© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 13,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
You can arrest as many people as you want...but it's very hard to arrest the movement of ideas.
Peter Bergen, a CNN terrorism expert, commenting on arrests made following the recent Madrid bombings.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: Regular contributor Judy Hoffman has just updated and expanded her book, Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat, which is great news for those of us whose pants sometimes catch on fire. Once again, she has given me kind permission to reprint a section of her book for your enjoyment and education.
Going "Above And Beyond"
by Judy Hoffman, from Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat
You have probably heard the military phrase that someone went "above and beyond the call of duty." This is also an important concept in media relations.
Let us assume that you are prepared to cooperate with the media if -- or I should say when -- they come to call. You will give them the information that they need to write their story. But I'd like you to consider doing even more.
Let's say you become aware of a situation that is building in your organization or your industry. You think that it is likely to come to the attention of the media at some point. Why not proactively broach the subject? If you do, you can achieve three important things:
(1) The media immediately gets the sense that this issue cannot be all that bad.
(2) It takes all the joy out of a reporter's desire to engage in investigative muckraking.
(3) It provides you with the opportunity to be the one who shapes the story.
How It Works
Let me give you an example. In 1978, the chemical industry had to comply with legislation known as the Superfund Amendment and Re-authorization Act (SARA), which required companies to report their emissions of certain chemicals to the air, water, and land. The catchy name for this data was the Toxic Release Inventory or TRI.
I vividly remember the discussion that occurred within the industry. There was a great deal of fear and trepidation about how the media was going to report on this data once it was released on July 1st. Surely, it was said, when reporters saw what appeared to be large volumes of pollutants being discharged, there would be sensationalistic headlines and extremely negative stories. The only publication requirement at that time was that the data had to be submitted to the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), a governmental body at the county level. Back then, most LEPC's were like ours -- not well organized. As an unfunded mandate, it had neither sufficient staff nor money to be effective. We recognized that the LEPC would be hard pressed to properly organize all of the TRI data they would be receiving. We surmised that, if a concerned citizen requested TRI information from the LEPC, it would take them a while to fulfill the request. Some managers cautioned, "Wait and see if anybody asks for it. Why go borrowing trouble?"
As Manager of Public Affairs, external communications were my responsibility. I was confident that the public would want to know about our TRI data. Before I went to work at the chemical company, I had been a member of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV). Environmental protection was one of the planks in their platform. I knew that, as soon as it became known that this data had to be filed, one of my LWV colleagues would be asking for it. I also knew that undue delays in obtaining that information would lead to frustration and anger. I imagined negative stories in the LWV monthly bulletin and the local newspapers as well.
To avoid the appearance that the company was attempting to hide this data, I suggested that we publish the information and place it openly in local municipal halls and libraries. I still remember the shocked looks on the faces of several members of the management team when I brought up the subject. To their credit, however, they were willing to discuss it -- especially once the company president said the idea was worthy of further consideration.
What eventually developed was a 40-page notebook. The TRI data was included, of course. However, we were able to present it in a way that we thought would be more palatable -- breaking down annual air emission figures to pounds per hour, for instance. We also made sure there was a clear statement that these were estimated figures and an explanation of why we were confident that the estimates vastly overstated the actual case. We also used the opportunity to provide local citizens with accurate scientific definitions of some of the scary sounding words like "hazardous," "toxic," and "carcinogen," which they would probably be hearing or reading when the media began reporting on the TRI data after July 1st.
Surrounding the actual TRI data were chapters about the company's history, products, processes, safety and environmental programs, emergency response capabilities, and the benefits brought to the community by our being part of it. This binder was quite an undertaking for our small company. It took time to pull it all together, but was ready by the end of the day on June 29th. Our plan was to deliver it to the town halls, libraries, and local newspaper offices. (Yes, we had actually agreed to that! If it were public information, why not make the reporter's job easier instead of making him have to work so hard?)
On June 30th, just as I was leaving my office to deliver the binders, my phone rang. "Hi! This is Ruth from the newspaper. I know you guys have to report by tomorrow on all of your emissions. I was wondering if you could give me a 'heads up' on this?" I replied immediately. "I'm glad you called, Ruth. I have in my hand your copy of the binder we have put together that explains what this TRI data is all about and provides our data. Will you be in your office for the next half-hour? I can be right over." You could have heard a pin drop. She obviously was not expecting that answer. She was sure she'd have to dig for the information. I thought I could hear the hissing sound of the wind coming out of her investigative sails. "Sure," she said, "come on over."
Of course our whole management team held our collective breath until the newspaper hit our front stoops the next day. What a loud sigh of relief could be heard as we read the headline, "Company Makes Emissions Data Available to the Public." The whole story was about the fact that we were being so open about it. The article didn't even mention the tons per year of our various chemicals going into the atmosphere. A subsequent story included a list of the "Dirty Dozen" of the county (those whose emission figures were among the twelve highest), but our name was not listed . Even had we appeared there, I am convinced that we would have gotten better treatment because we had gone "above and beyond" what was absolutely required.
In another instance, when the company received a bomb threat, I suggested to management that we be the ones to call the local media. At first they thought I had really lost my mind, but they were eventually persuaded that this was the right course of action. By my contacting the local media, I could effectively plead for them to use discretion in the reporting so as not to stimulate a rash of copycat incidents.
The media cooperated beautifully. Some didn't even mention it. Others wrote a brief, factual account that showed that the company responded appropriately to protect its employees and the community. Had they heard the call go out over the emergency scanner for the bomb-sniffing dogs to be sent to the plant, a reporter and photographer would have been immediately dispatched. This would have made a much bigger story, possibly encouraging others to try to cause the same level of excitement.
While volunteering information to the media may be a strange idea to some, it is something you should at least consider. It can benefit your company image and your credibility with the media tremendously.
Judy Hoffman is a community and media relations consultant who spent 17 years "in the trenches" as the Public Affairs Manager and media spokesperson for a chemical manufacturing company. In her crisis communications practice, she has helped clients in many industries, but specializes in working with companies in the chemical industry and others who handle hazardous materials that promote concern/fear among neighbors. Her specialty topics are dealing with the media and dealing with angry people. Her publications can be purchased at her website, www.judyhoffman.com.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Richard Levick Review Of Keeping The Wolves At Bay 2.0
Editor's Note: Richard Levick, litigation PR guru and co-author of "Stop the Presses: The Litigation PR Desk Reference", just wrote a review of the newly released version 2.0 of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual. I was blushing (although it's hard to see under my beard) by the time I got to the end of it, and am grateful to share it with you here.
"When Jonathan first asked me to write a review, he was very deliberate in his instructions -- tell the truth! If you don't like it, let them know. If you do like it, sing its praises as you see appropriate.
"Those simple honest instructions tells us a lot about the man himself and the kind of work he does. His book Keeping the Wolves at Bay 2.0 proves his considerable skill levels, his directness, and his abiding commitment to clients.
"Here are six good reasons to use this manual.
"First, the manual is smartly designed and lives up to its name. It is a cookbook for the sophisticated media spokesperson as well as the novice.
"Second, it delivers. If you are going to face inquisitive journalists, you will learn what to expect and how to influence stories and reporters. The information is entertaining as well as helpful, and it does not over-promise.
"Third, it is thorough. Most of the media training manuals, including those of some of the best training firms, are flawed with conspicuous gaps. Sometimes you get photocopies of old outlines with perfunctory advisory pointers, but not much detailed substance. This manual gives you plenty of pointers and plenty of substance.
"Fourth, it is honest. You would be just as comfortable having the journalists themselves read it as your CEO clients. There is no effort to manipulate or insult anyone. It depicts the world of the media as it really is.
"Fifth, it is abundant. There is so much good information in the manual that it will serve, not just your media spokespersons, but also the in-house and outside media consultants who seek to raise the media sophistication of all their clients. It is a textbook that delivers value to anyone who reads it.
"And sixth, it is indeed valuable. I deal with the media everyday, yet I was still able to finish with a number of practical take-aways that will help me in my business.
"I wish I had written Keeping the Wolves at Bay!"
Keeping the Wolves at Bay 2.0, in print and PDF formats, is available at www.thecrisismanager.com.
Teleseminar Cancelled -- Should I Reschedule?
The Getting Serious About Crisis Preparedness: How to Motivate Your Management to Stop Playing Ostrich teleseminar scheduled for March 24 was cancelled because as of about five days pre-event, there was only one reservation. A couple of readers called a few days later asking how to register, but I need a higher number of participants just to break even against the cost.
So...if you really meant/wanted to sign up for this teleseminar and couldn't for the previous date, send me email, firstname.lastname@example.org. This does not commit you, but if there is sufficient interest expressed for this topic, I will send notices about a rescheduled teleseminar DIRECTLY to each person who sent me email, versus simply listing it in the ezine and on my websites.
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.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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.
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.
Unless due to willful tortuous misconduct or gross negligence, Jonathan Bernstein and Bernstein Crisis Management shall have no liability in tort, contract, or otherwise (and as permitted by law, product liability), to the user and/or any third party.
Under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
A service of this newsletter is to provide news summaries and/or snippets to readers. In such instances articles and/or snippets will be reprinted as they are received from the originating party or as they are displayed on the originating website or in the original article. As we do not write the news, we merely point readers to it, under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever due to the distribution of said news articles or snippets that lead readers to a full article on a news service's website, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Authors of the original news story and their publications shall be exclusively held liable. Any corrections to news stories are not mandatory and shall be printed at the discretion of the list moderator after evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF
Do you know people who are Crisis Managers, whether they want to be or not? Please pass this newsletter on to them!
Subscribe to the free, twice-monthly email newsletter below. After entering your email address, you will receive a message asking you to confirm your subscription in order to prevent someone else from adding you to the list without permission. YOU MUST CONFIRM YOUR SUBSCRIPTION OR YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE THE NEWSLETTER.
Articles in "Crisis Manager" were, unless otherwise noted, written and copyrighted by Jonathan Bernstein. Permission to reprint will often be granted for no charge. Write to email@example.com.