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+


Communication is often the most important part of a merger, yet it often falls between the cracks

      Ravin Jesuthan, Principal, Towers Perrin


Editor's Note: I'm a subscriber to, and big fan of, Jerry Brown's "Monday Morning Media Minute," from whence this article is reprinted with Jerry's kind permission.

Lessons From The Great Communicator
by Jerry Brown, APR

To friends and foes alike, Ronald Reagan was known as The Great Communicator. The reasons for his success provide a good lesson for anyone with a message to deliver to the public. There probably are more, but four come to mind:

  • He kept it simple. When it comes to communicating, simple is almost always better. Perhaps because of his background in broadcasting, Reagan was a master at simplifying his message.
  • He was a storyteller. He knew how to tell a story. Good stories are more memorable than lists of facts. Reporters tell stories for a living. And humans have been passing down history and legends through stories essentially forever. Storytelling and story listening are hard wired into our brains. Tell a story if you want to be heard, understood and remembered.
  • He said what he meant. Reagan's staff reportedly was virtually unanimous in opposing one of his most memorable lines: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Too direct, too confrontational, too undiplomatic. He said it anyway. And it resonated with the media and the public. I'm constantly amazed at how many organizations that have a message to deliver to the public soften it or fuzz it up -- and then wonder why their story doesn't have impact and the media isn't interested.
  • He said it with a smile. Reagan was controversial. But he said what he had to say without histrionics -- and often with a smile. That served him well. You can say almost anything if you say it calmly and without attacking the integrity or motives of the other side.

Jerry Brown is Senior Counselor, Public Relations, at Corporate Advocates,, author of A Practitioners Guide to Media Relations, and he also writes the Monday Morning Media Minute email newsletter, to which you can subscribe by writing to Jerry,

Best Lessons From Crisis Management And Media Training
by Jonathan Bernstein

I've been conducting a large number of training sessions recently that broadly fall into two categories:

Crisis Management 101 -- Centered around a variable-length PowerPoint presentation called How to Prevent Crises and What to Do When You Can't, customized to each client's industry and culture. Some sessions have been management-level, some for literally everyone in the organization.

Media Training -- Centered around my Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual and ranging from intensive (two-day) preparation of spokespersons to address current hot issues to five-hour sessions in which newly taught skills are applied to scenarios the client might face one day.

In most sessions, I have asked participants what they believe are the most important lessons they've learned. Here's what they said:

About Crisis Management

  • Every employee is a PR representative and a Crisis Manager for his/her organization -- whether you want them to be or not!
  • Crisis preparedness must have the CEO's support or plans end up collecting dust on shelves and training is forgotten.
  • Take all threats seriously -- threats to life, limb and property; threats to reputation, threats to business continuity and threats to organizational share value.
  • Crises don't have to become long-term disasters. Even disasters don't have to become long-lasting disasters.
  • Customer service representatives are often in the best-possible position to spot and prevent problems that can escalate into crises, but that requires training above and beyond what they normally receive.
  • There is no such thing as non-communication and there is no such thing as inaction. Saying nothing communicates. Doing nothing is an action with its own results.
  • Unless you VERY clearly define who can or can't speak for any organization, you're going to have a lot more spokespersons -- particularly during a crisis -- than you realize you have.

About Media Training

  • Effective interview techniques are counter-intuitive to the way most of us have been taught to communicate.
  • Attitude plays a huge role in convincingly transmitting a message.
  • Humility and honesty can overcome verbal awkwardness.
  • We weren't nearly as much in agreement on key messages as we thought we were before the training session.
  • The fact that we are fairly talented "good news" interview subjects doesn't automatically mean that we can give an effective interview during a crisis.
  • Either the journalist manages the interview or we do.
  • We don't have to answer a question just because it's asked.
  • We have to practice and practice some more to get good at this!

Book Cooking A LA Powell
by Jonathan Bernstein

Secretary of State Colin Powell's embarrassed backtracking about last year's State Department report showing a decrease in worldwide terrorism included this recipe for making the crisis worse:

"It's a numbers error. It's not a political judgment that said, `Let's see if we can cook the books.' We can't get away with that now. Nobody was out to cook the books. Errors crept in," he told ABC's This Week.

Recipe for Crisis Managers: Cooking books x 2 = Introducing and Re-emphasizing a Negative Concept. It's as if Richard Nixon had said, "I never considered being a crook. I am not a crook."


Keeping The Wolves At Bay And Other Crisis Management Materials

Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual and other crisis management training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein are available for sale at There is a 100% money-back guarantee (including shipping costs!) if you are not satisfied with any product you purchase.

Second Opinion And Spot Consulting

While I love to have clients with a wide range of needs, I'm quite willing and happy to provide spot consulting on an hourly basis. It's not uncommon for organizations to want just a second opinion about a breaking issue, or a quick review of their existing crisis preparedness plans. I keep such consulting very simple from a business perspective -- hourly fees for engagements under 10 hours are paid by credit card. Call (626) 825-3838 or write to


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