In the case of Hurricane Katrina, government at all levels is guilty of negligent homicide. Only the U.S. Coast Guard performed in the expected manner. ItŐs too bad no government official will ever go to jail.
Bob Aronson, The Aronson Partnership
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
25 Crisis Management Lessons Learned By Jonathan Bernstein
I thought that it would be useful to review the consulting assignments I've had this year and highlight 25 of the lessons inherent in the various situations on the assumption that at least some of us realize that it's wiser to learn from the experiences of others.
Not surprisingly, many of the lessons relate to Internet-centered activity. If you don't have an Internet crisis management strategy and capabilities now, get to work!
I have not prioritized these in any way because the most important lesson for you may not be the most important lesson for others.
1. One hostile and/or ego-driven person with a computer and some Internet savvy can do a huge amount of damage to any organization.
2. Damaging information present on the Internet spreads virally, being reprinted by other websites or even news organizations regardless of accuracy. Ignoring it will only make matters worse.
3. All legal threats - e.g., threatened lawsuits, regulatory investigations - are potential threats to reputation and should be brought to the attention of whoever is responsible for reputation management/PR as soon as they're identified. Typically, however, legal counsel and even senior company management delay notifying their PR advisor, internal or external, until the stuff hits the fan or is about to imminently. Rushed consideration of PR strategy and messaging is seldom as good as that which can be produced given more lead time.
4. There are PR agencies and consultants who do not think about or, out of greed or ego, fail to consider how much damage they do to their clients by claiming to have more crisis management capabilities than, in fact, they do.
5. Mid- to large-size organizations, in particular, need an automated system of notifying their Crisis Management-related teams and impacted stakeholders instantly and concurrently. Relying on human "call chains" by people who have other responsibilities and/or who are also trying to put out the fire is unrealistic and results in delays and more damage.
6. Sometimes it's wiser to make peace than to be right.
7. Even organizations who think that they are very transparent in their internal communications are usually surprised to learn about some of the flaws uncovered by a vulnerability audit.
8. The ability to make a flawless personal presentation to 1,000 people at a conference does not automatically translate, without training, to an ability to conduct an on-camera media interview related to a crisis.
9. Don't get into a public spat with government agencies or the media, they carry bigger sticks than you do and have long memories.
10. With rare exception, media interview skills were not part of a CEO's scholastic experience and - even if they were - they have eroded to the point of uselessness if not practiced.
11. Any significant operational decision has a public relations impact, internally or externally, and should be considered in that light before being finalized. Some decisions which seem to make perfect sense financially, for example, may end up seriously damaging relationships with stakeholders and, ultimately, cost money versus saving it.
12. Everyone in your organization, from highest-paid to the lowest, should understand what your organization considers to be a crisis and their individual responsibilities for reporting potential crises.
13. Everyone in your organization, from highest-paid to the lowest, should understand what their individual responsibilities are for crisis response.
14. The actions of every employee and contractors considered, de facto, to be part of your organization have the impact to promote or damage your reputation.
15. Be VERY VERY CAREFUL about what you say or don't say in email! Anything put into email can be (a) leaked; (b) inadvertently distributed to the wrong people; (c) be legally damaging; and,(d) be revealed through the disclosure process in any formal legal proceeding.
16. With regard to media interviews, if you don't say it, they can't use it. It is rare (although not completely unheard of) for a reporter to actually make up a quote. When spokespersons claim that this has happened, usually it's because they have been sucked in to a leading question, e.g., Reporter: "Mr. Smith, do you think that this is the worst thing that has ever happened to your company." Smith: "Yeah, maybe." Sentence that appears in the paper: "This may be the worst thing that has ever happened to our company," said Smith.
17. It's much wiser to encourage and even reward internal whistle-blowing than to find yourself at the wrong end of news coverage, a lawsuit and/or a governmental investigation prompted by a whistle-blower.
18. The court of public opinion can destroy your organization much more quickly than a court of law.
19. Criticism is only damaging if your stakeholders believe it - but never assume you know, without asking, what your stakeholders believe!
20. Crisis communications and emergency response plans are not created to provide a flawless method of response to every crisis situation. They are created to establish a system for effective response to any crisis and to serve as a basis for training crisis responders.
21. If you think a crisis-related response mechanism will work, but you've never tested and trained with it, you're inviting much higher levels of damage when the crisis occurs.
22. More and more attorneys-general initiate their investigations based on stories written and/or produced by consumer reporters. The corollary: if you directly serve consumers, consumer reporters are a special risk for which you must plan, because they will respond to inaccurate allegations as if they were the truth and do not like to produce headlines that read, "Consumer Allegation Proven False by Responsible Company."
23. Companies that respond well to crises can actually gain market share and enhance their reputation.
24. If crisis preparedness does not receive the full support of an organization's leadership - particularly the CEO - the organization will not be prepared, even if they have some plans on the shelf and a bit of training to go with it.
25. No person, no organization, has a reputation so fine that it is immune to reputation threats from within or without. The arrogance inherent in denying this reality has been a major contributing factor to innumerable crises.
Product Review: Affordable Internet-Based Backup Systems By Jonathan Bernstein
I have long been a proponent of ensuring that critical data is backed up not only on-site, but COMPLETELY off-site. Not much use in sending the back-up tape to the bank vault across the street, for example, if both your offices and the bank are underwater in New Orleans.
For small- to mid-size businesses, data backup can be very low-tech. I used to simply exchange CD-ROMs of backed up data with an associate in Arizona. The likelihood of his Phoenix office and my Los Angeles area office being incapacitated by the same crisis was rather low. I've engaged in other similar low-tech methods until recently, but decided it was time for me to invest in Internet-based backup.
Reading an article in an archived issue of PC World, I tried out XDrive (www.XDrive.com) and IBackup (www.IBackup.com). Pricing and features were very similar for the amount of space I wanted (only 5GB, for around $9.95 monthly). That was enough for me to upload my entire document collection (My Documents), my large Outlook backup (*.pst) file, my entire Quicken directory, all of my time-tracking program's directory, and a few other items, with room to spare.
But the similarity ended in pricing and alleged features, because where IBackup was exactly what it claimed to be and delighted me with its ease-of-use and reliability, XDrive (which has been owned by AOL since 2004) epitomized many of the types of customer service mistakes that damage reputation, interrupt business, and ultimately undermine share value. To wit:
XDrive didn't work - ever. I am an expert-level computer user who has been online since 1982, before the modern World Wide Web existed. Yet despite multiple installs/uninstalls on my "very standard" PC with Windows XP, despite following the various instructions provided to me by their tech support over a four-day period, it never worked. It installed, I opened the program, but when I tried to do a backup it produced a certain error message, every time.
I filled out a help request at their website with detailed information on the error and it was suggested that I download a certain program from Microsoft to help correct the error, but the instructions didn't tell me how to employ the program for that purpose (I found that out by calling XDrive).
The first tech I spoke with - after the first written response from tech support didn't solve the problem -- was sullen and insisted that the solution offered to me should fix the problem and implied clearly that I was doing something wrong. But he reluctantly "escalated" the problem when I insisted.
The tech who handled the escalated situation sent me email instructions that had serious errors (e.g., telling me to look in the wrong directory to retrieve certain files) and, two days after I sent him a response (having done everything he said I should do, to no avail), he still hadn't responded back to me.
When I made one final attempt to reach tech support, during their office hours, I was forced to leave a voicemail in which I politely urged immediate response to preclude cancellation of my account. I sent them the same message by email. A day later they hadn't responded and I cancelled.
Both services offer trial subscriptions, and I happened to try XDrive first because the PC World review spoke favorably about their pricing - but IBackup pricing has dropped since that 2004 article and is now comparable. More importantly, IBackup works, and works well! Now, in a worst case situation, such as a large California earthquake or fire that destroys my computer system (including my backup hard drive), my saved data will never be more than one day old. It automatically backs up while I sleep, and sends me an email confirming what was backed up (it's set to only backup anything new since the previous backup).
In addition to its "economy plans," like the one I'm employing now, IBackup also provides much more robust, higher-capacity backup options for organizations of all sizes. Data encryption is an option even for the entry-level plans.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Keeping The Wolves At Bay
Keeping the Wolves at Bay (available in print and PDF formats) remains, to my knowledge, the only commercially published media training manual in the world. It can be purchased at www.thecrisismanager.com, and its pages can be modified to make it YOUR "name brand" media training manual if you are an agency or organization that frequently conducts training. If the latter subject is of interest to you, write to:
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.
Go to www.thecrisismanager.com to read more details about and/or to order this CD-ROM, and to learn of 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 .
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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