Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2002 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 3,000+


The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Albert Einstein


Editor's Note: I have been fascinated by the results of the PRSA Economic Confidence Study done by Equation Research, completed in August 2002. It evaluated "consumer confidence with regard to today's economic environment," with 2,718 respondents age 18+ nationwide. A number of findings are very significant for those who seek to prevent or minimize business reputation crises and I will start to report those in this issue, continuing in future issues. The first finding wasn't ranked this way in the survey -- they just gave the raw results and mean scores. Look at where company officials rank! And at who is considered more credible about company financial info.

Credibility Ranking Re People Who Can Provide Financial Information on a Company
(from highest to lowest, based on mean score)

  • Consumer protection advocate
  • Professional financial planner or advisor
  • Business or industry expert
  • Stock broker you know
  • Friend involved in a business or industry
  • Family member
  • University business school professor
  • Stock holder in a particular business or industry
  • Worker in a company or business
  • Business reporter for a newspaper
  • Business reporter on television
  • Government official who regulates a business or industry
  • Company's chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Union leader
  • President of a large corporation
  • Company's chief executive officer (CEO)
  • Spokesperson for a company
Editor's Note: there was a strong correspondence between the factors below and various points made in this newsletter over the past couple of years. Comments in boxed parentheses are from me.

Most Important Factors in Evaluating a Corporation's Reputation
(from highest to lowest, based on percentages of response)

  • Quality of a company's products and services (29%) [This is a survey of perception, hence it's perception you have to measure and influence, not just "actual" quality.]
  • Company's financial status (19%)
  • Accessibility/responsiveness by the company to the general public/customers (18%) [We've had a number of case histories in which lack of responsiveness dramatically undermined credibility of organizations regardless of service/product quality.]
  • Treatment of employees (16%) [Every employee is a PR rep for the organization, whether you want them to be or not!]
  • Acknowledgement by the company of its corporate responsibility to the public (12%)
  • [Note the drop-off in percentages from this point on]

  • (TIE SCORE) Company's involvement in your community (2%)
  • (TIE SCORE) CEO and company executives (2%)
  • Accessibility of senior executives to the media when an important issue arises (1%) [The media is typically your least important audience. Media contact is necessary, but it's not the best way of communicating your key messages and now you can see one measure of its ranking with regard to credibility.]


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 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: or call (626) 825-3838.


Editor's Note: Crisis Manager reader Charlie McDonald wrote to me earlier this month suggesting that we run articles on crisis simulation, the vital "testing" element of crisis preparedness. I said "good idea, you want to write one?" Charlie and I both know that there's a lot more to say on this subject -- he edited his original 3,600-word piece down to what you see below -- and I've asked my resident simulation guru, Phil Cogan, to give you a follow-up article soon.

A Little Exercise Keeps Your Crisis Management Organization in Shape
by Charles McDonald

Crisis management planning is important for all types of companies. Crisis management professionals have known this all along; now many corporations are developing plans for the first time or revisiting plans with a new eye towards previously unacknowledged threats. But after planning, an additional step is required to ensure an organization can successfully respond to a crisis -- the exercise program. Without regular exercises, crisis management plans will do little to help in a crisis, and can even provide a false sense of preparedness. It is the experience gained in crisis exercises that builds a company's response capabilities. The types of exercises used to improve crisis response capabilities are briefly described below.

Notification and Activation

This exercise tests the company's ability to:

  • Receive information about a potential crisis
  • Assess its impact and determine the response level warranted
  • Activate the crisis teams, i.e., find them and get them to the crisis room.

These are done off-hours to assess call out procedures and determine how long it takes to assemble the teams in their assigned areas. The drill begins with a call to the identified crisis response number and ends when the team is assembled. These drills are simple to design and conduct and should be run at least twice a year.

The Tabletop

The objectives of this type of exercise are to:

  • Provide crisis teams with experience in executing the plans in a learning environment, without the pressure of a real-time exercise.
  • Develop an understanding of the team's role in the overall corporate response.
  • In multi-team exercises, test team integration and identify gaps and overlaps in roles.
  • Identify areas where additional work is indicated. During assessment, four possibilities exist for each issue and role.
    1. Response was effective and plan was followed (desired result)
    2. Response was effective but plan was not followed (plan needs revision)
    3. Response was ineffective but plan was followed (plan needs revisions)
    4. Response was ineffective and plan was not followed (training needed -- plan revision may be needed)

A tabletop exercise is a pre-scheduled meeting. Notification and activation are not tested. Facilities and equipment are not involved. A tabletop exercise introduces a team or teams to crisis management concepts in a learning environment using a discussion based approach. A realistic scenario facilitates the discussion. No activity occurs outside the meeting room. No phone calls are made or received, no press briefings are held, and no action is actually taken.

Initially, tabletops should be done with individual teams. First, the corporate team is challenged with a significant crisis scenario. Each team member will realize what resources and actions would be required to mount an effective response within his or her discipline. Next, supporting teams, the communications team or the legal team, run tabletops using the same scenario. Once these teams have conducted individual crisis exercises, a full-scale corporate tabletop exercise is conducted, where the concepts of integration between the teams are learned and experienced. The exercise will test integration of leadership, communications, organizational structure, roles and responsibilities.

To conduct a tabletop exercise, the leader begins by presenting each "player" with a scenario to read and make any personal notes or observations. The exercise leader then takes the teams on a "walk through" of their initial response activities. Discussions about how to respond will naturally occur and help balance roles, responsibilities and expectations as well as reveal the type of resources required. The process is repeated, using a later point in the time to address issues that occur after the initial event.

An evaluation report is created and distributed which outlines the strengths and improvement areas in the plans and makes recommendations. These are moderately complex exercises to design and conduct and should be done on an annual basis.

The Simulation

The objectives of this type of exercise are to:

  • Improve the team's ability to handle a real business unit or corporate crisis.
  • Validate the team plan under simulated real-time, dynamic crisis conditions.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses in the plan and the team members in an "under tension" situation.
  • Allow the team members to experience the emotional and resource issues of a crisis.

A simulation involves two groups - the "players," who are crisis team members responding to the incident scenario, and the "simulators," who are "producing" the incident, controlling the drill and observing and evaluating the response. The drill moves in real time as simulators place information via phone, fax, and in person into the players' rooms. The information revealed to the players about the scenario is dynamic; changing based on the decisions and actions of the players.

The simulation team acts as the entire universe outside the players' room; thus while responding to the "incident," the players always contact a member of the simulation team. That is, if they want to contact the president, site, their family, technical resources or other members of the business, they call specific phone numbers to reach the simulators who play those roles. Simulators also play the roles of the media, public, regulators, customers, competitors, government officials, activists, emergency responders and so on. At the end of the drill, a complete debriefing is conducted including the players, simulators, and evaluators.

As with tabletop exercises, simulations should be progressively inclusive, starting with individual teams and broadening scope to multi-team then company wide exercises, with progressively less of the corporate response simulated. These exercises are very complex to design and conduct.


Exercising is the final, but most important step in developing quality crisis management capabilities. Since exercise design, conduct and evaluation is a specialized profession, most companies do not have the in-house expertise to execute quality exercises. Perhaps that is why companies often do not follow through with this aspect of crisis preparedness. But this is penny-wise and pound-foolish to use a cliché. Looking at it another way, it's like having a life insurance policy without a beneficiary -- someone else will decide what happens to your investment.

Charlie McDonald spent 20 years with DuPont, including 10 as the company's Crisis Management Specialist, where he was instrumental in developing crisis management plans for the corporation, business units, staff functions and international regions, and was involved in the design, conduct and evaluation of more than 30 exercises. He is now VP of PR for Atlanta-based FME PR (, where he continues to develop plans and exercises for a variety of clients. Contact:


Q: I'm with a government organization and so much of what you publish here seems to be corporate-oriented, I have a hard time relating and hesitate to share your articles with my peers and superiors because they'd say the information didn't apply to us. Could you write more about government-sector crisis management?

CM: Phil Cogan and I try very hard to use the word "organization" versus "company" in our original articles because so much of the theory and practice we espouse applies equally to both the public and private sector. Most of Phil's professional life, as many of you know, was in the government (primarily FEMA). We have certainly had articles that came directly from government public affairs -- and will soon have an excellent article written jointly by a military public affairs officer, a PR agency pro, and a corporate v.p. If you look for the similarities, versus the differences, I suspect that you'll find applicable lessons in most of our material.


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.


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


(Have a newsletter and/or website and want to exchange links? Let's talk about it! Write to

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

"The Publicity Hound" is a bi-monthly, 8-page subscription newsletter featuring tips, tricks and tools for free publicity. I'm a fan of editor Joan Stewart and heartily recommend her to anyone wanting positive publicity, the kind that helps you create a cushion of goodwill essential to surviving crises without going under. Sign up for her subscription newsletter as well as her free ezine, "The Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week," at

The PR Network provides a means for exchanging ideas and business improvement tips between PR professionals. They're at and their newsletter can be subscribed to by sending email to with the word "subscribe" in the BODY of the email.


All information contained herein is obtained by Jonathan Bernstein from sources believed by Jonathan Bernstein to be accurate and reliable.

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