© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 12,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Another common management mistake is to incorrectly view crisis preparedness as making sure our executives are 'media trained' or that we have our emergency phone call lists ready to be used and up to date. This attitude overlooks the many activities that successful, progressive organizations undertake to proactively lessen the chance that crises occur -- activities such as conducting risk and vulnerability audits or analyzing news events to identify potentially harmful trends, not just the number of newspaper column inches or minutes on-air.
From the trainer notes that accompany The Case for Crisis Preparedness
PowerPoint presentation by Jonathan Bernstein & Phil Cogan
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: This issue brings you a potpourri of "short subjects," beginning, quite appropriately, with the case history of a short film subject that appears to have embarrassed Apple into positive consumer action.
Neistat Brothers Embarrass Apple Into Action
Earlier this year, brothers Casey and Van Neistat found -- to their dismay -- that a replacement battery for their 18-month-old iPod music machine cost almost as much as the machine itself, and tape-recorded an Apple tech rep saying "you may as well buy a new machine." That recording, and a self-produced film about their effective consumer activism, is archived at http://www.ipodsdirtysecret.com. Be sure to explore all the links they provide. It's an excellent example of how a couple of individuals, using the Internet and their own talents, can engage in the "plaintiff" side of crisis management -- deliberately creating a crisis atmosphere to effect change. One report I read said that their website was getting 50,000 hits a day. Lessons for all crisis managers? Don't underestimate:
- the power of even a single disgruntled customer;
- the power of the Internet to magnify and distribute messages;
- the ability of consumers to detect deliberate or inadvertent attempts to profit unreasonably; and,
- the need to CLOSELY monitor customer calls to pick up early warning signs of reactions that could bloom into crises.
Book Review: Jackie Disaster
by Jonathan Bernstein
I don't normally review fiction books, but when I read a description of "Jackie Disaster" (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2003) by crisis management pro (and Reagan White House communications office veteran) Eric Dezenhall, I had to get a copy. Now you have to get one too. If you have any experience with crisis management, you'll be chortling from the first few pages onwards. The lead character, an almost-professional boxer in his youth, is sort of a cross between a "real life" crisis management professional and Robert Parker's "Spencer" character. Disaster's office is in a New Jersey casino run by his love interest, and he's assisted by a colorful crew of crooks he busted while on assignment for the casino. He gets away with stunts that I might fantasize, but never try. For example, when activists are using a huge inflated balloon bat to protest against one of Disaster's clients (accompanied by calls of "you bloodsuckers"), Jackie then uses one of his many "connections" to arrange for the playing of a particularly loud song, at a certain time, by the local rock radio station to which the activists are (conveniently) listening. He then shoots down the balloon with a .22 rifle while perched, all in black, in a tree by the (conveniently) adjacent woods while the song is playing to mask the noise. He deliberately plants rumors that benefit his clients' causes, admiring his handiwork with comments like "the value of such a rumor was that what it lacked in credibility, it made up for in reach and resonance." And, of course, he manages to make things work out for everyone who employs him. Get it, enjoy it, but don't try this at home.
by Don Mathis
While all good speaker training courses tell us that the last thing you want to say to the media is "no comment," corporate officials many times cannot or will not allow spokespersons to give any information. So what do you do?
Try this as a starting point: practice saying "no comment" in 50 words or more. What I mean by this is something all good spokespersons do every day. Say a lot but say nothing. Be caring, be understanding and be concerned. Just don't be specific or detailed. If pressed, even attempt to explain why you cannot comment but only if you know why.
What does this do? It gives the media, who have a job to do too, something to fill the space. It gives your company or client a personality. And, most importantly, it buys you time to learn more about the situation so you can provide the information you want on your schedule instead of the media's schedule.
Don Mathis is head of The Mathis Group in Palm Beach Gardens, FL and a member of Bernstein Crisis Management's Private Emergency Response Team of highly experienced crisis management consultants. Don's email address is: MathisGrp@aol.com. You'll find a related article, giving excellent examples of "no comment" comments, in our archive, Dr. Deborah Lowe's Crisis Media Coaching Guide.
Could You Be Next?
The Nichols-Dezenhall website, the PR business site for "Jackie Disaster" author Eric Dezenhall, has a wonderful collection of "Quotes of the Week" going back to January 2001. Here are two examples, each followed by commentary by an unnamed source at the PR agency.
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian. (Dennis Wholey)
When opportunism knocks, even the best-run company can find trouble on its doorstep. Media-savvy activists have demonstrated their willingness and ability to create high-profile scapegoats in the name of advancing pet causes. Could you be next?
A developer is someone who wants to build a house in the woods. An environmentalist is someone who already owns a house in the woods. (Dennis Miller)
Our rhetoric may sometimes give the impression that we are anti-environmentalist. Far from it. What we are is anti-hypocrite, a sentiment shared by most Americans. That's why we urge our clients to take on sacred cows when those cows turn out to be wolves in bovine clothing.
Do You Know Who's in the Audience?
In October 2003, the Environmental Research Foundation (ERC), which appears to be a moderate environmentalist organization, sent a representative to attend sessions at a conference of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), formerly the Chemical Manufacturers Association. The ERC then used its Internet-based newsletter, "Rachel's Environment & Health News," to summarize what was presented at the ACC conference. I suspect that the ACC would not be thrilled to know just how much information made its way into the public record. You can read that issue of Rachel's here.
Lessons for crisis managers:
- Act as if anything you say or write outside of the umbrella of legal privilege (and sometimes even then) will end up in the hands of the audience(s) you least want to see it.
- Monitor the websites of any organizations that might be monitoring you.
- Be prepared to correct misunderstandings fostered by biased or inaccurate coverage.
Free Crisis Planning Docs Available
A reminder to all that I'm willing to give away copies of two crisis planning-related documents:
Email a request for either or both documents (they are PDF files) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A "Crisis Preparedness Checklist" designed for self-evaluation.
- A new list of "Typical Vulnerability Audit Questions" that will give you a good taste of what we look for through the vulnerability audit process.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Crisis Preparedness and Training Materials Now Available
Crisis preparedness and training materials currently available in The Crisis Manager bookstore, www.thecrisismanager.com, are:
- The Case for Crisis Preparedness PowerPoint. A 70-slide PowerPoint presentation, complete with presenter notes, created to help in-house staff and consulting firms get organizational decision-makers' heads out of the sand.
- Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual. Still the only media training manual available for sale anywhere. Focused on crisis-related media tactics, the manual can be custom-imprinted (at no extra charge) to become "yours" when you use it for training your organization or clients. Available in print and PDF formats.
- Keeping the Media Wolves at Bay (CD-ROM). Recording of a one-hour teleseminar featuring Publicity Hound Joan Stewart interviewing Jonathan Bernstein.
- Special Report: How to Prevent Crises. Jonathan Bernstein's top tips on this subject in a 22-page PDF report.
Bernstein's Second Opinion/Spot-Consulting Service
Need a quick second opinion on anything to do with crisis prevention or response? Just need that "outside expert" to validate, to your boss, what you've already been saying? Want me to take a quick look at your existing written crisis plans? My time can be "rented" by the hour for this type of consulting job simply by using your organizational credit card to pay for the assistance. The Crisis Manager Bookstore, http://www.thecrisismanager.com, now has this option enabled.
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 email@example.com.
When I find a site that I think will be useful to my readers or site visitors, I put it on our Links page. If you have a site that would be of specific use to crisis managers and want to discuss a link exchange or other cooperative effort, please write to me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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