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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 3,500+


The road to hell may be paved with good intentions -- but why, when organizations find themselves on that road, do they often guard it instead of taking another road?

Jonathan Bernstein


Failure to Pass the Smell Test: Contest Winners

Editor's Note: I was delighted at the slew of responses received when I invited readers to submit examples of situations that do not pass the "smell test" as defined below. And of course, who would know more about the subject -- and therefore submit what I felt were the best overall entries -- but Tim Taylor of The Dow Chemical Company? Tim reports, however, that he "can honestly say that my smell test entries were developed from a prior career in business consulting and not from my time at Dow. My consulting engagements allowed me to experience many odors. I looked at your Smell Test Contest as a chance at some personal aromatherapy!" I know that Dow takes the subject of actual odors very seriously, but the coincidence was...entertaining.

Below you'll find what I considered to be the "best of the best," followed parenthetically by the name of the submitter. Some of our multinational contestants had several entries worth sharing with you. Material was edited as necessary to conform to the article's syntax, and the submissions are not "ranked" by excellence, but rather "mixed" for balance.

smell test: n. A metaphorical test used to determine the legitimacy or authenticity of a situation.

from The Word Spy,

You Know a Situation Doesn't Pass The Smell Test When...

....the vice president of governance and ethics get indicted. (Tim Taylor, EH&S Communications Leader, The Dow Chemical Company)

....the senior management team knows the staff, customers and public think it's all going to hell, but they don't and won't change ANYTHING they do or say. (Helen Slater, principal, Centrum PR)

....the quarterly earning statement spontaneously combusts. (Tim Taylor)

....a spokesperson starts any sentence with "it depends on how you define _____." (Barbara Friedman, Communications, National Semiconductor)

....your organization doesn't think that this issue "will ever be noticed" by any of your stakeholders. (Rick Reed, Issue Manager)

....Dilbert cartoons in your cubicle don't seem so funny anymore. (Kim Hirsch, Manager of Document Service Centers and Business Continuity Coordinator, Mail-Well DRS)

....the whole time the top executive is reassuring stockholders and employees that it's only a temporary, expected downturn, he's packing his golden parachute. (Robert Smith, Director of PR, The Visiting Nurse Association of Texas)

....the company firewall blocks access to (Tim Taylor)

....your chief engineer holds a news conference extolling the safety features of a new tunnel, but keeps glancing nervously at the ceiling. (Dave Davis, Public Information Officer, Oregon Dept. of Transportation)

....reporters look at the spokesperson in disbelief over what he or she just said. (Justin Croniser, law student, Univ. of Toledo School of Law)

....the HR department describes the company stock purchase plan as a "multi-tiered marketing program." (Tim Taylor)

....the CEO says he has no intention of resigning. (Chris Dodson, PR Consultant, Mightier than the Sword) learn that most of your best employees have "resumes out there." (Justin Croniser) can ask ten different employees across all levels (senior management down to line) what the company's mission is and get ten different answers. (Patrick McSweeney, Senior Account Executive, St. John & Partners Advertising & Public Relations)

....the guys with the window offices are more concerned about the "credentials" of the people who are protesting than the issue leading up to the protest. (Barbara Friedman)

....the sales force is encouraged to "Go Greyhound." (Tim Taylor) are on the phone with those managing an issue and, when you ask if the solution they offer "passes the red face test," there is silence on the other end of the line for more than three seconds. (Rick Reed)

....the CEO says he has the utmost faith in the ability of the finance director. (Chris Dodson)

....the leader of your organization says, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time -- never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people. (Rick Kelly, Partner, Robinson Kelly Strategic Communications)

Finally, here's an example that was submitted post-contest, by multiple readers: know it doesn't pass the smell test when tanks are rumbling down the streets, just blocks away, and Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf is still saying, "There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!"

There is, Bernstein noted, a serious side to this news.

"Despite the humor that may be implicit in some of these smell test tips, there's a practical lesson to be learned from each of them," said Bernstein. "There's no substitute for individual analysis, common sense and gut checks. Having done that, communicators need to not shirk from the sometimes-uncomfortable position of being the bearers of bad news to others in management. And senior management needs to resist the temptation to either ignore, or kill, the messenger."

Editor's Prize Announcement & Request for Feedback: I had so much fun with this that, rather than giving a free PDF version of my media training manual, "Keeping the Wolves at Bay, only to those who submitted the entries used above, I'm giving one to all contestants.


"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" Training Manual and CD-ROM

The only media training manual available for sale WITHOUT having to also hire a media trainer, and a related CD-ROM, remain available at It comes with a 100% money-back guarantee -- but we're pleased to report that no one, to date, has asked for their money back!

Selling the Need for Crisis Management in Your Organization

The old adage is 'everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it'. Similarly, we've frequently heard from colleagues that 'everybody says we should be prepared for crises, but it's hard to convince senior management to provide the resources to actually do it'.

By the time we publish the next issue of "Crisis Manager," Bernstein Crisis Management will have available, for sale, a briefing that can become an integral part of an internal campaign to improve your organization's crisis preparedness. The modular PowerPoint presentation is organized into sections that can be rearranged, excerpted or added to in order to form a presentation that's most appropriate for your organization.

The seven modules are:

  • The Cost of Crisis
  • The State of Business Preparedness
  • Why Business Fails to Prepare
  • Why Business Should Prepare
  • Corporate Crisis of Confidence
  • Why Crises Need Not Become Disasters
  • How to Improve Our Crisis Resistance

If you would like to receive a special "first purchasers" discount offer when the PowerPoint is available, please write to powerpoin&

In Search of Affiliates

If you are interested in the possibility of revenue-sharing from providing a "customized to you" link to materials sold at The Crisis Manager bookstore,, please write to jonatha&


Editor's Note: our contest winners deserved and occupied a high percentage of the room we had for this issue, but I still wanted to share the following "short subjects" that I believed would help you become better crisis managers.

FAMCom: Crisis Planning for Families

FAMCom is a new public service offered by Xenophon Strategies, Inc. It empowers families with an effective plan to prepare for a potential crisis situation. It's an online kit that helps families recognize the challenges of a potential crisis situation and plan the most effective way to stay in touch quickly should one occur, using the same type of strategic thinking applied to government and private organizations.

"Like businesses, families can build confidence by following certain principles, crafting a plan and practicing it. Confidence grows when people know there are specific steps they can take, and when they become familiar with those actions," said David Fuscus, president of Xenophon. "We hope FAMCom will help families get in touch when it may matter most. More importantly, we hope this information is never necessary for anything more than peace of mind."

Go to

Stress Created by American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

In what is another classic case of an organization severely undermining its own credibility, The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress hired an email marketing firm to promote its new "A Practical Guide for Crisis Response in our Schools" publication. That vendor apparently used email addresses "harvested" from websites worldwide, and as a result I was spammed five or six times by the Academy the first time they made an announcement, about a month ago. I had stern words with their top management about this practice, and was told that, "we didn't know what our vendor was doing, and it's too bad it's upset a lot of people, but we sure did sell a lot of copies!" They were allegedly going to stop the practice -- but this week I was again spammed with the same announcement, five times. The Academy has a prestigious-sounding board of advisors, and when I wrote to one about this he replied that he had no idea what I was talking about and that I should contact the Academy's staff.

If their reports of sales are to be believed, the Academy's unethical practices may, in fact, benefit them in the short-term. But any organization that makes business decisions this way, whose very name conflicts oxymoronically with its actions, and whose alleged advisors have NO CLUE what's actually being done in their name, is bound to be hoisted on its own petard. It's just a matter of when, not if.


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.

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