© 2002 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Too often, in-house counsel worry more about keeping their jobs than giving needed advice.
Alejandro Ponieman, Counsel: Alvear Palace Hotel quoted in Corporate Legal Times
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Editor's Note: on the cover of Gerald Baron's new book, Now Is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News, I am quoted as follows -- "Suffice it to say that I'd like to reprint most of 'Now Is Too Late' in my newsletter. But they won't let me. So you'll have to buy it." However, the good news is that the publisher, Prentice Hall, did let me reprint the Introduction to the book.
Introduction to Now is Too Late
by by Gerald Baron
In a heart's beat of a faster and faster pace, it's suddenly becoming a more dangerous world. Although much attention has been focused on security--personal, national, transportation, and business--in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, this book focuses on another type of security risk, the new risk to reputations.
Corporate and organizational reputations are more at risk than ever, not because of a cataclysmic event such as the al-Qaeda offensive, but because of the significant changes in how the news industry operates and how the public gets its information. To compete in an increasingly crowded media environment, news organizations have turned increasingly to "infotainment." Activists have learned how to exploit old and new media to push their agendas. The news public is becoming increasingly cynical. Digital, satellite, and other technologies are increasing the rush toward "breaking news," meaning that reputations can be severely impacted before a communication team can be assembled. Primarily, the news and public information world is changing because of the Internet. If a lie could travel halfway around the world before the prime minister could get his pants on before, in the early days of the new century that lie can travel around the world multiple times, causing irreparable damage before the great gentleman would have time to put down his cigar before pulling on his pants.
Many public relations professionals, communication managers, and business and organization leaders are becoming aware of these escalating risks. The average tenure of CEOs has been declining and a review of news headlines shows a strong correlation between a public reputation problem and a short career for a CEO. In the weeks following September 11, 2001, executives were asked if they felt their organizations were prepared to handle a large-scale crisis, and the overwhelming majority said no. Crisis communication professionals are reporting that more company leaders are expressing interest in communication plans. Public relations and communication managers are struggling with the variety of issues involved in protecting their organization's brand value and reputations in a world of increasing risk.
This book is essentially about the need for leadership in reputation management. CEOs and executive directors are the ones who fall when the public turns against a company and the organization loses its public franchise. Leadership at this level is critical if an enterprise is to survive a rapid and voracious attack on everything that it is and does. Innovative and aggressive communication managers are taking a higher profile in companies and organizations when they demonstrate they can provide concrete solutions to reputation protection. There is a strong need for leadership from both the executive level and the communication leaders.
To address this new "instant news" environment, communicators and leaders must have an understanding of the conditions that create the risk and a clear picture of what can be done to protect against the threats. That is what is offered here: an analysis of the new public information environment and the strategies needed to protect reputations and enhance brand value while operating in this new environment.
While the war on terror was waged in far corners of the world, Americans were "entertained" with stories about the demise of several giants in the world of business. Two of the country's largest bankruptcies occurred when Enron, and then Global Crossing, needed protection from creditors. Although the greed, dishonesty, and shady internal politics revealed by both news media and a Congressional investigation of Enron should have provided sufficient diversion, attention was soon focused on the respected global accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. First, there was concern about Andersen's role in potentially illegal accounting practices. Then the news broke that an Andersen partner was shredding documents and destroying evidence that investigators were seeking concerning Enron's financial dealings. A reputation crisis of the first order took over the headlines, the attention of the business world, and the global news audience.
Although many reputation crises are played out on the national or international media stage, a far greater number involve smaller companies in local or regional markets. Not all companies have the reach of Firestone, ValuJet, or Exxon. But for these less prominent companies, the impact on their futures is just as great, even though the audience may be smaller. Local newspaper articles, local television broadcasts, and localized activist attacks are every bit as significant. Manufacturing companies, oil and chemical companies, health organizations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, politicians, and other individuals whose public stature is vital to their future are at risk in the new environment of instant news.
However, it is not all bad news. Along with the new risks come new opportunities. In the Internet-connected global village, everyone has the potential of being a broadcaster or publisher. This is being demonstrated every day. Today, new voices on the Internet are gathering audiences that rival those of some daily newspapers. Some of them are doing it from their spare bedrooms with almost no investment except their own time, ideas, and energy. Activists and corporate opponents are clearly demonstrating the power of the new media tools to forge opinion and create public and political action. It's one of the significant risks. However, these same tools and methods are available to companies and organizations needing to build their enterprise and protect their investment. The question is whether or not they will be as quick to learn, adapt, change policies, invest in needed technologies, and meet the challenge.
With all the new voices, the acceleration of news delivery, and the growing importance of public information in policy making around the world, the noise level is rising. From this cacophony a key question emerges: Who is to be believed? Credibility has always been an essential element for people and organizations operating in the public sphere, but in the instant news world, when everyone is shouting to be heard, credibility takes on a new urgency. Protecting the organization's voice and public franchise becomes the real role of executive and communication leadership. Today, there are so many ways to lose believability that anything remotely resembling a cover-up is certain to destroy a solid reputation. Yet another way to lose credibility in this news era is simply to be too slow. Crisis communication case studies of the last few years, Andersen's prominent among them, offer one example after another of providing too little, too late.
Speed, direct communication, and credibility are the keys to survival in this risky public information environment. Understanding these needs thoroughly and doing what it takes to prepare to meet the challenges these demands pose is the only real protection against the frightening discovery that now is too late.
Gerald Baron is the president of Baron & Company and creator of the PIER System, the only completely integrated Internet-based communication management system for crisis communications. His book is available at Amazon.com and other major booksellers.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
See You in Mid-January!
There will be no January 1, 2003 issue of "Crisis Manager." We thank you all for helping the ezine to grow and prosper. May your holiday season bring you much joy and serenity. As our Holiday present to you, we've put extra articles and bonus material in this issue.
We continue to expand -- and seek content for -- the Crisis Bookstore section of our website, at www.crisisbookstore.com. If you have relevant material you'd like to offer there, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: I'm pleased and proud to announce that I've just published "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual." It brings you lessons I've learned over the past 20+ years, with a particular focus on crisis-related media relations. If you find my writing in this newsletter entertaining and informative, I can promise you the same in the manual! The following are two short excerpts from the 49-page publication, and information on how to acquire it is at the end of the article.
Inside the Minds of Journalists
from Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual
by Jonathan Bernstein
Believe it or not, reporters would probably find it as scary to be in your mind as you would in theirs. The catch is that they're paid to be in yours and will do their best to get there.
Reporters may, in fact, come into interviews with a bias -- usually in the form of a media outlet's political leanings, attitude towards certain types of organizations, etc. -- but they're not usually out to "get you." They're just doing their job and trying to receive as much recognition for it as possible. Just like you, right?
A reporter wants a story that's newsworthy, that appeals to his/her editor and audience. There is a journalistic code of ethics, but it allows for behaviors you may or may not deem acceptable while in pursuit of a story.
Your job is to tell your side of the story. You are in conversation; you have to know to whom you're talking. The reporter is asking you tough questions he/she thinks his audience will want asked. That means you must speak through him/her to that audience, telling them what you want them to know in terms that will be meaningful to them.
By employing the information in this manual, you will have improved your ability to balance a story -- but remember that "balanced" does NOT equate to "the story came out the way it would have come out if YOU had written it." It means you got a fair shake, even if people who completely disagreed with you also were treated fairly.
That's why, ultimately, I also advise clients that the media is not your most important audience, because it is the least reliable means of accurately communicating information. However, media outlets are AN important audience and one gateway to those who matter most to you -- typically your employees, customers, investors, community leaders, etc. And it's true that whether you cooperate or not, reporters will write their stories -- so why not do your best to get your messages across?
Message Development and Delivery
from Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual
by Jonathan Bernstein
The time to develop messages on any subject, including potential crises, is long before you have to use them in media interviews. That gives you a chance to refine them, test them and practice them.
Yes, practice, just like those professional athletes called reporters who have usually spent years in training. Practice beyond a media training session, which is akin to spending a day with a good batting coach or golf instructor -- his or her knowledge doesn't just automatically transfer to you.
Here are some rules for successful message development and delivery:
- Make sure your messages fit the needs of each of your audiences. The fact that they meet YOUR needs is not a sufficient test of their efficacy.
- If you don't say it, they can't print or broadcast it. OK, it's possible that they'll make quotes up in print, but believe it or not that actually happens very seldom. Usually, when someone claims "I never said that," they're wrong. I'm not saying they're lying, just that their memory is likely to be faulty.
- State your most important message up-front and find ways to repeat it, verbatim or re-stated, throughout an interview.
- Remember that you don't have to answer questions directly as asked, you can choose to deliver your own messages first and THEN answer the question. And some slick interviewees can distract a reporter from the original question altogether.
- If a reporter asks to audiotape an interview, ask if you can do the same thing. This greatly increases the likelihood that the reporter will listen to the tape VERY closely to ensure no misquotes. However, if a reporter is not recording, it would usually be considered rude if you asked to record.
- This is a hot one: AFTER you've done the interview, email or fax the reporter a note thanking them for their interest in the story and saying "just to sum up, these are, in my opinion, some of the most important points we discussed." Then give him/her your top 3-5 key messages. Make sure you do it before the reporter's deadline! This reduces the likelihood of being misquoted, particularly if a reporter is relying on his/her own notes.
"Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" is available in PDF and coil-bound printed versions. Read more about it and how to order copies at www.crisisbookstore.com -- it's the first item listed there. There's a money-back guarantee if buyers aren't satisfied, and I welcome reader feedback.
Quarles & Brady Streich Lang, based in Phoenix, has produced a free "Guide for Responding to Governmental Inquiries and Investigation." The Guide is designed to assist both lawyers and non-lawyers in first-level response to government investigative tactics like subpoenas, search warrants and interview requests. The Guide gives a step-by-step approach to dealing with the government's tactics without creating more problems for the client and yet preserving information and defenses. While ideally only a lawyer should respond to governmental inquiries, the Guide provides sufficient information to enable a non-lawyer to get thought the first basic steps until legal counsel can be contacted.
The Guide includes checklists for dealing with search warrants, subpoenas and interview requests. The Guide tackles the tough task of keeping the investigators away from employees and privileged documents without violating other federal or state law in the process. While no person is an even match for the government investigator, the Guide gives you the best preparation possible. Read more about the Guide and download it from here.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF
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