Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 3,800+
Estimated Readership: 13,000+


"Once again, they who first frame the context of an issue are the winners in the court of public opinion. By letting '60 Minutes' and The Daily Mirror announce this news first, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair may have significantly undermined the prospect that they will remain in office much longer."

      Jonathan Bernstein, speaking about news of alleged prisoner abuse in Iraq.


The Three Hardest Lessons About Crisis Management

Thank you to all who entered "The Three Hardest Lessons About Crisis Management" Contest I announced in mid-April. The committee which reviewed each entry consisted of one crisis management professional, one editor, one humorist and one public relations consultant with both agency and corporate experience. Of course, the entire committee existed between my ears, but at least they weren't lonely and didn't have to go far to talk to each other.

We (that's the "royal" We) rated each lesson submitted on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being highest, then totaled the points for each three-lesson submission. After the first pass, I had three entrants tied with 13 points each.

Then it got (even more) subjective, so I re-read the biblical references to Solomon and picked one winner, naming the other two as tied for second place.

Our winner: Jesse Green, Consultant, Hill & Knowlton Japan. Congratulations Jesse! The big difference in Jesse's entries was the depth to which he chose to support his lessons with anecdotes, as you'll see in the examples below.

Tied for second place: Kim Baldwin, Election Year Director, The Interfaith Alliance, and Tom Andrzejewski, President, The Oppidan Group, who led off his entry with "I'll only admit mistakes for something free."

Jesse Green wins a copy of The 18 Laws Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation. I've decided to give all other entrants a free copy of the PDF version of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual, but the two tied for second place will also get a free copy of my Special Report on How to Prevent Crisis.

The strong overseas readership of this newsletter was very evident through the contest, with competitors coming from as far away as Switzerland and Slovenia, in addition to our Japan-dwelling winner.

Now I have the pleasure of bringing you what I considered to be the best individual entries from all of those submitted -- lessons which received a "5" or "4" rating.

The Entries

Never underestimate reporters; even in the midst of a crisis they can be an incredible asset. This isn't as much of a hard lessoned learned as it is an overall wake up call. This particular issue came up minutes after a bomb threat was called in (described in another entry below). One of the reporters that I was closest to worked as the bureau chief for a wire service here at the time. Soon after I learned of the bomb threat he called my cell phone. I gave him the party line about the police investigation, that we had gotten everyone out safely, and that I had no further information at the moment. Just as I was hanging up he said, "yes, but, I have information for you". He went on to explain the exact details of the bomb threat call-in, information I had not heard yet. And how did he know all of this? He worked in a building very near one of our buildings, the same building that houses one of Japan's largest media groups, and they had received the call as well. Now the lesson learned isn't that reporters are always going to be able to provide you more information on an issue than what you already know. But they are indeed a resource - and sometimes when you least expect it. They can be your source for the rumor mill and they can help you head off information at the pass. Reporters in the midst of a crisis will likely be hunting for information anywhere they can. Talking to them regularly - so long as it is a controlled discussion - will allow communicators to gauge how things are being communicated elsewhere and maybe stop a rumor or gather much needed information on what is taking place and how you are being perceived. (Jesse Green)

Everything you say/do, can and will be held against you in the court of public opinion. (Kim Baldwin)

Don't assume that when a reporter calls, he/she is working on a story and not just fishing. Giving a reporter what might seem like innocuous information in a chat could turn into an unnecessary headline over a story rehashing difficulties. Always ask what the story is about, and when it is running, in case you are being given a legitimate opportunity to make your case. (Tom Andrzejewski)

Develop relationships with the media prior to a crisis. Before arriving in my current position, I was the Public Information Officer at a hospital that announced its closure at 5 PM on July 3rd, which made that July 4th very memorable for all the wrong reasons. I did not know the CBS or ABC affiliate very well and this put me at a disadvantage. From there forward, I made media relations priority #1. (Lori White, Director Marketing and Public Relations, Retreat Hospital)

Crisis management is a soup-making exercise and there are an awful lot of chefs who have legitimate interest in getting their ingredients into the pot. Crisis management cannot become an exclusive topic with only a very few top-of-the-house participants. (Fran Minakowski, Maryland Public Television)

Don't take it personally. (Gary Henry, Business Communication Specialist, PROSOCO)

When you think no one is listening, someone is listening. (Sam Buchmeyer, GPISD Director of Communications)

Management stating calmly that there is no crisis and never will be a crisis, despite evidence to the contrary. (Emma Goodall, Documentation Coordinator & Writer, XEMICS SA, Switzerland.)

The reporters that you have spent so much time befriending suddenly turn on a dime and make Medusa look like a goddess. Very early in my career, while at a bank, we (the PR team) learned of a problem that was found by an internal audit team and was subsequently reported to the relevant government authorities. The government, in-turn, levied penalties against the bank for a period of nearly two weeks. I had always been taught that the sooner you can begin your media relations activities (wining, dining, etc. etc. etc.) before a crisis breaks, the better off you'll be. So having what I felt were fairly close friends at many of the major papers and wire services I thought we'd be well covered when dealing with what would have been a limited number of friendly inquiries. Instead we received a barrage of phone calls - close to 100 calls from more than 50 reporters - and they were all international reporters (this doesn't count the Japanese publications). Those that were some of my closet reporter friends quickly became hostile investigative reporters stopping at nothing to get the job done and the story written. Now in the end, having the relationships did allow me to speak more frankly - having the ability to skip all the politeness and allowing me to better control the story because the relationship existed. The lesson learned though was to not solely rely on just the relationships - there's too many pieces to the puzzle in a crisis. (Jesse Green)

Breathing, it's a good thing. (Kim Baldwin)

Crises come in clusters. They are either generated by multiple negative events or cause multiple negative events, some seemingly unrelated to the main issue. (Carolee J. Nisbet, Public Affairs Officer, Fort Dix, NJ)

There is no place for selfish and jealous people in a team handling a crisis. (Damijan Nacevski, Director Projektov, GCI Adriatic Region, Ljubljana, Slovenija)

Proficiency in one's "regular" executive role or one's legal practice or in one's public relations/communications post does not necessarily mean one is automatically proficient in crisis management. (Fran Minkowski)

Train additional personnel as support Public Information Officers. Being a one-person department, I realized that I cannot be all places at all times. Developing a core group of staff who are trained in crisis communications has helped me ensure that a consistent message is being delivered. (Lori White)

Remember that a client's actions speak louder than words. If a client isn't willing to fix the problem immediately and initiate activities to raise the organization/individual's positive profile, then the client can't ever expect anyone to lend the benefit of a doubt, and you should turn down the job. (Tom Andrzejewski)

Keeping people in the dark dims an organization's image. (Lori Sand, Director, Communications, Blue Valley Schools)

The media, when provoked by outside forces, tend to have knee-jerk overreactions. Just after 9/11 someone called calls in a bomb-threat claiming to be a supporter of Bin Laden. The threat was called in on two of the bank buildings and several other Japanese trading houses and hotels. The media focused on our two buildings...why? Because the Japanese government responded with at least 20 to 30 police cars, and God knows how many fire trucks and ambulances. People were evacuated across the street, business stopped for hours. And when you have that many people evacuating and that much of an emergency service response the media comes out in droves. Video cameras everywhere, CNN, Reuters, AP, and the rest of the usual players, media helicopters flying overhead, and the barrage of phone calls again - this time on my cell phone - and then again back in the office once we were allowed to return. The lessons learned here are varied. Bomb threats seem to be fairly common (particularly just before exams), and they almost never (knock-wood) amount to anything. But because it was just post 9/11, that was a different story and I failed to recognize quickly enough the new environment we were then working in - our crisis plans need to be updated and adapted constantly to match the environment in which we are working. (Jesse Green)

Press releases do not always solve your problems. (Kim Baldwin)

Whatever happens will not be on your list of possible scenarios. (Carolee Nisbet)

Spend maximum time on research. Wear down the client so he/she levels with you - demand as much proof as possible. That small "political contribution" could turn out to be a bribe in the thousands of dollars, or the numbers reflecting environmental compliance might be suspicious at best. If not, then you have a much stronger position to communicate. If so, you don't want the client. (Tom Andrzejewski)

Editor's Note: Next issue, I'll give you a list of my own!

Forum Tracker To Monitor Chat Boards

I was already aware of services which monitor online news coverage and discussion boards (i.e., where messages are posted like an electronic version of a bulletin board), but until now I knew of no service which can actually monitor so-called "chat boards," even ones that require passwords to access.

Forum Tracker Professional uses proprietary technology to automatically monitor and track people, issues, keywords, topics and threads and report chat board results in email alerts and secure online reports. It is available by subscription and can be re-sold as a "private label" service.

I have current clients who are being criticized on chat boards, amongst other online locations, so I'm calling this service to their attention if they'd like to automate the process versus the manual monitoring they now do.

Forum Tracker offers a free trial (actually more of a demo than a trial -- the terms are predefined) at


Does Your Organization/agency Have Its Own Media Training Manual?

"Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" can be custom-printed AT NO EXTRA CHARGE to substitute YOUR agency or organization's background info for mine at the end of the book (a full page) and in the Table of Contents if you commit to ordering the manual in quantity for ongoing use as your own media training guide. My name remains as author, of course, and there will be some footer references to my URL, but it will not be as "competitive" a reference to my services as my regular retail version. This is made possible because all of the manuals are printed-to-order at the world's best fast-printer, I love 'em -- they even drop ship for me -- so I don't have to stock much inventory.

If you're interested in this possibility, contact me for pricing information.

The regular version remains available in print or PDF format, of course, at

Training By Jonathan Bernstein

I am very pleased to note that demand for crisis management-related training and presentations has grown dramatically this year. The training sessions tend to fall into two major categories:

  • Media training -- introductory (six hour) general training, and issues-specific media training (one or two-day, two is much more effective).
  • Crisis prevention & response -- presentations/workshops ranging from 1 1/2 hours to a full day, designed to educate and/or improve the overall crisis management skills of management personnel.

Interested in the possibility of training, or want to know about my rates for quantity discounts on the media training manual (minimum order of 10)? Call (626) 825-3838 or write to me,


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.


Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,, 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

Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.


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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