© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 13,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a few seconds to destroy one.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: My inspiration for most of the following articles came from my ever-expanding collection of crises in the news. Journalists supply crisis managers with educational case histories every day, but too many organizations still don't learn from them.
Al Qaeda's Crisis Management Program
If I were Al Qaeda's crisis management public relations consultant, what would I want to achieve?
As members of the American Trial Lawyers Association know well, crisis management techniques can be used to create or exacerbate a crisis to the benefit of a client. That's the type of crisis management in which Al Qaeda is clearly involved.
As the terrorist's consultant, I would have some strategic goals, such as:
- Getting my client's name in the news as often as possible. If people worldwide see the name often enough, they will believe that the organization exists and probably will even believe that it is bigger than its actual membership.
- Creating distrust of the United States and any nations which support it.
- Destabilizing governments whose replacements are likely to be truer to the Islamic ideal as interpreted by Al Qaeda, or at least unlikely to interfere with countries under Islamic rule.
- Fostering and nurturing relationships with people who are most likely to provide Al Qaeda with direct and indirect support.
I would also have key messages I would be trying to communicate directly and by implication, such as:
- Al Qaeda is to be feared.
- Al Qaeda can strike you anywhere, anytime.
- Al Qaeda wants all non-Islamic nations to become Islamic or, at least, to stay out of the affairs of Islamic nations.
As I sit here, just days after the Madrid bombings and government turnover...looking at events in Iraq...with probably thousands of mentions of Al Qaeda by media outlets DAILY since late 2001...seeing how badly America's relationships with "allies" and others is deteriorating...I'd say Al Qaeda's crisis management consultant, curse his anonymous soul, is doing a marvelous job.
Our side, on the other hand, could use some help. George W. (or John K, I'm a registered independent), give me a call, (626) 825-3838. I've held a Top Secret clearance, have experience with military intelligence counter-terrorism operations, and have never been afraid to give a candid opinion to a CEO.
Editor's Note: I am very pleased to announce the availability of "Keeping the Wolves at Bay 2.0," a major "upgrade" of my media training manual. There is some entirely new material and many sections have been rewritten. Below, as an example, is the new section on "context reframing." Information on ordering the manual -- to include special pricing for previous purchasers -- is in the Business Announcements section of this ezine.
They Aren't Lemons, They're Essential Components Of Lemonade
by Jonathan Bernstein from "Keeping the Wolves at Bay 2.0"
Context reframing is looking at the same set of facts in a very different way to create an alternate position. It is a change of emphasis.
- Used tires are an unsightly mess in a landfill and stink tohigh heaven when they catch on fire -- but make them into fuel for a cement kiln, and the context is quite different.
- A real estate development can be perceived as an insult to the natural setting that existed before it was built or as a major economic boon to the community.
- A decision not to go ahead with a governmental project the public thought was important can be positioned as a broken promise or as an example of government prudently adapting to changing fiscal conditions.
Remember -- whoever frames the context first has an advantage. However, even if someone else framed it first, you can always reframe it -- better! You need to know the audience(s) who will be considering the various comments and understand what will work with them -- not just what YOU think is clever.
Mad Cow Disease -- Want Fries With That?
In my presentations on crisis preparedness, I always address the subject of "Indirect Crises" -- i.e. crises that do not originate at your organization or any of your specific locations, but which still have a collateral impact on you.
Japan's Mad Cow-related ban on American meat in December 2003 created a potential business interruption crisis for McDonald's, whose stock had already dropped 10 percent following the initial Mad Cow news. It wasn't Big Macs and cheeseburgers at issue, however, it was the fries.
Japan is a large and growing market for McDonald's, and while they source their meat in Asia, the French fries are shipped to Japan after being partially fried in beef tallow in the U.S. and Canada.
What followed was a mad scramble to have fries fried in vegetable oil, to find enough shippers to handle the demand, and to overcome a host of obstacles (including bad weather) to ensure that Japanese customers could say yes to the familiar question, "Do you want fries with that?"
McDonald's is large enough to have a logistics provider that works exclusively for them -- Perseco -- and they got the job done.
Categorically, this type of situation could happen in either direction -- i.e., any organization can be faced with sudden interruption in the flow of critical supplies or products.
Lessons for Crisis Managers
- Part of any vulnerability audit should be the question, "Do you have backups for critical vendors and contractors should they suddenly become unavailable for any reason?"
- If you don't have a backup plan to deal with sudden interruptions in the flow of critical supplies or product, you have to -- like McDonald's -- scramble to find solutions. Scrambling invariably (a) costs more and (b) results in some delay, and delay results in more damage.
- Having backup is particularly important when you're not a $16 billion company like McDonald's that can absorb losses -- and pay for rapidly hired extra help -- without significant material impact on the bottom line.
Aging Dick Clark Commits Ageism
In an ironic twist of events, the Dorian Grey of TV and radio hosts -- 74-year-old Dick Clark -- allegedly made an age-related discriminatory comment to 76-year-old game show producer Ralph Andrews, who had been applying for a position with Dick Clark Productions.
According to the Associated Press, a lawsuit filed by Andrews against Clark quoted a letter written by the star to Andrews, declining to hire him, and saying:
"(But) the last development guy we hired was 27 years old. Another person who is joining our staff next week is 30. People our age are considered dinosaurs! The business is being run by 'The Next Generation.'"
It sounds friendly, but anyone who's been an employer understands how those comments can be taken as ageist.
There was further irony in the fact that Andrews had previously employed Clark to host several of the game shows Andrews had produced.
Dick Clark Productions informed AP that they don't comment on pending litigation
Lessons for Crisis Managers
- Anything you put in writing can be used against you and don't forget that when writing to a friend.
- Speaking of friends, practice the same caution when speaking to close acquaintances about business matters -- remember that Martha Stewart's "best friend" just testified against her.
- Labor and employment errors are the genesis of MANY crises. The best way to prevent those is training and more training for those involved in implementing L&E policy -- no matter how senior (pun intended) they are.
- Not commenting on pending litigation is usually a mistake. There are dozens of way to respond which won't endanger one's legal position, such as, "We regret that there has been miscommunication between old friends and are hopeful this matter will be quickly resolved." It's also a good time to restate the company's position on equal opportunity employment.
My advice to Dick Clark Productions, if they asked, would be, "If this is, accurately, a letter from Mr. Clark to Mr. Andrews, do a humble mea culpa ASAP and agree to some reasonable financial amends."
School Gets Dunce Cap For Suspending Student
A Pittsburgh school recently suspended a 7-year-old girl second-grader, the daughter of a police detective, because she expressed the opinion that another student would "go to Hell" for saying "I swear to God." The Pittsburgh Public Schools' code of conduct prohibits profanity without defining what it is -- but some decision maker at the child's school concluded that "Hell" was a profanity, no matter how it's used.
The girl's family explained that she was simply referring to the biblical location of fire and brimstone, based on their religious beliefs that if you did something wrong, you went to Hell. Apparently, she thought the other student did something wrong and said so.
"It's questionable whether 'Hell' is even a profanity, and it certainly isn't the way she used it," her father told the Associated Press.
The school had no comment.
Lessons for Crisis Managers
- If you have a potentially controversial policy -- and obscenity/profanity policies are ALWAYS potentially controversial -- make sure you clearly define what it does and doesn't cover.
- Consider the public relations implications of significant administrative decisions before implementing them. If you commit what the public could easily interpret as a "wrongful act," a lot of average citizens now know how to run to the media, or publish themselves on the Internet.
- Refusing to make a comment about a controversial decision says to the public "we're guilty of wrongdoing."
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Keeping The Wolves At Bay 2.0
As mentioned in my article, above, version 2.0 of "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" is now available in both print and PDF formats and both can be purchased at www.thecrisismanager.com. You can see the new Table of Contents here. The retail price remains $25 for the print version and $10 for the PDF.
There is a special upgrade price available to those who previously purchased the manual via my online store or in bulk orders -- you know who you are, you clever devils. Send me private email if you're interested in also owning version 2.0. I would have sent email to all of you, my store system makes that possible, but there are enough buyers that any such list distribution would probably set off spam alarms and get my email address blocked. Sending you an offer one at a time is too onerous a task. Working around spammer-induced logjams is, unfortunately, part of doing business right now. I know you'll understand.
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.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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