© 2002 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
"Senior executives also tell me that public relations people, as well as those in other staff functions, need to get over their 'functional cowardice.' When some executive suggests stupid, dumb or potentially illegal decisions, staff members should stand up and visibly attempt to stop such activity, change the outcome of those ideas and concepts, suggest alternatives that might achieve a useful outcome or, at the very least, go to the CEO to make certain that such idiocies are stopped before they cause real trouble."
James E. Lukaszewski, Chairman of The Lukaszewski Group
writing in Ragan's PR Intelligence Report
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Editor's Note: Canadian PR pro Mark Towhey returns to "Crisis Manager" and gifts us with some excellent advice about how to make your organization more "crisis resilient."
Three Ingredients for a "Crisis-Resilient" Organization
by G. Mark Towhey
In the wake of the September 11 tragedy in the U.S., we've thought a lot about "what we can do" to make organizations more resilient in the face of large-scale crises. It may be impossible to make your organization, or any other, totally resistant to a major crisis, but it should be possible to increase your organization's resilience - its ability to "bounce back" quickly from a catastrophe.
What we've discovered is, at once, both frightening and heartening.
The Human Factor
One of the first realizations that was crystallized by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was that most corporate Business Resumption Plans, Business Continuity Plans and Crisis & Disaster Management Plans focus on the same things: bricks, mortar and technology. In other words, they focus on replacing hard assets. The forgotten ingredient is, of course, the people.
We've seen this phenomenon ourselves when working with clients. It is often difficult to steer crisis planning discussions around to the human factors. What if some of your employees are injured or killed in the crisis? What if, God forbid, many of your employees are incapacitated?
What if critical people are lost to your organization? What if very large numbers of people are lost? In massive disasters, natural or man-made, employees may be killed or injured. Or, they may simply be physically unable to rejoin your organization -- as in the case of many people isolated at distant locations by the temporary grounding of the air transportation system in North America. Or, they may be psychologically unable to work productively due to crisis-induced stress.
Undoubtedly, you have a plan to replace the computers, the desks, the data and work spaces. But, do you have a plan to replace the people? Or, to protect the people you have remaining?
Three Key Ingredients
To become "Crisis Resilient," any organization facing such a challenge - as many organizations faced after the World Trade Centre collapse - requires three key ingredients in order to continue business after losing a number of people.
First, organizations need stalwart leadership. Frankly, in our experience, this ingredient is in short supply in many organizations. Sure, there may be a good leader at the top -- maybe some sprinkled throughout the organization as well. But, precious few organizations have a well-considered and effectively implemented plan to ensure they develop a strong culture of leadership. Leadership is different from management. Leadership is the art of inspiring people to want to do things that they wouldn't normally want to do. Management is important for maintaining an effective organization. But, leadership is crucial for building, and rebuilding, effective organizations.
In the aftermath of disaster, leadership will be required to start from scratch, seize and maintain the initiative, rally and inspire the troops to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding. Nothing can happen without it.
Second, organizations need strong teamwork. There is endless talk of "teamwork" in the corporate and public sector worlds. Millions of dollars are spent on developing "teamwork skills" and "teambuilding." The word itself has become trite and cliché. But, teamwork is crucial to building and rebuilding effective organizations.
In the aftermath of a disaster where people are lost, teamwork is essential to successfully rebuilding an organization. In this sense, teamwork means the ability of each member of the team to understand the team vision, mission and the roles each part of the team, including themselves, plays in achieving success. Team members must recognize work that must get done, identify gaps in the team and act on their own initiative to fill critical gaps.
Third, organizations need depth of talent. This, perhaps, is the most difficult to achieve. Imagine your own organization. Now, remove six or a dozen key players: CEO, VP Operations, Production line managers, shift supervisors, shipper/receivers, etc. How will your organization continue to function without these people? Who will replace them? Assume you will either not have time to recruit externally, or that external candidates will be unavailable. Who, inside your organization, has the skill and expertise to replace these critical people.
Is your organization structured in such a way that it is easy, or even possible, to reconfigure, to scale up or down to meet rapidly changing demands? Do you have the depth of talent necessary to fill key positions from internal resources?
Backplan From the Critical Needs
We know that the three critical ingredients your organization will need to "bounce back" and continue functioning after a major disaster are: leadership, teamwork and depth of talent. The critical question, then, is how can you ensure you have these ingredients on hand when the next disaster strikes you?
Every organization needs to consider that question - right now. What business practices need to change or stop in order to ensure you have these ingredients within your organization? What new practices do you need to introduce? How can you make these practices an integral part of the fabric of your company so that they do not fade away like last year's fad diet when the news returns to talk of taxes?
We call this process "Backplanning" - starting with the desired objective and working backwards to develop an initial plan to make it happen.
These are not easy questions to answer - but it's vitally important to the survivability of your organization that you ask them as soon as possible -- and begin the process of answering them.
Mark Towhey is president of Toronto-based TOWHEY Consulting Group Inc., Leaders in Strategic Influence: Communication, Crisis Management, Human Resources. More info at www.towhey.com. Contact: 416.737.9178 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Executive Session Vulnerability Audits & Crisis Document Audits
Bernstein Crisis Management offers two low-cost means by which an organization can get a quick handle on its current level of vulnerability to potential crises. One is a day-long guided brainstorming/training session for executive management, our Executive Session Vulnerability Audit. The other is a three- to eight-hour task -- letting us analyze and prepare a report on your current crisis preparedness documents. For more information, Click Here.
Branding Crisis Manager
You can arrange to distribute "Crisis Manager" to your own email list with a "Brought to You By" credit in the masthead. There is no charge and only some reasonable restrictions to preserve the integrity of the publication. Several organizations are already doing this and finding that it is appreciated by their contacts. Write to email@example.com for more info.
Crisis Manager Presentations & Workshops
Want to REALLY get some of this information into the hearts and minds of your organization? Your ineffable ezine editor and crisis communications consultant and his talented associate, Phil Cogan, are available to make presentations and lead workshops. Their presentations can often be certified for the continuing education credits required by a number of professions. A list of our recent and pending speaking engagements can be found by clicking here or on the "Presentations" button to the left. For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (626) 825-3838.
Editor's Note: I was recently asked "what do you do when the press learns you're being sued, sometimes even before you learn it? When allegations by plaintiffs are being listed in the newspaper or on TV, your employees and customers are all calling you, and your lawyer may not have had a chance to read the complaint?" That resulted in creation of this list -- and I'd welcome submissions of additional points for a follow-up article.
Trial By Media -- Do's and Don'ts
by Jonathan Bernstein
DON'T make the media your primary means of communicating on pending or current litigation in progress. Journalists are not a reliable means of ensuring that your key audiences receive your messages, nor is it a reporter's job to make sure everything you think is important gets to the right people.
DO communicate directly with your important audiences, internally and externally, to ensure they have the information you want them to have about matters being tried in the media.
DO consider the option of informing certain key audiences of the probability of media coverage on a legal matter before it appears in the press.
DO remember that employees are a critical audience -- all employees are PR representatives for the organization whether you want them to be or not.
DO integrate legal and PR strategy, because you'll be educating the jury pool while also minimizing damage that could occur to your organization in the short-term, even if you win the legal case in the long-term.
DON'T say "no comment" if you haven't had a chance to review the case. Say "I'd very much like to comment on this as soon as I've read what's been filed." If appropriate, add: "I still don't have a copy of it myself, could you fax or email one over?"
DO tell journalists that you want to respect their deadlines, but would appreciate their respecting your need to have the information you need to make an intelligent response.
DON'T attack the media. Ever. Neither directly, nor in communication with other audiences, because it will get back to them. The media can hurt you more than you can hurt them. Most media outlets LOVE being sued or threatened, it sells more papers or air time.
DON'T judge the impact of media coverage by the sensationalism of headlines or length of news coverage. Ask your important audiences, internal and external, how THEY are reacting to the coverage -- in some cases, you'll find they don't believe it!
DO consider becoming your own publisher, using the Internet to post your perspective on issues of public concern -- IF the general public is, in fact, an important audience for you. Or even on a password-protected website for selected audiences that are important to you.
DON'T assume that you know how to talk to reporters about negative news just because you're skilled at "good news" interviews -- get media trained.
DO establish both internal and external rumor control systems to short-circuit rumors early on, before they do too much damage.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
"Crisis Manager" reader Steve Wynkoop, founder of The PR Network (www.theprnetwork.com), wrote this note in response to last issue's case history, "Odwalla and the E.Coli Outbreak."
Might have been interesting for readers to note that last fall Odwalla became a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca Cola's Minute Maid Company. I'll leave it to those more knowledgeable than me to determine whether that was a positive outcome. Info at: http://www.odwalla.com/enwfiles/release61.html.
Not Getting Crisis Manager Twice Monthly?
About three percent of the distribution of every ezine is not delivered, despite multiple automated attempts. It's usually not a bad address, because the same address might work the next time (if your address bounces three consecutive ezines, then it's automatically deleted). So if the 1st or 15th of the month passes and you haven't seen your "Crisis Manager," write to email@example.com and I'll send you that issue manually, it probably means that your email server and mine just weren't on talking terms for a little while!
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 prevention, response & issues management. 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.
(Have a newsletter and/or website and want to exchange links? Let's talk about it! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
These sites have proven valuable to my business and may do the same for yours.
"Media Insider" is a free service for the public relations community hosted by PR Newswire and ProfNet, its online resource linking reporters with expert sources. Updated daily with contributions from members, Insider reports on the people and new technologies behind the production of news. Go to http://www.mediainsider.com.
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