© 2005 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
"When it comes to managing crises, attorneys should be on the bus, not driving the bus."
Richard Levick, Esq., President, Levick Strategic Communications
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
By Jonathan Bernstein
There has been a great deal of media coverage recently about public apologies and mea culpas offered for the harm caused by organizations or individuals. There are many benefits to humbly admitting wrong and moving on.
However, an apology is only half of the formula necessary to put negative publicity and reputation damage behind you -- and it's usually the least-important half. The other critical element is making amends.
Dictionaries define "amends" as "recompense for grievance or injury (American Heritage) or "to put right (Merriam-Webster)" or -- and this is my favorite, because it is plain English and speaks to the heart of the amends concept -- "to do something good to show that you are sorry about something you have done (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)."
Hence, if what you have done -- intentionally or inadvertently -- has caused measurable damage, amends would be to repair, or offer some means of repairing, that damage, to include emotional or psychological damage, not just material and financial.
Here's a simple example:
At many restaurants, if you are served a well-done steak when you have ordered one medium-rare, you will get an apology from the server and they'll cook you another steak. But how have you as a customer been harmed, in addition to not being able to eat yet? You may have suffered some degree of emotional stress over the delay, over not being able to eat at the same time as others at your table, and perhaps over being held up in your plans for after the meal. None of these are addressed by a typical restaurant's "I'm sorry" and simple food replacement.
At Claim Jumper, our favorite family restaurant, they consistently have a superb response to such mistakes, which inevitably happen from time to time at ANY eating establishment. Immediately, the server apologizes, and then within a few minutes the manager appears, apologizes again for the mistake and inconvenience, assures us that the food replacement will be coming very soon, and tells us that they'll remove the item from our bill, even if it's the full price of a supper. Both servers and managers crouch down to table level so that they can look you in the eye when talking -- a nice personal touch which communicates humility and sincerity. After the food arrives, the manager and/or server will wait by at the table until we're sure the replacement is satisfactory. This is doing "something good to show that you are sorry about something you have done," this is effectively making amends.
When extending that concept out to high-profile mistakes, one has to ask why more wasn't done by Martha Stewart to make amends not only to "the system" by serving time, but also to all of her local stakeholders who felt in some way betrayed or let down.
An experiential observation: individuals with high "C-Factors" (the credibility rating I've written about previously) need amends less in order to survive crises. It would take a great deal for any of us to trust (former Enron CEO) Ken Lay again. But Martha had a very high C-Factor going into her troubled times and, hence, seems to have come through it stronger than ever with "only" an apology and by making financial amends as required by the law.
We need only to look to wrongdoing in personal relationships to realize that the tenth "I'm sorry" from a family member or friend who has wronged us in the same way over and over just doesn't cut it. Until and unless that person is willing to make amends, we're not going to believe an apology.
Editor's Note: If you missed the article on The C-Factor, go here.
Valentine's Day Gift for All of Us
By Jonathan Bernstein
I was one of many, many Hallmark.com customers who was unable to access Hallmark e-cards sent to me on Valentine's day, as were some to whom I sent cards. Their server was clearly overloaded, which was disappointing. However, on February 16, Hallmark sent its customers this very well written letter of apology, one that epitomizes some of the best principles of crisis management, as I'll describe below the text. Here, in case you missed it, was the letter:
We owe you an apology. First, the important three words of this letter -- WE ARE SORRY.
This Valentine's Day, our site was up and down all day. For many of you, that meant frustration and wasted time when you were simply trying to send or retrieve an e-card.
We thought we were ready to handle a huge amount of traffic on Valentine's Day. Obviously we thought wrong. We were surprised by double the amount of traffic we expected. And we cringe at the disappointment we caused to some of you.
In short, we made promises to deliver that were not kept. And for those of you who experienced that disappointment, we are so sorry for any frustration we may have caused.
Rest assured this experience will serve as a lesson for us. We are now challenging our team to reevaluate every step we took to prepare for Valentine's Day...because it wasn't enough.
With our deepest apologies,
The Hallmark.com Team
Let's grade the Hallmark Team against my Five Tenets of Crisis Communications, which state that crisis communications are ideally "Prompt, Compassionate, Honest, Informative and Interactive."
Prompt -- Ideally, Hallmark's letter should have gone out on February 15. Two full days is a long time in our world of instant communication. I'm sure they made a valiant effort to respond more quickly, but were under-prepared not only for server failure, but for the need to communicate in the event of a serious "business interruption." Grade: B-.
Compassionate -- They clearly and convincingly expressed their compassion for the impact of the server overload. Grade: A+.
Honest -- Almost to a fault. A superb mea culpa. Grade: A+.
Informative -- They provided us with the basics of what happened and what they're doing to ensure it doesn't happen again, without a lot of details unimportant to most of us. Grade: A.
Interactive -- In most crisis situations, it's best to give your stakeholders a means of responding to your communication so that you know if it's effective, whether further communication is necessary, and also -- in this case -- to let customers know that they can vent or ask questions and that Hallmark recognizes their right to do so. I think providing an email address or a link to a form by which customers could respond would have been practical and appropriate to the situation. Grade: F.
Now don't go trying to add up the point value of the grades to come up with an average, because in my opinion these factors are not equal and would have to be weighted, to include situation- specific weight, and that type of statistics-crunching crosses my eyes. My subjective overall Grade: B+.
Hallmark's C-Factor was high enough, going in, that the apology combined with assurances that they would ensure the same problem didn't recur was sufficient amends to satisfy darn near everyone. I seriously doubt they lost any business for their free or paid services.
Editor's Note: In response to my "The C-Factor" article about the importance of credibility in minimizing the impact of a crisis, a reader sent me this lovely combination of case history and compliment, so that we can all learn more and my ego can swell more.
Email from a Crisis Manager Reader
We recently had a situation here in Winnipeg where one of the media outlets obtained some information from the Public Health Department about which restaurants had orders written against them.
The media outlets, as they are prone to do, only let out enough information to create a story that would become foremost in the minds of the listener.
One of the several restaurants, a small chain of Chinese eateries, immediately gave out a press release that there were only some small problems that were corrected right away to the satisfaction of the Public Health Department. The others chose not to comment.
The only one that many of the people that I know will frequent out of that list is the one that gave an immediate press release. The others are on their black list.
Up until now I had been paying attention to your ezine, but hadn't seen it working. Now it is a reality close to home and seems to mean a little more.
Thanks for all the information that you have been sending, and I look forward to many more,
Safety and Training Officer
Transportation and Government Services
Animals in Disasters -- Useful Link
I was sent a potentially useful link by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
They note that since 60% of American homes have at least one and, often, multiple pets, it's important to know how to address a pet's disaster-related needs. Their educational materials "are provided to assist veterinarians, animal owners, and others interested in the well-being of animals to prepare for animal safety in the event of a disaster."
Our four cats thanked me for making this announcement (and reading the AVMA material).
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
CD-ROM: Crisis Management & The Law
How PR Pros & Lawyers Can Work Together Effectively
Featuring Jonathan Bernstein, Richard Levick and Ed Novak
On February 23, 2005, Jonathan Bernstein played talk show host and expert commentator in a one-hour teleseminar featuring internationally renowned litigation PR expert Richard Levick and one of the country's top white collar crime attorneys, Ed Novak. This CD-ROM is a "must have" to play for the executive staff of any organization, for practice group meetings at law firms, or for the entire staff of any PR agency. It captures the full teleseminar in which the threesome answered questions such as:
- If the attorney and PR person disagree, to whom should the CEO listen most closely?
- When do PR considerations outweigh legal considerations, and vice versa?
- What types of legal matters require close collaboration between legal and PR counsel?
- What can a PR person do when dealing with an attorney who just doesn't "get it" with regard to crisis communications?
- What can an attorney do when his client doesn't seem to understand the need for complementary PR?
- What are some "right way/wrong way" examples that illustrate the principles of effective crisis management in legal matters?
Go to www.thecrisismanager.com for this and other educational and training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein.
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 & PUBLISHER
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.
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