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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2002 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 3,000+


"I've led a lot of still-thirsty horses to water."

Jonathan Bernstein, President & CEO
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.


Editor's Note: The first item, below, originated as a message on the PPCONLINE discussion list and the author was kind enough to give me permission to share it with you. The second is a very useful analysis tool for non-governmental organizations from Ross Irvine, self-styled "corporate activist," whose website also includes multiple articles related to the topic I address in this issue's "!MANAGE THIS!" piece.

I Don't Do Cute Anymore!
by Lydia C. Van Kuren

I had one of our execs placed on a morning TV show. I sent the station 2 press kits and talked with the reporter. In the office, I made up questions, rehearsed the exec and gave her the Q & A to take with her. Being cute, I titled the second set of questions page "The Nasty Ones, But You'll Only Get These If the Reporter Is Mean or Woke Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed."

The exec got to the TV station, the reporter had called in sick, no one knew where the press kits were, the replacement knew nothing about the topic and was NOT in a good mood. My exec, being the kind person she is, says, "Here are some questions that might help you out," and handed over the whole package.

Almost immediately recognizing her error, she tried to get them back. Too late. Fortunately, the reporter had a sense of humor. Said something like, "I did get up on the wrong side of the bed."

The interview went fine, but it was a near miss. I don't do cute anymore!

Lydia C. Van Kuren is director of communications for the Council for Exceptional Children. She notes that the incident above occurred earlier in her career.

How to Keep NGOs Honest

Ross Irvine, president and "corporate activist" at ePublic Relations, Ltd., didn't think that all the talk about compliance with new corporate governance regulations was sufficient, that it focused too much on the for-profit sector. So he came up with an excellent analysis tool, his "Non-government Organization (NGO)/Civil Society Accountability and Transparency Report." It's a "must-read" for anyone involved with an NGO. Go to: And if you'd like to be one of the first to learn about his future reports, subscribe to his announcement list by sending a blank email to:


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 HERE and THEN clicking on the AUDIO TAPES button

Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis, by Judy Hoffman.

This outstanding book, excerpted in a past issue of "Crisis Manager," tells you how to best deal with the media in those critical first few hours after a crisis breaks. More information can be found by clicking here. We've also added other new material to the bookstore since our last issue.


Editor's Note: A number of "Crisis Manager" readers have asked me to write about the "other side" of crisis management. Some of my defense-side clients and contacts might be less than thrilled by this! The fact is, however, that understanding the potential strategies to be employed on the offense or defense is critical to both sides of any issue.

Creating a Crisis Deliberately
by Jonathan Bernstein

A small businessman is suing a huge manufacturer that wronged him, but the manufacturer is hiding behind a wall of attorneys while continuing to make profits from its actions against the plaintiff.

A loved one goes missing in the South Pacific and the distraught family can't get law enforcement authorities in the U.S. or overseas to make an investigation a high priority.

A group of retirees from a single firm have filed suit against the takeover expert who acquired their company and, from their perspective, cheated them out of certain retirement benefits.

A tiny environmental group with relatively little money wants to discourage or even stop the plans of a large real estate developer who has millions.

These actual situations are examples of when crisis management tactics were used for a purpose diametrically different than I usually write about, or practice. Typically, most of us in this field are trying to keep our clients out of the media, trying to minimize how many stakeholders are concerned and affected.

But some of the same tactics we use on the "defense" side of such matters can also, very effectively, be used to deliberately expand the scope of a crisis, to encourage others who might otherwise not be involved to GET involved and concerned. To create public pressure on those we oppose, pressure that can sometimes work more quickly than legal tactics -- assuming we can even afford a protracted legal battle.

The key to a dramatic growth in "David vs. Goliath" battles on issues and lawsuits has been the Internet. As has been learned, painfully, by many large organizations who could previously use attorneys and obfuscation to hide from or ignore plaintiffs and activists. The Internet makes everything available to everyone, everywhere. News can't be contained to a single geographic area. A single PR Newswire press release will automatically appear on a large number of websites that subscribe to PR Newswire, even without any further dissemination of that information. If someone is criticizing your organization and knows how to use the Internet, what the CRITICS perceive as a crisis will become widely known to your stakeholders.

However, those attempting to create a crisis usually start off as unknowns. And because anyone can be a publisher on the Internet, the media and general public has become increasingly jaded about online criticism. To succeed, would-be muckrakers need to ensure that their online campaign is:

  • Credible -- if it's poorly written and not factually verifiable, that undermines credibility.
  • Legally Sound -- if a legal matter is involved, plaintiffs run a risk of being sued for defamation if they don't restrict their allegations to those made in an actual lawsuit. And win or lose, a defamation lawsuit will cost plaintiffs money to defend. However, there is certainly precedent for intentional lawbreaking (e.g., environmental protests involving trespassing) if you think the results are worth the cost.
  • Sustained -- a single announcement, online or offline, garners a bored response.
  • Interactive -- provides means for those browsing information to quickly get more, or to subscribe to a list which is sent updates in newsletter or similar format.
  • Motivational -- gives your target audiences, people whom you want to take action, reason to do so. Too many such campaigns merely generate limited sympathy or empathy.
  • Strategic, Not Ego-Focused -- I've seen a great many protestors, plaintiffs and assorted activists stage colorful stunts just to get some short-term attention. The question one needs to ask is, "Does this really influence people (current and prospective stakeholders in this matter) to take the actions I want them to take?" Or are the activities planned more for personal ego-satisfaction than to achieve a strategic goal?

The latter bullet point describes the category in which most such efforts fail. The people making the protests want change -- but they really don't take the time to understand what actually will effect change in their particular situation.

Many years ago, I chatted with a Greenpeace member who was leading a very well-organized protest against one of my clients. I said, "you know, we're in the profession, we're both engaged in crisis management." He agreed!


Q: I can't convince my CEO, who does a lot of "routine" media interviews and comes across well, that he needs to get media-trained so that he can handle the challenge of crisis-related media interviews when they occur. So far no major crises, and he seems to think he's ready!

CM: That's an all-too-common situation. You might want to persuade him to sign up for this ezine "just for his information," not because he REALLY needs it. Staff and guest authors write on this and related subjects frequently. Do a search at our website [in the Search box at the top left of each page] using the term "media training." Also, NEXT ISSUE, there's going to be a major article that directly answers this question.


Bernstein Crisis Management has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with PIER Systems, Inc., PR Newswire's ProfNet service,, 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.


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

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


There are a number of organizations whose services we admire enough to have pursued closer ties with them -- and to let you know about them, too, on the Allied Services page of our website. If you have a moment, we think it will be worth your while to browse the sites listed there.


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

Because of the possibility of human and mechanical error as well as other factors, neither Jonathan Bernstein nor Bernstein Crisis Management is responsible for any errors or omissions. All information is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Bernstein Crisis Management and Jonathan Bernstein make no representations and disclaim all express, implied, and statutory warranties of any kind to the user and/or any third party including, without limitation, warranties as to accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability, or fitness for any particular purpose.

Unless due to willful tortuous misconduct or gross negligence, Jonathan Bernstein and Bernstein Crisis Management shall have no liability in tort, contract, or otherwise (and as permitted by law, product liability), to the user and/or any third party.

Under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages.

A service of this newsletter is to provide news summaries and/or snippets to readers. In such instances articles and/or snippets will be reprinted as they are received from the originating party or as they are displayed on the originating website or in the original article. As we do not write the news, we merely point readers to it, under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever due to the distribution of said news articles or snippets that lead readers to a full article on a news service's website, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Authors of the original news story and their publications shall be exclusively held liable. Any corrections to news stories are not mandatory and shall be printed at the discretion of the list moderator after evaluation on a case-by-case basis.


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Articles in "Crisis Manager" were, unless otherwise noted, written and copyrighted by Jonathan Bernstein. Permission to reprint will often be granted for no charge. Write to