© 2002 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Doing an interview without defining your objective and your message(s) is like driving to an unknown destination without directions or a map. It's anybody's guess where you'll end up.
Jerry Brown, in "Monday Morning Media Minute"
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Learning from Your Critics
A Crisis Prevention Editorial by Jonathan Bernstein
When I really burn up inside on hearing criticism, it's usually because there's some kernel of truth there, there's a lesson to be learned, and from that point on I have choices
- I can "stuff it."
- I can angrily reject it.
- I can look at it and see what I might learn -- and what, if anything, I need to do as a result of that learning experience.
Organizations have the same choices. But what if you don't even know you're being criticized? As an individual, I have no obligation to seek out my critics and hear what they say -- in fact, that's rather counterproductive to my serenity! But as an organizational leader, I have a responsibility to know what's being said about the organization because there's a lot more than my personal ego at stake. Reputation damage can negatively impact the bottom line and my stakeholders in many ways.
There are a number of websites at which critics are encouraged and empowered to complain about, leak news about and otherwise attack organizations -- for causes real or imagined. In the crisis management business, of course, perception IS reality. Knowing what perceptions are out there, proactively, gives organizations the opportunity to prepare for what might happen if the situation escalates, if rumors spread further, if particularly damaging and credible-sounding allegations are made, etc.
If I were in a leadership position for any your organizations, Crisis Manager readers, I'd suggest that someone who works there makes sure that you regularly scan websites such as:
Additionally, of course, you should be regularly tracking and analyzing mentions of your organization on other websites. Not just news coverage, but by manual use of search engines.
Sound like a lot of work? Not as much as you'd think, particularly if you take advantage of a very useful tool offered by the pre-eminent search engine, Google.
If you add a Google Search Bar to your Web browser, it offers you two choices when you enter a search term:
Search Web -- your regular Web search.
Search Site -- it digs down into the site you're visiting at that time. So instead of having to go through all the pages at www.ripoffreport.com, for example, you just enter your organization's (or your competitor's organization) in the Search Site window and it will give you a list of any pages on which that term is mentioned. It's not foolproof, it sometimes produces odd results, but it's generally very accurate.
For example, at www.thecomplaintstation.com, I found more than 30 references to a certain major auto manufacturer. I found more than 100 references to the same manufacturer at www.ripoffreport.com. Naturally, if I were working for that company, I'd want to take a closer look, but the initial searches took only seconds.
Know your critics. Learn from your critics. Avoid being blindsided by the simplest of methods: opening your eyes.
You can download the Google Toolbar at: http://toolbar.google.com/
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Keeping the Media Wolves At Bay -- Audiotape & CD-ROM
Get this recorded version of a live one-hour teleseminar conducted by "Publicity Hound" Joan Stewart, interviewing Jonathan Bernstein.
- The best way to deal with a "media wolf"
- The top 5 mistakes people make in bad news situations
- What to say when you can't answer a question
- What to do if you suspect the reporter has an agenda and is out to get you
- How to have your own agenda
- 4 things to do when you're practicing for a tough interview
Much more detail on the program's content, and information on how to order is available by going to: http://www.marketerschoice.com/app/aftrack.asp?AFID=49939 and THEN clicking on the AUDIO TAPES button.
Since so many of you ask us for referrals to high-quality materials related to crisis management, PR, online business development and related fields, we looked for organizations with which we could affiliate to bring you information that they offer, including what we expect to be a steadily increasing number of items for which we are the primary authors or interview subjects. And established a Crisis Bookstore at our website, which you can access at: http://crisisbookstore.com.
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Editor's Note: We previously featured Judy Hoffman's writing when we excerpted her book, "Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis." Not only are we very pleased to bring you this new article on repairing your reputation post-crisis, but we're also pleased to offer Crisis Manager readers a special price on her book if you go to http://www.judyhoffman.com/bernstein.html.
Regaining The Public Trust
by Judy Hoffman
Just as there are predictable stages of a crisis and general principles for dealing with one, there are four major steps that must be taken to restore an organization's credibility. Whether the crisis involves an accident, unethical/illegal practices of a business, or immoral actions and a lack of adequate response by a religious group, the same things must be done to regain credibility. They are:
- Demonstrate sincere contrition. A heartfelt and public apology is the first step in the healing process. Sometimes the injured parties would be satisfied if the responsible people simply said they were sorry. What often happens, instead, is that those who should apologize are warned that this act will open them up to public embarrassment and/or legal liability. So instead they attempt to get the injured party to accept something in its stead (e.g., payment for silence). The longer organizations take to apologize, the angrier the victims become and the more determined they are to make the organization pay a heavy price. In the case of the financial shenanigans that many of America's top corporations have engaged in, an apology will not suffice. It will not begin to mitigate the damage that has been done to employees' pensions or shareholders' life savings.
- Make the required changes. Organizations cannot expect to go back to "business as usual." They must overhaul the policies that led them into the quagmire. They must change the procedures that caused the accident. Or they must remove from positions of leadership those who should have known better or who DID know better and chose for their own reasons to act immorally, unethically, or selfishly. Injured parties want to see justice done. If it appears that the people responsible for hurting others are allowed to "get away with it," the aggrieved parties will not be satisfied. A clear message must be sent that the way this situation was handled is not acceptable. This is sometimes the only way to get a "clean slate" to allow the rebuilding of damaged credibility.
- Where possible, make reparations. Lawsuits are often inevitable. It is the main method of demonstrating that the guilty party has been punished. If a person is physically injured because of the negligence of another, he or she has just cause to receive payment to cover their medical costs and some compensation for the pain and suffering. If the pain and suffering is emotional, it is no less real. When the damage is widespread and jury awards are large, this step can be particularly difficult for the organization. Where the money to pay these judgments comes from is also an issue. It has to be perceived as coming from those who caused the problem. Passing those costs on to innocent parties, like customers or parishioners, will keep the controversy alive. In situations like the financial collapse of stock prices and bankruptcies, this step is much more difficult, if not impossible This assures that the bad taste will stay in the public's mouth for much longer and the company's corporate reputation will probably never recover.
- Act appropriately the next time. Assuming that the proper steps above have been taken , whether an organization can rebuild its credibility depends on how the leadership behaves the next time a similar situation arises. If the safe performance of an automobile part becomes suspect again, how quickly will the company move to investigate it and make a recall if it is warranted? If a regulatory agency requests documents which might prove embarrassing to a firm, how honest and cooperative will that organization be? If a parishioner brings forward a credible account of being molested by a church official, that official must be immediately relieved of his parish duties and his actions reported to the proper legal authorities. If someone suggests a questionable accounting practice that may technically be allowable but would be judged to be less than honest if studied in the public spotlight, will the company choose not to proceed with it? At the first hint that the people who have pledged to do better are not living up to their promises, the whole scandal will erupt again and it will be even worse than it was the first time.
Not one of the above actions is easy. They all involve difficulties and pain. But they are necessary if an organization has any hope of getting back to some semblance of pre-crisis normalcy. The more widespread and deeper the crisis, the more people who were impacted, and the worse the organization handled the crisis, the more time it will require to restore their credibility. It is a long, drawn-out process. One false step can send them tumbling backwards. It is possible, however, for people and organizations to learn valuable lessons from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. We can only hope that this is the case.
Judy Hoffman, JCH Enterprises, is a crisis management consultant and media trainer who specializes in working with companies in the chemical industry and others that handle hazardous materials.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: Do you think that war with Iraq will have a trickle-down effect on Western organizations?
CM: Of course -- but I'm not talking about the economic effects, which could be positive or negative depending on the organization. I'm talking about the impact of news coverage on the attention span and productivity of workers, the effect of heightened security on our ability to travel or even ship goods in a timely manner, the psychic devastation caused to those who lose loved ones either in combat or in terrorist counter-strikes outside of Iraq. Organizations can and should anticipate and plan for such contingencies now, to minimize damage when they happen. And they will happen.
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, MarketingSherpa.com, The Publicity Hound 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 these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. 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 STAFF
Jonathan Bernstein is president & CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. BCM engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning, training and simulations. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phil Cogan is executive vice president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a former print and broadcast news journalist who has been engaged in federal, state and local government crisis communications and emergency management activities since 1975. He was formerly the deputy director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Office of Emergency Information and Public Affairs. Write to email@example.com.
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