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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 14,000+


I won't be backed into an apology.

Donna Tocci, PR manager for Kryptonite locks, speaking to a reporter for Business 2.0's "Marketing Focus" ezine, following widespread reports that the ubiquitous bicycle locks made by the company can easily be picked with a Bic pen.


Merck And Vioxx -- Is There A Smoking Gun?
By Jonathan Bernstein

As I was putting this issue to bed, news broke of Merck's Vioxx recall.They are trying their best to say that they can survive this corporate disaster and pending lawsuits, but the biggest lesson of the Arther Andersen debacle was that the court of public opinion can put you out of business even faster than a court of law.

Hence, I predict their survivability will depend on these factors:

  • Is there a smoking gun? Is there evidence that will be uncovered which demonstrates that they were more aware of the potential health risks than they revealed to the FDA or the general public? Or evidence that their other, related drugs could produce similar results, i.e., establish a trend which is so damaging that no one will buy from them.
  • Their ability to combine compassion with factual communication. In a crisis, particularly a crisis which threatens the health of millions, fear and anxiety is the first reaction of patients on Vioxx. Merck needs to directly and indirectly (through messages provided to the medical community) express empathy for the concern felt by patients, first, and then provide any reassuring facts that are available. Thus far, I have seen no messages of compassion in news coverage or the company press release on this topic. How easy it would have been to say, "We very much regret the concerns that this decision may cause our patients and health care professionals, and we will soon be providing them with additional information that will help them make informed decisions about their medical treatment going forward."
  • Their willingness to closely integrate legal and PR strategies. Attorneys may be inclined to advise "say nothing, because anything you say can be used against you. "Wake up, counsel, anything you DON'T say can be used against you too, in the aforementioned court of public opinion.

Court's in session, Merck leadership, with a worldwide jury.

Commonplace Seeds For Crises -- Tips For Everyday Crisis Prevention
By Jonathan Bernstein

A lot of crisis prevention is just plain common sense -- but it's unfortunately all too uncommon.

When I am visiting any physical site associated with a client organization, I tend to look at everyone and everything as if I was a cop, a curious investigative reporter, someone who might sue the organization, a disgruntled employee, and a current or prospective client (and we do not have multiple personality disorder). When I do that, I observe many of the seeds for crises that haven't yet occurred, such as:

  • Employees wearing clothing that clients or other employees could find offensive or even discriminatory (e.g., t-shirts with sexually explicit words or graphics)
  • Staff members who, from their conversations, clearly have either never been trained about how to avoid sexual harassment and discrimination (of all types) or who have ignored the training they have received.
  • Easy-to-overhear conversations about confidential matters.
  • Documents I probably shouldn't be seeing lying openly on desks or left on copying and fax machines.
  • Workers throwing items in common trash receptacles which should, instead, be shredded.
  • Loud cursing.
  • Screen savers with offensive material.
  • Computers with confidential material on their screens and no one at the desk.
  • Staff members making derogatory comments about clients/customers, management, vendors or the organization itself.
  • Fire doors with locks on them.
  • Fire extinguishers whose gauges say they're past-due for service/refill.
  • Strangers not being challenged when they are in an "ID required" area without ID tags.
  • Employees looking at anyone they don't know with hostility.

I believe that any reader of this article can predict the potential consequences of these observations, which reinforce my oft-repeated notion that "every employee is a crisis manager and PR representative for the organization, whether you want them to be or not." I encourage you to bring this topic up at an appropriate staff meeting -- and if you don't have staff meetings, count that as another "crisis waiting to happen" resulting from horrendous internal communication. Brainstorm your own lists of "stuff we probably shouldn't be doing" and find ways to reduce the risk, now, before someone leverages your vulnerabilities to their advantage.

Dan Rather & 60 Minutes Give Us A Tool We Can Use
By Jonathan Bernstein

PR reps and spokespersons everywhere may not realize that the recent Dan Rather/60 Minutes faux pas regarding President Bush's National Guard record was more than just a classic example of failure to fact-check and of taking irresponsible risks in pursuit of headlines.

The lemonade associated with THIS lemon is that we can now start using the following statement anytime we have media, or others, intent on presenting unsubstantiated information as if it were factual:

"CBS, Dan Rather and '60 Minutes', prestigious names worldwide, recently learned the error of assuming that information was accurate without proper investigation and fact-checking. We urge those who are rushing to judgment based on unsubstantiated allegations about us not to make the same mistake."

Emergency Preparedness For Small To Mid-size Businesses

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Advertising Council launched the Ready Business campaign on September 23, 2004. This extension of Homeland Security's successful Ready campaign, which has helped millions of individuals and families prepare for emergencies, focuses on business preparedness. Ready Business helps owners and managers of small to medium-sized businesses prepare their employees, operations and assets in the event of an emergency. Go to:

Survival At Your Fingertips: Rand Issues Pocket-edition Terrorism survival Guides Downloadable For Pdas, Home Printers

The RAND Corporation is making available two pocket guides designed to arm individuals with the knowledge to identify and survive various types of unconventional terrorist attacks. The guides are based on strategies RAND first outlined in a report last year and include a single-sheet, foldable reference card and a downloadable personal digital assistant (PDA) program. Go to:


Attention PR Agencies, Media Trainers, And Professors!

Agencies and trainers: If you do not have your own media training manual, you might like the fact that you can add your own name to the cover of "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" AND you can add material (e.g., company background info) inside. This customization is subject to ordering at least 20 copies of the manual (at a quantity discount).

Professors: The manual is now being used as a textbook in PR and related courses. Arrangements can be made to provide it at a discount price to your classes or for the publication to be sold through your campus bookstore.

Everyone else -- you can, of course, purchase the manual and other educational/training materials at

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.


GUEST AUTHORS are very welcome to submit material for "Crisis Manager." There is no fee paid, but most guest authors have reported receiving business inquiries as a result of appearing in this publication. Case histories, experience-based lessons, commentary on current news events and editorial opinion are all eligible for consideration. Submission is not a guarantee of acceptance.


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,


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.


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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