© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 13,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
The readiness is all.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: Five Stages, eight tips, 10 tips -- we all love checklists, and this issue of Crisis Manager is chock full of them, starting with Rick Amme's list about The Five Stages of Scandal you'll definitely want to avoid!
Avoiding The Five Stages Of Scandal
by Rick Amme
Wall Street Journal news item: More than two years after a wave of accounting scandals shook the public's trust, the reputation of many of the best-known companies continues to decline.
AP news item: Seven women allege that they had been raped by University of Colorado football players or recruits since 1997, and the university is investigating whether sex was used as a recruiting tool with player visits to strip clubs and the hiring of escorts.
These two seemingly disparate items coalesced in my mind recently when NPR anchor Bob Edwards interviewed Washington Post Denver Bureau Chief T.R. Reid about the Colorado case.
Edwards asked, "How have university leaders reacted to all this?"
Reid said, "I think (they) have gone through the five stages of scandal step by step."
I know about guidelines for reputation-saving, but stages of scandal? Directions to PR infamy? T.R. Reid's five stages provide a revealing map, and it is NOT a good route out of trouble.
Stage 1 - No comment.
Stage 2 - None of this happened.
Stage 3 - Maybe it happened, but we didn't know about it.
Stage 4 - Let's have an investigating committee to see what we did know.
Stage 5 - We can't do anything until the committee reports.
Through experience I have come to believe today's leaders are increasingly savvy about protecting reputations. The learning curve seems to have risen out of Johnson & Johnson's stellar handling of the Tylenol poisonings 20 years ago. Most enlightened managers surely know you must have a death wish to want to go through Reid's scandal stages. Well, based on recent scandals, the U of C case, and a new Harris Interactive survey, either the death wish is alive or the crisis management learning curve is steeper than I thought. Worse, when you fail, people have long memories.
The Wall St. Journal quotes Harris Interactive, "...three-quarters of the survey respondents graded the image of big corporations as either 'not good' or 'terrible'. People are far from ready to forgive the corporate fraud, deception and greed they have witnessed." A Harris Interactive executive said too many companies think they can advertise their way out of a bad situation, and the Journal said, "Now, more than ever, the public has a show-me attitude."
So why are companies still stumbling to protect their reputation? I think it is fear of liability. If you put a PR professional in a room alongside the corporate attorney, the balance often tips toward the lawyer. Therefore a litigation-based, super-conservative, don't-say-anything-unless-you-have-to orientation can rule the day.
Certainly, when you face prison or a securities violation, legal is paramount. However, since an estimated 90+% of all controversies have a legal threat, it would be a mistake to let litigation protection be the sole strategy. Public relations must be in the mix because long after individuals are gone, the reputation remains -- good or bad. And as Harris Interactive reveals, a bad taste lingers.
I like strategic consultant Richard S. Levick's advice to lawyers. "Trust is the only acceptable currency. To truly serve your client, remember that the company's trustworthiness is on the line in all high profile litigation. Litigate to win, but always respect the promise of the brand. Once it's lost, a favorable jury verdict or a practicable settlement can be a Pyrrhic victory indeed." It is not all about the courtroom.
We began with scandal stages -- what not to do -- so let's close what you should do.
1. Take care of victims or perceived victims.
2. Fix the problem.
3. Notify stakeholders.
4. Strive to respond in the first news story.
5. Rehearse critical press interviews.
6. Don't make it worse.
7. Get it over with.
8. Tell the truth.
Remember people want to know "Am I safe?" Reassure them that they are. If you act accordingly, I seriously doubt you would pursue the five stages of scandal embraced by the University of Colorado and apparently some of corporate America.
Since 1994, Rick Amme has been president of Amme & Associates (www.amme.com), a crisis consulting firm. He was a journalist for more than 20 years. This article originally appeared in the Business Journal of the Triad.
Editor's Note: My CustomScoop news clipping account is set to retrieve articles about crisis management and routed me a Canadian story on the topic which included this handy checklist for organizations that want to be better prepared for crises. It's not a substitute for comprehensive planning, but it's a good start! Thank you to Della Smith of Quay Strategies, www.quaystrategies.com, for permission to reprint.
10 Tips For A Crisis
by Della Smith
1. Think through all the things that could happen to your company. This could include fire, flood, death of a senior company official, as well as external events such as worries over mad cow.
2. Decide on your philosophy because that will guide everything else that you do.
3. Get all necessary data in one place. This includes home numbers for workers and insurance coverage.
4. Set up scenarios to think through.
5. Watch others in your industry to evaluate how they handle a crisis and learn from them. Always do more than expected.
6. Understand how the media works and be prepared for attention in a crisis. Get coaching if you're terrified of a camera.
7. Set up a team to respond to a crisis and split up duties.
8. Pay attention to details. For example, if a company has an accident that makes the news, you don't want an advertisement broadcast immediately afterwards as though nothing had happened.
9. Remember that a crisis affects not only staff but others such as their family and friends, a company's board of directors, and the union representing workers. Be prepared to get information to them.
10. Be honest and do the right thing. Money is secondary.
Participate In Survey On Crisis Leadership
Many articles have been written on crisis preparation and the elements involved in training executives. Very little research exists, however, on the insights into the skills and expertise to succeed as a crisis leader. The topic of crisis leadership is a research project by Allan Schoenberg, a graduate student at Syracuse University. Participating in this survey will help further study the skills needed for future crisis leaders and define this role within organizations. It should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete and your responses are private, but you will be offered the option of requesting the results when available. The survey can be taken by using the following link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=5599371815.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Speaking Of Playing Ostrich
Long-time readers of "Crisis Manager" know that the ezine is archived at my website in HTML format -- and that the masthead of the HTML version has always featured "OhNo the Ostrich," the mascot of this publication. OhNo epitomizes what I tell every client, that when you play ostrich you have to remember what's still exposed!
OhNo, along with the entire website, was recently re-designed by Celeste Mendelsohn of CM Design (my lovely wife), with all the site architecture work done by my long-time Webmaster, Oliver Del Signore. The new, improved OhNo can be seen on top of this and all other newsletters archived on this site.
Feedback on the site (and OhNo's) re-design is welcome!
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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.
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