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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 3,100+



This issue marks the third anniversary of "Crisis Manager," which was launched on February 1, 2000. Long before the terrorism-related and corporate disasters that have captured news coverage over the past two years and, perhaps, increased everyone's awareness of the need for improved crisis preparedness and response.

I'm pleased that the observations of that initial issue are as valid today as they were then. The principles of effective crisis management -- and the nature of crisis management mistakes -- are, in my opinion, timeless.

Thank you to my readers for your interest and encouragement, to my guest authors for your superb contributions, to my outstanding Webmaster Oliver Del Signore, and to Phil Cogan for enhancing both Bernstein Crisis Management and the "staff" of this ezine since it was introduced.

Jonathan Bernstein
Monrovia, California


"There is no due process in the court of public opinion."

-- Jonathan Bernstein


Why is a nation in mourning?

The tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, just as we were closing up this issue, will ultimately be a crisis management case history worth studying. But, for now, consider the reason why an incident that would be called a "small aircraft crash" in almost any other context, meriting minimal news coverage, rivets us and much of the world to television and radio reports.

Certain organizations and their activities are "iconic," they represent hopes, fears and desires of large masses of people. They engender expectations just by their existence and reputation.

The U.S. Military is "expected" to be the best, no matter what, and a significant loss in combat with Iraq, even if we handily win the overall war, would shock America and its allies in a manner disproportionate to the numbers.

The White House or CIA are "expected" to be impregnable -- and so even a hint of security failure, as has happened in the past, generates a level of attention that would not result from a similar intrusion on security at a private-sector site.

And NASA represents the epitome of what ultimately led to the creation of the United States of America and its growth into the most powerful nation on Earth -- the spirit of exploration, of risk-taking, of overcoming Nature's obstacles.

Such organizations have a particular responsibility, therefore, to engage in "best of the best" crisis preparedness and response. Their stakeholder groups are not only their nation, but the citizens of nations allied to them.

There are lesser examples of icons in the business and entertainment world, whose failures -- real or perceived -- elicit a level of shocked response out of line with the reality of the situation. A revered celebrity caught up in a Wall Street scandal, or a "highly regarded by analysts" company suddenly declaring massive losses. If your organization is such an icon -- regionally, nationally or internationally -- remember your special responsibility to do everything humanly possible to optimize your crisis management.


War With Iraq Offers Lessons in Crisis Management
by Jonathan Bernstein

The pending war with Iraq, and the military's method of intelligence collection and management, offer crisis managers from any organization some valuable lessons. As do mistakes made by the intelligence community prior to and during past conflicts -- some of which might have been avoided altogether.

The Role of Intelligence

From this country's failure to detect warning signs of Japan's Pearl Harbor attack to the horror of 9-11, we have learned what happens when intelligence gathering is conducted poorly or, even when done skillfully, if information dissemination and analysis is incompetent. My original career was in military intelligence, a fashionable oxymoron these days, and as an outside observer of wartime preparations I believe that the U.S. Intelligence Community has now learned a great deal from its mistakes and is better prepared than at any time in history. Perfect? No. Humans and machines can still err.

Non-military organizations need accurate intelligence for their decision making just as much as the military does. To base decisions solely on theory, best guesses and wishful thinking results in Enron-like situations. Here's the difference: from what I observe in the business world, most American organizations haven't yet learned from their mistakes, the mistakes which lead to crises, and which result in crises become disasters.

Classically, there are six forms of intelligence gathered by government agencies:

  • Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)
  • Imagery Intelligence (IMINT)
  • Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT)
  • Human-Source Intelligence (HUMINT)
  • Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT)
  • Geospatial Intelligence (no acronym to my knowledge, another group already had "GI")

Private organizations are seldom able to use this full range of options to collect information relevant to decision making, but two of them -- HUMINT and OSINT -- are absolutely essential for ANY organization.

OSINT is publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form, including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the Internet, commercial databases, and videos, graphics, and drawings. The Internet, in particular, is a virtual Alice's Restaurant of information where, unlike that song, you can get ANYTHING (including Alice) if you know how. There is absolutely no sane reason, short of technophobia and wishful thinking, not to employ Internet-savvy staff, consultants and/or services to ensure that you truly understand the "battlefield" in which your organization competes for attention and revenue. Even if you're a small business, a teenager could probably help ensure that your Internet-centered data collection is competent.

HUMINT -- the intelligence community version -- amounts to identifying, recruiting, motivating, training, briefing and debriefing sources. Journalists do the same thing, with less bureaucracy and formality, hence the fairly easy transition I made from military intelligence to investigative reporting in the late 70's. However, while industrial espionage certainly exists, involving machinations sometimes as complex as the CIA's best efforts, for the most part an organization's best sources are right under their noses -- their own employees, customers, and anyone else who has a stake in their future. Here's the catch: usually, if you want THOSE sources to give you information on what's really happening with your organization (so you can detect problems early on) and about how you're perceived by those important to you, you have to (a) ask them and/or (b) provide easy means for them to tell you without their own welfare being threatened. A search of this newsletter's back issues will give you numerous articles on internal communications and how to stay in touch with reality as multiple audiences understand it -- not just as it exists between a CEO's ears.

Analyzing Intelligence

OK, now you have all this raw data, how do you use it to stay out of trouble or minimize the impact of crises when they occur? Or, as a CEO once asked me, "how can I avoid getting blindsided again?"

The governmental intelligence model, when it works properly, allows data to be evaluated by subject area and then for findings to be compared across subject areas to spot related information and see if, in some cases, 1+1=3. While also looking for trends in any subject area or across multiple areas.

That model is what led me to create our vulnerability audit process many years ago. Other crisis management professionals have their own, comparable processes. When we collect information in a vulnerability audit, we use HUMINT to focus first on different functional areas of an organization (e.g., human resources, legal, marketing & sales, information security, environment), while also using OSINT to collect everything we can find about the client organization, its industry, competitors, etc. We then bring all the results together in a process for comparative analysis. Sometimes, we involve subject-specific analysts (within the client organization or from outside, for more objectivity) to help us understand the data better.

The results allow us to recommend steps that organizational leaders can take to avoid or at least minimize the damage from the multitude of potential crises to which most of them are vulnerable.

Does it take time and resources to gather and analyze intelligence? You bet. Is it still one heck of a lot cheaper than the consequences of NOT doing so? Ask Ken Lay. Or the victims of 9/11.

Editor's Note: Wartime crisis management has other lessons for us that I'll likely address in future issues, and I welcome guest articles on this subject as well.


More Kudos for Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual

Too many public and media relations professionals that have done crisis management even once or twice will self-describe themselves as experts. They have nothing left to learn. At the other end of the spectrum lie the people who haven't done crisis communications yet-- and fear it like a potential airborne chemical and biological warfare attack. Jonathan Bernstein's 'how-to' manual meets the needs of both audiences.

Richard Paulson, APR
Public Involvement Specialist
Wyoming Department of Transportation

Learn more at:

Media Trainers

If you're a media trainer and don't have a media training manual of your own, please contact Jonathan Bernstein regarding the possibility of re-selling his manual as a revenue source and/or making the manual available to your clients at a discounted price. Write to


Editor's Note: Karen Friedman, who's blessed our pages with her prose in the past, really brings home the idea that a caring and compassionate communicator can survive crises, while someone who operates from a core of anger can turn crises into disasters.

Help From the Heart
by Karen Friedman

By now we've all read many columns reminding us to re-evaluate what really matters in our lives. Given the difficult challenges of the past year, it's more important than ever to treat every day as a beautifully wrapped gift.

Recognize Others

Inside that gift, there are many opportunities, but perhaps the most notable is our opportunity to communicate with others as we never have before. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart." That is where so many of us fail. As reports of corporate fraud send the stock market plummeting, jilted investors call for reform, and a federal court jury finds a house representative guilty of taking bribes and kickbacks, it's no wonder the public doesn't know what or whom to believe. Perhaps, as Eleanor Roosevelt suggested, when speaking, we really should have heart. Instead of glaring at reporters and failing to address thousands of admirers, Martha Stewart might have considered making a short public statement. She could have explained that she "can't talk because the matter is under investigation," but that her first concern was for her shareholders and employees.

Think, Then Speak

Former Enron first lady Linda Lay might have thought twice before discussing the loss of her vacation homes on national TV. It's doubtful too many viewers were sympathetic.

Corporate Scandal

From Adelphia to Tyco to Enron to WorldCom, it's hard to change a distrusting public's opinion even if those who were once held in such high esteem are innocent until proven guilty. But perhaps what's most important to understand is that people remember your demeanor, your attitude, your body language and your empathy or lack of it far longer than they ever remember your words.

People want spokespeople to be human. Whether you are doing an interview with the media, delivering a presentation to investors, talking with employees or trying to land that new job, listeners want to relate to you. They want to know you care about the same things they care about. Only then, will someone else feel comfortable enough to believe and trust what you're saying.

Be Likeable

Presidential advisor Roger Ailes once wrote: " The 'magic bullet' of personal communication is the quality of being likable." Perhaps this is best observed by remembering the highly publicized Exxon Valdez spill. For days, viewers witnessed graphic pictures of dead geese and sea lions. Environmental groups were all over the airwaves, but Exxon CEO Lawrence Rawl was conspicuously absent. When he did appear on ABC's Good Morning America several days later, he was scowling; defensive and accused anchor Kathleen Sullivan of creating a public relations nightmare. If Rawl had shown concern and compassion, he would have been much more likeable which in turn would have softened the blow for Exxon. For the second part of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote cited above is "Anger is only one letter short of danger."

While media ink is poised to pounce on the next corporate inquiry, remember, being human comes first as there is always an opportunity to communicate with heart.

Karen Friedman brings 20 years of on-air television experience to media and communications training and consulting. Her Philadelphia-area company, Karen Friedman Enterprises, prepares people to take advantage of media interviews, presentations and public appearances. Friedman is a frequent speaker and can be reached at: 610-292-9780 or through her website at


Q: Does a disaster or a war make for a good time to release bad organizational news, hoping that it gets less attention? Perhaps even to do less distribution of the news because our stakeholders are distracted?

CM: Yes and no (helpful, aren't I?). On the one hand, the chance of your bad news (as long as it's not disastrous in and of itself) being carried by news media, or showing up prominently, is significantly reduced for days or weeks after a shuttle crash or war declaration. On the other hand, the Internet has, for all practical purposes, no "shelf life." Those who are generally interested in your organization and/or industry will ultimately get caught up on their reading and research -- and if the first time they learn of your news is when they find it for themselves, they're going to be distressed.

Also, regular readers of this ezine know that I believe the media to be only one of many audiences -- and the least reliable way to get your key messages to your important stakeholders. There is no substitute, in times of war or peace, for open, honest and caring communication to internal and external stakeholders. Anything less can definitely backfire.


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.


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