© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 12,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
The difference between a crisis and a disaster might be you.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Hunting for Bambi:
When Bad Apples Damage an Industry Pie
by Jonathan Bernstein
In July 2003, a Las Vegas TV station reported that a local entrepreneur had created a bizarre "attraction," with accompanying for-sale videotape, both dubbed "Hunting for Bambi."According to the businessman, his patrons paid for the right to shoot paintball guns at naked and unprotected women attempting to be moving targets. Broadcast and print media outlets nationwide, and even some overseas, quickly picked up the TV station's coverage.
On the surface, this may seem like merely another example of blatant exploitation -- of the women involved, and of patrons with obviously aberrant preferences.The lawyers at Disney probably felt exploited as well. But it actually was merely the worst of what has become a common media activity -- reporting on the negative side of the paintball business at a ratio of at least 100-1 versus positive coverage.
Some leading figures in the paintball industry recognized that such coverage, combined with frequent reporting on "drive by" shootings and vandalism committed with paintball equipment, could only result in:
- More misunderstanding about paintball play and safety
- Association of paintball with criminal and/or aberrant behavior.
There was a need to take a stand on behalf of the industry that, sadly, has repeatedly failed to maintain more than one attempt to operate a formal industry association. Without such an association being engaged in proactive public relations, negative coverage usually goes unremarked and often contains significant inaccuracy about the sport and its safety practices.
Brass Eagle, the nation's largest paintball manufacturer, wasn't going to let this story go by without speaking up. It was clear that the story "had legs" and was going to receive additional and wide-ranging coverage. The manufacturer quickly issued a national press release that read, in part:
"We condemn this irresponsible activity and do not endorse or condone the use of paintball products for such activities," said Company President & CEO, Lynn Scott.
Brass Eagle Inc. will ask local city and county officials in Las Vegas to look into this matter, as the health and welfare of the women participants could be damaged or threatened by this undertaking. The company and its distributors are especially concerned about:
1) Purposely shooting at persons who are not wearing a paintball mask, which could result in serious eye injury, including blindness.
2) Purposely shooting at persons not wearing clothing, which provides some protection from the impact of a paintball. Playing paintball nude may result in significant bodily injury.
Brass Eagle Inc. promotes the recreational sport of paintball, which is a safe and fun activity when the proper safety rules and regulations are followed.
That release also received widespread coverage and its key messages were included in many of the follow-up stories.Nevada officials launched an immediate investigation that is still ongoing as of this article's publication date.The "Hunting for Bambi" businessman later claimed that the attraction was a hoax, that the "hunts" were staged for the video camera.That didn't, in fact, really change any of the paintball industry reputation damage caused by promoting the activity and the video.I'm not exactly concerned about the reputation damage the businessperson caused to himself!
Lessons for Crisis Managers:
- Proactive PR and community relations when crises aren't occurring creates a cushion of goodwill that will help soften the impact of bad news when it happens. This is true for an industry or an individual organization.
- Taking a leadership position, as Brass Eagle did in the absence of official paintball industry leadership, is an effective crisis/issues management tactic. The entire industry benefited from the very low-cost response made by the manufacturer.
- Every industry has its "bad apples" whose activities need to be monitored and mitigated by official representatives for that industry, to make it clear that the behavior of "bad apples" doesn't represent the industry as a whole.
- Industry leaders who decide that marketing individual products is more important than industry reputation management are, in fact, undermining the potential size and scope of their market. They are allowing permanent reputation damage to take place. In this case, the paintball industry's sales often depend on the goodwill of parents, whose children comprise the vast majority of new players. Parents do not respond well to the ongoing negative coverage paintball receives. That's not speculation on my part. I'm also, "on the side," a paintball player and frequently published writer. The two most common letters I receive from young readers are (a) pleas for me to help them convince their parents to let them play despite negative press and (b) profuse thank you's for the "parent to parent" articles I've written attempting to provide a reasonable and balanced perspective on the sport.
Will the paintball industry learn from the "Hunting for Bambi" episode? Better yet, will YOUR industry learn from it?
Editor's Note: Have some feedback and/or opinions about this or other articles in this issue? Go to/join our free Crisis Manager University website and start a discussion!
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Are You A Professional Association Decision-Maker?
If you are a decision-maker for a professional association, I would like to communicate with you regarding offering my crisis management training and educational materials -- e.g., Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual -- at a discounted cost to your members. This includes an option whereby the association also generates revenue for such sales. PRSA members need not reply, that deal's already in the works -- in fact, for those of you who will be attending the PRSA national conference in October, come by my book-signing on Monday afternoon!
Bernstein Communications Becomes Bernstein Crisis Management
My consultancy has undergone a name change for strategic and legal purposes and is now officially Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.. The old URL and my existing email addresses will continue to work for quite some time, but www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com is also now functional, as is email@example.com. All other contact information remains the same.
Quoniam Stercus Accidit -- "Because Shit Happens"
The new Crisis Manager University (CMU) Bookstore is open at http://www.cafeshops.com/crisismanager, where you can order a wide variety of clothing items with the CMU name and infamous motto on them. If you are interested in quantity pricing, write to me separately -- the specialty product vendor who provides this storefront doesn't have a means for me to do that online.
More serious crisis management training and educational materials remain available for purchase at http://www.thecrisismanager.com, to include "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual."
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
ELF Warning -- Could You Be A Target?
by Jonathan Bernstein
No, I'm not talking about Santa's little helpers, but about criminally violent members of the Earth Liberation Front who are believed to have been associated with two recent incidents in California:
- Torching and defacing of "polluting" SUVs in the Los Angeles area, accompanied by graffiti that included terms such as "ELF," "terrorist" and "gross polluter."
- The arson destruction of an apartment complex in San Diego, for which ELF formally acknowledged responsibility and left a banner at the site saying "If you build it, we will burn it." This follows up previous ELF promises to target "rampant urban development."
You need only do a Google search under "eco-terrorism" or "ELF terrorism" to see that a group some foolishly write off as "crackpots" are a serious threat. If your organization is engaged in activities that have drawn or could draw the ire of environmental extremists, your stakeholders will not forgive you for lack of preparedness should an ELF incident impact you. There operational, security and crisis communications steps that can and should be taken now and which can be implemented with qualified in-house or external assistance.
Submit Ideas for the 14th World Conference on Disaster Management
You are invited to submit ideas for presentations to the 14th World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM), the premier annual event addressing issues common to all areas of disaster/emergency management. WCDM will be held in Toronto, June 20-23,2004. The theme will be "The Changing Face of Disaster Management - Are We Really Prepared?" Deadline for Submissions is December 12, 2003. For full details visit http://www.wcdm.org.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. 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 its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,
www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. 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.
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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