.
Most recently, following his FEMA career, Cogan served as director of External Relations for the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
Among other notable disaster assignments for FEMA were the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California, Hurricanes: Fran (1996 - North Carolina); Marilyn (1995 - U.S. Virgin Islands); Andrew (1992 - Florida); Hugo (1990 - U.S. Virgin Islands); and Frederic (1979 - Mississippi); the Loma Prieta (Northern California) earthquake; and the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
We're in the process of significantly expanding the information on the Bernstein Crisis Management website to reflect the addition of Phil's skills and experiences. His full bio is here. His crisis response, planning training and speaking services are available immediately. Write to Jonathan Bernstein, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Phil Cogan, email@example.com. And look for articles by Phil in future issues of Crisis Manager.
Editor's Note: Here are two reader-submitted, lesson-filled case histories related to the events of September 11.
PR Firm Makes Quick Recovery by Focusing on the Human Touch
by Rick Kelly
We had scheduled the news conference to make the client's CEO available to comment on and clarify issues surrounding the termination of a business partnership that affects the health care coverage of a large number of people in Pennsylvania. More than 20 media outlets had been invited to participate in person or by conference call.
About an hour before the news conference, we began receiving reports that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. By the time the news conference started, we knew that another plane had crashed in New York, and later, at the Pentagon. Like most of America, our thoughts darted back and forth from concern to disbelief.
With reporters on site with the client and on the conference call, and with details of the attacks still quite sketchy, we decided to proceed.
The CEO began the news conference by noting that we were aware of the reports of tragic events in New York and Washington. Then, he acknowledged that the subject of our news conference was far less important than what appeared to be unfolding elsewhere. (We learned of the crash near Pittsburgh when the reporter from the Post-Gazette excused herself from the conference call.)
Had we fully understood the extent of the attacks, we would have canceled the news conference without hesitation. By later in the morning, we knew the planes were hijacked commercial jets, that the WTC towers had collapsed and that the victims would number in the thousands, but by 10 a.m. EDT, none of that was clear.
The CEO's comments set a somber tone for the news conference, but his sincere expression of care and concern, along with his acknowledgment of the relative importance of our news, struck a balance by neither hyping the tragedy nor being insensitive to it.
If there's a lesson in this, it's simply to corroborate the examples in your most recent newsletters: that American business is well served by putting forth a human face and a personal touch, as long as it is sincere and remains within the bounds of good taste.
Rick Kelly is Senior Vice President for Neiman Communications, Harrisburg, PA, RKelly@neimangroup.com.
BellSouth Gets Nipped Around the Ankles
by Bill McCloskey
BellSouth Corporation was essentially out of the direct line of fire on Sept. 11, but we got nipped around the ankles on one case.
A day or two after the attacks, an employee asked a supervisor if it was OK to display an American flag on a BellSouth truck. The supervisor sent the query up the chain of command and somewhere along the way the request was understood to mean a large flag. For safety reasons, the answer to the "large flag" question (which was never asked, apparently) came back "no."
By Friday, this was reported on a Yahoo discussion list and on Monday morning the wife of an employee sent an e-mail to the Fox News Channel morning show. The e-mail was read on the air.
An employee in my office heard the broadcast and called public relations. By the time a call got through to the Fox producer in the control room (about 20 minutes after the first alert) the show was already wrapping up, but a quick retraction was made. Next day, our vice chairman was invited to appear to explain what BellSouth was actually doing, which was buying thousands of small flags to be mounted on truck antennas.
Moral of the story, keep a close eye on those discussion lists. We usually do, but with the markets closed because of the attacks, looking at stock market discussions on Yahoo didn't seem a priority.
Bill McCloskey is Director Media Relations for BellSouth Corp. Washington, D.C., Bill.Mccloskey@BellSouth.com.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: When do I need to consult with an expert in crisis and issues management?
A: If a situation is or could cause any important audience internal or external, to react negatively in a manner that will hurt your organization, crisis or issues management can help. Crises aren't merely "disasters," they can be much more subtle, but still quite damaging, if communication is not appropriate to the situation. Recently, for example, I was told that two companies planned a joint venture that could cause some of their existing business contacts to become quite nervous and asked if THAT was a case where crisis management could come into play. "Yes" was my emphatic response -- there are many ways we can help "set the scene" for that joint venture before it is announced, smoothing the reception of the news, as well as ways in which we can make the announcement that will minimize negative response.
The PR and Legal Team Approach To Crisis Management
Bernstein Crisis Management is capable of providing a joint PR/legal presentation team to train any organization wanting education on both components of crisis management. If interested, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Have a newsletter and/or website and want to exchange links? Let's talk about it! Write to email@example.com.)
These sites have proven valuable to my business and may do the same for yours.
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OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF
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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