© 2001 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
I've been trying to tame our press corps ever since I got into politics, and I've failed miserably. They get to express their opinions - sometimes in the form of news.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
The Six Most Common Responses to the Need for Crisis Management Readiness
by Phillip S. Cogan, Executive V.P., Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.
In the time since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon it has become quite popular in corporate and other organizational circles to acknowledge the need to be ready to manage the response to crises. After all, who wants to argue that it's best to be unprepared?
But how many organizations are putting action behind their words?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many organizations are still only partially responding to the need for crisis management preparedness, if they're doing anything at all. That partial response means they're likely only partially prepared. That's the functional equivalent of being partially safe.
Here are what we believe are the six most common responses to the need for crisis management readiness:
1. Intellectual Denial
2. "We can handle anything"
3. "We've had a plan for years"
4. "We have an office dedicated to keeping our plan up-to-date."
5. "We've tested the plan with a simulation."
I know I said there were six responses. I'll deal with the sixth one in a moment.
Let's examine what's behind these responses:
1. Intellectual Denial: There are still some organizations that believe "it can't happen to them", so their response to the new crisis management awareness in the post-September 11th world is....to continue to do nothing.
2. "We can handle anything": These organizations admit that "it" can happen to them, but they also contend "there's nothing particularly special about dealing with a crisis."
We briefed one prominent aerospace company about the crisis-related, near-fatal failings of other businesses. Their response was to say, "We hire qualified professional staff --- they don't need crisis planning. They should be able to handle anything." Editor's note: a few days after making this statement the company hired a crisis management consultant.
3. "We've had a plan for years": These organizations realized a long time ago that they needed to have a plan for crisis response, so they drafted it ... a long time ago.
The plan is rarely (or never) tested through simulations. The plan likely contains names of many former employees, non-working (or inappropriate) phone numbers, and resources that existed a long time ago, but either can't be found today or are committed elsewhere. The plan is probably resting, securely, on dusty book-shelves throughout the company.
4. "We have an office dedicated to keeping our plan up-to-date.": These organizations have updated plans with glossy covers and lots of good content. They don't, however, routinely train employees about their role in implementing the plan. Likewise, crisis simulations aren't on the organization's agenda.
5. "We've tested the plan with a simulation.": These organizations are a cut above those in number 4. They have a plan; they may or may not have trained employees about their role in implementing the plan. They have tested the plan by simulating a crisis situation. At the end of the day a senior executive thanked the simulation participants for a job well done. The findings from the simulation, however, did not result in modifications to the plan.
No doubt you've noticed that responses one through five incrementally improve upon one another. But none of them can be said to be sufficient over time. Why not?
Response five would be inadequate even if the findings from the simulation actually resulted in modification to the plan. So what's wrong?
Lacking in all five responses is an understanding that preparing to manage the response to crises is not a static activity unless: your staff never changes, your products or services never change, your facilities remain the same, and oh, by the way, the world never changes.
So we present response number six, the enlightened organization's response to the need for crisis management readiness :
6. "We know a crisis can strike. We have a workable plan. We've trained our employees. We've simulated one or more crisis situations. We've evaluated the results of the simulation, and we're modifying our plans as a result of the analysis. And when we've done all this we know we must start the process over again, and we do."
The organizations that respond as in six above take crisis management readiness seriously. Do you?
A one-page chart summarizing these responses, suitable for use in management and new business presentations, is available in PDF format at: www.piersystem.com/clients/bernstein/Six_Common.pdf
SHOULD WE CHANGE FORMAT OF CRISIS MANAGER?
When Crisis Manager was launched, a lot of email programs, by default or choice, were set to read primarily plain text, so that's the format used. However, it seems that most email programs are now set to read email in either plain text or rich text (HTML) format -- with rich text allowing a lot "prettier" formatting, color, etc.
Hence, I am considering changing to rich text as of early January, 2002, UNLESS you tell me you don't want that. If I receive a significant number of objections, it will remain plain text. No need to reply if you are comfortable with the proposed change. Send objections to email@example.com.
Community Hospital Responds to Events of September 11
by Walt Guarino, SSD&W Integrated Marketing Communications
My PR client, a community hospital in northern New Jersey, was besieged with calls and visits from the neighboring service area (and beyond) immediately following the disasters of September 11. Many of the callers wanted to know whether the hospital would be offering grievance counseling. While ultimately, they were able to offer services of this kind, at the outset they did their best to make referrals.
I asked Jonathan Bernstein for suggestions on how the hospital could tastefully get some positive attention related to the terrorism events. One of his suggestions was to offer space on the premises to organizations and professionals who specialize in this type of counseling while they were working on staffing up to provide their own counseling.
That's exactly what they did and it worked out extremely well. Rather than sending people all over the county, they could come to the hospital and receive aid. What's more, it didn't cost the hospital a dime. It was truly a win-win situation. The hospital got good press for reacting so quickly and the individuals offering the services got some new patients and great word-of-mouth.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
A public relations student from Miller University of Pennsylvania recent sent me a list of questions about Litigation PR and, after replying to her, I thought they would be useful to reprint here.
1. How would you define Litigation Public Relations?
Issues or crisis management specifically related to actual or potential litigation.
2. How is LPR different from the field of PR?
The same way that Litigation, as a legal specialty, is different from the practice of law in general.
3. What role do you serve to your clients?
Evaluating and analyzing public relations liability and damages exposure that could result from the litigation in question; evaluating and analyzing public relations defenses or any proactive tactics that may be employed; helping to anticipate jury and jury pool reaction to witnesses, experts and demonstrative evidence, as well as the case in general; and analyzing the ability of parties on either side of litigation to effectively respond to the public relations demands of the case and recommending improvements to our clients' response systems.
4. Who are typically your clients? Do you work with law firms, companies, etc?
Our clients are usually attorneys, either internal or external counsel.
5. Does your function change with each client?
Our function varies depending on the situation and willingness of the client to use all of our available services.
6. Why do you feel there is a need for LPR?
Attorneys are finding it increasingly useful to employ crisis/issues management public relations consultants when litigation is or may be involved with a case. We give them a "competitive edge."
7. Are there theories that you use as a LPR practitioner? What are they?
Lawyers do battle in courts of law. We do battle in the court of public opinion. They are parallel conflicts that are won more frequently when the forces work in a coordinated manner.
DISTRIBUTE CRISIS MANAGER WITH YOUR "BRAND"
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PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with PIER Systems, Inc., PR Newswire's ProfNet service and CustomScoop. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about how we're using these services for crisis and issues management. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of their clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Jonathan Bernstein is president & CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national public relations agency specializing in crisis response, issues management and litigation consulting. It is also the only national PR agency able to create crisis- and issues-specific websites for its clients in as little as five minutes by employing proprietary PIER System technology. Information on the firm's services can be found by Clicking Here or by calling (626) 825-3838. Information on its PIER capabilities can be found at www.crisiswebsite.com.
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