© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Just because 'truth' is on your side doesn't mean you'll win the argument.
Jerry Brown in "Monday Morning Media Minute"
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Editor's Note: I'm often asked to recommend books and other sources of information on how to prevent and/or respond better to crises, so periodically I review publications sent to me by authors and publishers. If you have such a publication and would like it considered for review in "Crisis Manager," please write to email@example.com. Caution: due to the limited space available in this ezine, I will only write about books I think are worth my readers' time. If I don't think what you send me fits that category, you simply won't see a review.
BEAT THE PRESS, by Shirley Fulton and Al Guyant, is one of the best -- perhaps even THE best -- book I've read on dealing with the media when under fire. There is so much information that even if you buy the book now, a good idea, it will really start sinking in better after you get some basic media training. Shirley and Al give readers very detailed advice on how to manage difficult questions, countering tricky reporter tactics, recovering from your own mistakes, and more. Published by American Book Business Press and available at http://www.BeatThePress.net, where you can also find more information on this superb publication.
EVERYDAY CRISIS MANAGEMENT, by Mark Friedman, M.D., applies the lessons Dr. Friedman learned through the practice of emergency/disaster-response medicine to crises beyond the medical arena, including business and terrorism related crisis prevention and response. Sometimes that "different way" of looking at things offers insights we crisis managers insights otherwise wouldn't perceive through the tunnel vision of our primary disciplines. The book is available at Amazon.com, other booksellers, and on his website at www.everydaycrisismanagement.com.
THE CONSCIOUS MANAGER, by Fred Phillips, is a must-read for any crisis manager who has also studied Zen and/or had multi-year experience with martial arts training. Mr. Phillips, a 5th Dan black belt in Aikido, is head of the Management department at the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology. He applies the lessons learned through studying and teaching Zen martial arts to dealing with business challenges, including crises. As a former martial arts student, I have used basic principles (e.g., allowing an opponents' force to work to your own best interests) in work with my clients. Mr. Phillips takes such concepts to a MUCH higher level. I suspect, however, that crisis managers without some foundation in Zen or martial arts would find all his references to same difficult to process. The book is available at http://www.generalinformatics.com.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
University PIOs Want to Keep the Wolves at Bay
Twenty-two public information officers for a major State university system will soon have Jonathan Bernstein's "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" on their desks as a reference tool. If your organization is interested in bulk purchases (more than 10 copies) of the manual, write to firstname.lastname@example.org for discounted pricing information. For more information on the book, or single-copy purchases, go to: http://www.thecrisismanager.com
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 email@example.com.
EIIP Chat Transcript Now Available Free Online
If you missed attending the recent Emergency Information Infrastructure Partnership (EIIP) live chat featuring Phil Cogan and Jonathan Bernstein, the transcript is now available (free) at http://www.emforum.org/vforum/lc030219.htm and a MS-Word version is also available at ftp://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lc030219.doc.
Editor's Note: We welcome a new author to our publication. Mel Harkrader Pine provides us with further proof that (a) the media is our least important audience and (b) that effective crisis/issues management MUST directly target ALL impacted audiences.
Case History: When Science and Sales Data Aren't Enough
by Mel Harkrader Pine
In Jonathan Bernstein's recent publication, "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual," he explains that it's a mistake to assume people are swayed by what's getting reported in the media. Consumers may have more faith in your product or company than they do in the reporters who are badmouthing it.
But here's the catch: If the politicians and regulators BELIEVE that consumers are getting worried, you may get burned even if they're wrong. I know of one industry that experienced this phenomenon, but I'll change the names and details to protect the ....well, I'll change some of the details.
Let's say that XYZ, a herbicide invented in the 1930s, is now used on almost every suburban lawn in America. It's the most economical, most effective lawn herbicide ever invented. You can hardly look out of a suburban window in a temperate or subtropical climate in the U.S. without seeing a lawn treated with XYZ.
One of XYZ's components was classified as a carcinogen in the '70s. That was because a study in Papua New Guinea found high instances of cancer in villages with large amounts of this naturally occurring element in their drinking water. But to date no scientist has published an article in a peer-reviewed journal showing that anyone has ever been harmed by XYZ when used as a lawn herbicide.
Nevertheless, in the last three years XYZ became the target of some activist groups. TV news stories about "the poison in your backyard, where your children play" spread across the U.S. When the Boston Globe sampled lawns and found the carcinogen in the grass, hysteria set in throughout Massachusetts even though the U.S. EPA had long attested to XYZ's safety.
A toxicologist for the State Health Department explained that a child would have to eat a fistful of grass every day for 30 years before there'd be a problem. But that didn't stop some parks from closing down and some schools from ripping up and replacing their lawns.
The hysteria led Senator Kennedy to start writing letters to the EPA complaining that it was falling down on the job. He also introduced a couple of bills to ban XYZ.
The amazing thing was that, right in the heart of the hysteria, sales of XYZ had never been better. I arranged a couple of focus groups, including one in Boston, and learned that people were fed up with the media scare stories. They might check off a box saying "somewhat concerned" in a survey, but it would take more than media stories before they'd change their buying habits or stop their kids from playing on the lawn.
Meanwhile, though, the XYZ industry was making another common mistake. Its executives believed that science was the key to saving them from the media assault. But the media assault was emotional. While science is important, it can't trump emotion.
The industry could have helped itself with a media blitz stressing how XYZ had improved the quality of life over its decades of use. The industry could have organized media tours and editorial board visits. It could have produced video news releases and feature stories emphasizing XYZ's benefits to children, how it has enabled them to play outdoors protected from allergenic weeds. The focus should have been what's good about XYZ -- stressing the positive and aiming for the heart as well as the head.
Instead, when the camera crews and reporters came around suggesting that XYC was a threat to children, the industry executives responded with messages like "study after study has shown that XYZ is safe when properly used." They tried to direct the reporters to toxicologists, who would explain that the risk from XYZ was between one in a million and one in a hundred thousand -- within the EPA-approved range but not terribly reassuring to risk-averse parents.
Defensive statements weren't enough, even though they were backed by science. Efforts to organize a strong proactive campaign stressing the positives fell on deaf ears. Why? Because sales continued to be strong and the science continued to show that people needn't worry about XYZ.
Eventually, however, the EPA got tired of Senator Kennedy's letters and started to change its tune about XYZ. After decades of reassuring people about XYZ's safety, it decided it wasn't so certain after all. The EPA launched a new study, which -- surprise, surprise -- led to the industry being asked to take XYZ off the market.
The result: A more expensive, less proven, harder to handle herbicide replaced XYZ for suburban lawns, and dozens of lawsuits were filed. The accusation: The industry had been selling a hazardous product without warning the public. At the moment, the industry is foundering in legal expenses and fees for expert witnesses.
We'll never know exactly what the outcome would have been if the XYZ industry, when trouble first got brewing, worked out some positive messages, tested them for their emotional appeal, and launched an aggressive campaign. But I'd bet that an investment like that early on -- even though sales were great -- would have paid off handsomely by reducing the damage waiting around the next bend.
Mel Harkrader Pine is President of MHP Communications LLC, http://www.mhpcommunications.com. He is a member of Bernstein Crisis Management's Private Emergency Response Team service.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: How the HECK do I convince my senior management to do more crisis preparedness work? I agree with all the recommendations you make in "Crisis Manager," and have shared those with the company's decision makers, but they still treat it as a low priority.
CM: We get this type of question a LOT. So we're doing something about it. Soon, Bernstein Crisis Management will be offering you a PowerPoint presentation, on CD, about "The Need for Crisis Preparedness" (working title) containing some very compelling and persuasive information, not just theory and opinion. Look for announcements in future issues of "Crisis Manager."
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.
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.
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