© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Being opposed to war while failing to prepare for the impact of war is like speaking out against lawlessness and criminals while failing to lock your doors at night.
Jonathan Bernstein & Phil Cogan
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Homeland Security Department Created But Locals Get Mostly Hot Air
Editorial by Phil Cogan, Exec. V.P., Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.
If your private or public sector organization hasn't done much to improve its emergency and crisis preparedness, you're in good -- or bad -- company. Neither has your local state and local government. So if you think you don't need much planning of your own because your local government's all set to go -- think again.
Many city, county and state jurisdictions have gone into debt to implement improved security measures, counting on federal financial assistance that has been promised but so far not delivered. And those same jurisdictions will tell you that even with all they've done since September 11th, there's much, much more that needs to be done. And done NOW.
The U.S. federal government has promised to spend, but so far not delivered, some $7 billion in the current and next fiscal year, but much of that money has been locked up in political disputes that have kept the Congress from passing a government-wide budget for the current fiscal year that started on October 1, 2002. About $3.5 billion of the $7 billion has been promised for homeland security in Fiscal Year 2004 that starts this coming October 1.
Despite the fact that the federal checks aren't even in the mail, many jurisdictions are spending money to implement homeland security enhancements. Examples:
- The city of Seattle, Washington has spent almost $6 million for public safety overtime, training, increasing security at critical facilities and improving interagency coordination.
- Baltimore, Maryland city and county officials say they've laid out $11 million since September 11th, but they've received only $1 million from the federal government.
- Officials in Minnesota are scrambling to find funds to protect critical infrastructure sites and soft targets, such as the mega shopping center Mall of America.
- Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, saying her state's border with Mexico isn't secure, called the federal government a "deadbeat partner" for failing to give the states the money they need to pay for federal programs. "It's frustrating because we really can't tell how much money is coming to Arizona to pay for an issue that affects public safety," she said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says their figures show that either the Congress or the Administration has ordered, but isn't paying for, programs costing $25 billion last year, and $4 billion of those costs are related to homeland security.
As if the direct expenses themselves aren't bad enough, all of these homeland security costs are coming at a time when cities, counties and states are struggling with severely decreased revenues due to the weak U.S. economy. Even the call-ups of military reservists are negatively impacting local and state budgets; New York City, for example, says it's paying $315,000 per week for salaries of police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who have been called to active duty in anticipation of war with Iraq.
The State of Washington, like many other states, is running a big deficit --- $2.4 billion. All told, the 50 states face an unprecedented $60 to $70 billion budget deficit in the upcoming year.
Said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley last month, "Our nation cannot fund America's homeland security on the back of local property taxes and fire hall bingo proceeds...the common defense [has been] relegated to yet another unfunded mandate for already cash-strapped cities."
What does all this mean to you and your organization, private or public?
First, don't forego your own crisis management and emergency preparedness activities because you assume government will be there when you need them. That's never been a sound decision, and it's even less sound now.
Second, this would probably be a good time to let your federal elected representatives know that it's time to stop fooling around and start sending homeland security funds to the places it's most needed, where "the rubber meets the road" in our local communities. A lot of you represent organizations important to legislators -- use that clout. And don't just write to them; contact your local and state media and suggest that they ask the legislators, "Was anybody listening to the wake-up call on September 11, 2001?"
If the person in the mirror isn't willing to do something, then nothing more will be done.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
ONLINE CHAT! February 19, 2003 - 12:00 Noon Eastern Time
"Meet" Jonathan Bernstein and Phil Cogan
Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Relations in Times of Crisis
The Emergency Information Infrastructure Partnership (EIIP) is pleased to host a 'live chat' presentation and interactive Q&A session on the topic of crisis communications, Wednesday, February 19, 12:00-1:00 PM Eastern (convert to your local time). This session will review the 'Do's and Don'ts of a successful crisis communications strategy, and should be of particular interest to those with public information responsibilities, including local officials and Public Information Officers (PIOs).
Featured guests are Jonathan Bernstein and Phil Cogan of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.
No prior registration is required; however, the EIIP requests that first-time participants review the instructions posted at:
Then join us on Wednesday using the "Chat Login" link, located on the top left of the homepage (directly under Quick Picks). A transcript of the session will be posted by the following day, and will be accessible from the home page.
More Kudos for Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual
A keeper for comms pros facing crisis.
Learn more at: http://www.thecrisismanager.com
February 10, 2003
Bernstein Crisis Management Pros In High Demand for Training Sessions
In the past several months, we have conducted training sessions from two hours to two days long (sometimes issues specific, sometimes general orientation/education) for a state professional association, two huge corporations, and several not-for-profits. We also will soon "train the trainers" at a client organization and license the use of our proprietary training materials when those trainers go out to educate their management nationwide. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Case Histories: Crises that Didn't Become Disasters
by Jonathan Bernstein
Regular readers have previously seen Phil Cogan's thoughts on why crisis become disasters, as archived here.
We actually try to practice what we preach, and thus many of our clients have been able to avoid disastrous consequences by employing effective proactive or reactive crisis management programs. Here are two such case histories.
Rumor Control Program Avoids Crises
An industry leading manufacturer was bedeviled by constant "product bashing" on Internet sites heavily visited by its customer base, which was mostly comprised of consumers under age 25. Complaints on the Internet, in our experience, have about 10% basis in fact and 90% basis in ego -- but if they SOUND credible, regardless of factual merit, they can have a negative impact on sales.
Additionally, sometimes product rumors and allegations -- as was the case, initially, with Bridgestone/Firestone -- turn out to be warning signs of safety-related product defects and/or pending lawsuits.
After we identified this issue during a vulnerability audit, our client authorized the launch of a formal rumor control program that has been proving very effective and only costs the client around $1,000 per month. Here's how it works:
Our subcontracted researcher -- a talented college student and consumer of products from our client's industry -- spends up to 20 hours monthly monitoring the main Internet sites featuring product discussion.
He collects and passes on to us, at least weekly, summaries of, and links to, messages which sound like credible descriptions of product defects and/or safety issues.
We review his findings and pass those we agree need attention on to a designated "rumor control coordinator" at our client's HQ, with our recommendations for how to respond. At first, we had to give fairly detailed suggestions; given the common themes present in many of the messages, we are now able to re-use many of the same responses.
Responses are made directly to the email address of whomever posted the message (which is usually available at discussion sites); our client does NOT get into public debates or discussions about its products. The responses include easy means (phone, email) for the message poster to get more information. The tenor of most responses is, "we read your message, we're always concerned when someone's unhappy about any of our products and we'd like to help -- please contact us or give us your number and we'll call you." When specific technical help appears warranted, we may offer suggestions for maintenance or repair. And when it's a matter of product safety -- real or perceived -- it gets referred to the client's general counsel, although it may also still receive a customer service response.
In some cases, message boards have rules barring messages that simply attack, or "flame," a product without giving any rationale. If/when we see messages like this, we write to the message board moderator suggesting that a message might be worthy of deletion -- and they usually agree.
Thus far in the still-relatively-new program, those contacted appear to have pleasantly surprised by how proactive the client has been. In some cases, product bashers have simply stopped bashing. In others, of course, they're on an ego trip and continue to be nasty no matter what, but are often balanced out by others who post messages along the lines of "you don't know what you're talking about, why don't you back off?" Legal counsel has had plenty of heads-up about product safety allegations that, while probably untrue, could be tempting to aggressive trial attorneys.
The Never-Ending Trial
Consulting professionals from multiple industries have become popular targets for prosecutors going after organizations to which those professionals have provided advice. The rationale for prosecution being "they either knew something was wrong or SHOULD have known something was wrong" with their client's operation. Such is the legacy of Enron and its ilk.
Factually, many of these professionals -- and, I'm guessing, most of them -- are completely innocent of wrongdoing. There are some who were incompetent, turned a blind eye or actually conspired to commit crimes, but most just happened to do work for a targeted organization -- and, of course, that organization is not always guilty, either.
That doesn't stop certain publicity and power-hungry prosecutors from using the court of public opinion -- where there is no due process -- to grandstand and conduct a trial by media. You previously read my advice about how to deal with trial by media in the newsletter now archived here.
With one of our relatively recent clients, we have followed our own advice for a case in which a professional at our client organization is an "also named" innocent party, and which has been dragging through the legal system for over a year. Accompanied by sensationalistic press coverage. At our suggestion, the client has particularly emphasized direct communication with its client base, constant updating of its own employees (who are PR reps whether you want them to be or not), not attacking the media (in fact, generally ignoring the local media, which has some of the most biased and unethical reporting practices I've ever seen), closely integrating PR and legal strategy, and not judging the impact of the allegations strictly based on news coverage.
The result: some organizational damage, of course, because allegations invariably create concern amongst all stakeholders, internal and external. And this entire matter has created a lot of distress for the accused, who has been counseled that at the end of all this we believe he'll have his time to speak out against those who have made these false allegations. Initially, the client, at our suggestion, suspended "routine marketing" plans so that they weren't putting "why you should hire us" messages at the same time as the most negative media coverage appeared. But, for the most part, the client organization AND the accused individual have been able to conduct business as usual. Prominent clients and members of the area community who know the individual and the client company have, in fact, expressed their disgust at the tenor and inaccuracy of news coverage. And marketing programs have been re-initiated.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Below are reader questions and response to the 02.01.03 issue which contained articles entitled "War with Iraq Offers Lessons in Crisis Management" and "Why is a Nation in Mourning," about the shuttle crash.
First, we had this question:
Q: You've had a couple of issues, recently, that focused on crisis management implications of the potential war with Iraq. How can I get some basic information on how the "average citizen" or business can be better prepared?
CM: The Department of Homeland Security has an excellent page on this topic -- and it's more than just "duct tape." Go to: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=36
We also received far more than our usual rate of reader email in response to the war-related article. The majority quite positive, although a couple of readers who liked the overall article felt I made too strong a statement about the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Queda (if you'd like to know how I replied to that, write to me, I don't want to get too side-tracked here).
One irate reader -- ironically enough, employed by a U.S. government agency -- cancelled her subscription with this comment:
"Please take me off your subscription list immediately. I am extremely offended that you use your 'newsletter' to promote the propaganda of the Bush Administration."
Of course, I refunded her subscription price in full.
On the plus side, Reader Charlie McDonald, head of the crisis management practice at Atlanta-based Fletcher Martin Ewing Public Relations, offered us this additional insight on why the Columbia disaster had such an emotional impact:
I liked this issue and it reminded me of a comparison I often use when describing public outrage to a specific event - similar to your descriptions of our expectations for the "best-of-the-best" organizations.
Imagine 20 dead in a coal mine disaster 15 miles from your home. How do you feel? Sad, but not outraged... or scared.
Now imagine the same 20 dead in a chemical disaster 15 miles from your home. How do you feel? Outraged. Angry. Anxious.
Now imagine the same 20 dead in a nuclear disaster 15 miles from your home. How do you feel? Terrified. Shocked. Furious.
It's the same 20 people, but we have significantly different expectations from these three industries.
The same with contamination. Contaminated motor oil, vs. food, vs. the blood supply.
Just a thought.
All-in-all, we seemed to have hit on some topics you really want to know about, because our new subscriber rate since that issue literally doubled -- more than 130 new subscribers in the first 15 days of the month.
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.
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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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