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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2006 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 14,000+


Many of us achieve only the semblance of communication with others; what we say is often not contingent on what the other has just said, and neither of us is aware that we are not communicating.

Desy Safan-Gerard


Editor's Note: I have often spoken and written about the three principal audiences in any crisis situation, referring to them rather generically as "your friends, your enemies, and the fencesitters." My regular contributor and a valuable contractor/consultant for my business, Gerald Baron, returns to the pages of Crisis Manager with a far-more-memorable frame of reference for this topic: "Saints, Sinners and Saveables."

Using The Saints, Sinners And Saveables Model
Communications Strategy
From Gerald Baron

One of the most useful tools IÕve come across in nearly 30 years of doing this communication thing for a living is the idea of Saints, Sinners and Saveables. I learned it from a grizzled veteran of political wars in my first Campaign ManagerÕs class way back in the 70s. So itÕs not a new idea--I just have never heard a better way of expressing something that is so vital to communication strategy and planning.

The idea is simple. Every audience on a divisive or controversial issue can be divided into three groups: Saints, Sinners and Saveables. The Saints you have with you. They are convinced and they are solid. The Sinners are against you. You have little or no credibility with them. ThereÕs essentially nothing you can say to change their minds.

That leaves the Saveables. All three groups operate on a continuum, which means that not all Saveables are the same. Some lean for you, some against you. Usually, the communication battle is determined by whether or not you effectively sway the Saveables. Certainly in a political battle it is that way and the measurement is sure and (usually) decisive--you count the votes.

Effort is frequently wasted by not understanding this simple concept. It is more often wasted by talking too much to the Saints. ItÕs easier, more comfortable and you feel you are doing wonders because they respond so favorably. Effort can also be wasted by trying to change the minds or behaviors of those who are solidly against you. In some cases, the Sinner category may not be as large as you think and targeted communication at the Sinners can be effective--but when it is it simply reveals that more were saveable than you realized.

The best strategy is to focus on the Saveables. But how do you do that? First of all by understanding that the most critical battle is over credibility. Aristotle had it right about 2400 years ago. Of the three basic modes of persuasion: logos, ethos and pathos, ethos is more important and more effective. The appeal to the credibility of the person speaking is more persuasive than the appeal to logic or emotions. You are persuaded not so much by the content, but by the person who is persuading you.

That means that communicators have to be concerned above all about winning the credibility battle. They have to be seen as more credible, trustworthy, and with greater honesty, transparency and character than their opponent. This can be challenging, for example in an online reputation war. What usually makes it difficult is that the detractors have had a head start and have built a lot of content about the problems they see with the company. A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth--particularly when it comes in the form of half-truths or distortions based on barely recognizable facts. They have the other advantage of usually not appearing to have a financial interest at stake. They are just common ordinary citizens alerting the public to problems out of the goodness of the their hearts. Companies, especially large corporations, start out in a huge credibility hole. People today tend to not think too much of large corporations in general, plus you have a profit motive and therefore you are almost automatically evil and without credibility.

To win the Saveables battle it is critically important that communicators have a realistic assessment of where they stand with the Saveables on the issue of credibility. If you will not easily be believed, this must be changed before even trying to throw facts, information or other content at them.

There is really only one way to get this assessment and that is to engage them one way or the other. Place "listening posts" of trusted people within the Saveables group. Pick up the phone and call some. Email them. Ask them what they think about the company. Use a simple online survey. Listening is an absolutely critical element of any effective communication program, and listening to Saveables is the most strategic part.

But, what to do if you find yourself deep in the credibility hole? Two techniques to think about here. First, borrow someone elseÕs credibility. If the Saveable group doesnÕt think much of you, but they have high respect for someone else, can you get that person to speak out on your behalf. Second, think about what is right and appropriate to do to undermine your opponentÕs credibility.

Is the environmental group attacking you actually funded by one of your competitors whose motivation is to put you out of business? (It happened in one situation I worked in). Then let the Saveables know. Is the online activist motivated by a vendetta based on a single bad experience with an employee who used to be his boss? Understanding this can help shed light on the attacks and the credibility of the information.

While using these techniques, though, remember that the ultimate goal is to restore your credibility with the Saveables. That means being 100% honest and straightforward in everything you do. It means not showing the slightest bit of meanness, insensitivity or callousness--even while calling into question the credibility of your opponent. For whatever reason, you have lost their trust. To regain it, or gain it for the first time is hard work, but very much worth the effort.

Gerald R. Baron is President of Baron & Company, ( founder of AudienceCentral, which provides PIER, the leading crisis communications technology. His email address is

Short Subjects

Someone At GM Is Great At Messaging

I don't know if GM Chairman Rick Wagoner - whose tactics I've criticized in the past - is writing his own key messages or having someone write them for him, but he delivered a plethora of very strong and appropriate statements in an April 1 Richmond Times-Dispatch article outlining his attempt to rally following a year-long string of GM bad news. Sluggish sales. Loss of market share. Layoffs. He even cut his own pay in half. Here were some of his bon mots:

"You got to get out and talk about it," Wagoner said of the automaker's myriad problems. "The story is as important when times are challenging as they are (sic) when times are easy."

"I tried through all of this to make sure what we are doing is what is right for the future of General Motors...If that means we have to take some bullets, that is our lot in life at this point."

"It is certainly fair to say that the last 12 months or so have been the most challenging period from my perspective, that is for sure," he said. "We are in one of those pivotal points in the history of the company."

Wagoner didn't try to duck or spin, he clearly understood that in times of strife (and if you're smart, ALL the time) transparency and sincerity can accomplish far more than typical corporate bluster. Hats off to the crisis management team at GM. They've come a long way from the "Special Award" I gave Mr. Wagoner in July 2005, as archived here.

Impressive Real-time Disaster Map Online

There is a very impressive real-time map of worldwide disasters available online at Hosted by the Havaria Information Service in Budapest, today's map has flashing icons that take you to information about explosions, bio hazards (Avian flu), earthquakes, volcanic activity and an epidemic (cholera). Thanks to Barry Zell of the United American Civil Taskforce for bringing this link to the attention of those of us on the Pure Pursuit Intel Network listserv (

IACP PIO Conference April 19-21

Even if your "job description" doesn't include dealing with the media as a primary duty, chances are you may one day have to face reporters. Are you prepared? The IACP PIO (International Association of Chiefs of Police Public Information Officers) Mid-Year conference offers outstanding media relations and crisis communications training, at an unbeatable price. Contact Ed Buice, EBuice@NCIS.NAVY.MIL, for more information.

Free O'Dwyer's PR News Offer For Colleges & Universities

Journalism and other communications professors SHOULD be aware of O'Dwyer's Public Relations News, one of the most established publishers in the PR world. Jack O'Dwyer and his staff write hard-hitting editorials, features on our business and the people in it, and classic "news you can use." He would like to be part of the education process for college and university students and so is offering professors and their classes a period of free access to his password-protected online news. Write to him,


What Does That Slogan Mean?

By popular demand, I have re-opened an online store at which I sell clothing and mugs featuring the famous "Crisis Manager University" emblem and its infamous slogan, "Quoniam Stercus Accidit". That translates to "Because Stuff Happens." Except the real word isn't "stuff." There's only a 10% markup at the store to cover my costs -- it's a turnkey operation hosted by Cafe Press. I have found the items there to be a major hit with my clients and associates and great gift for any crisis manager. My purpose is to share my sense of humor with like (sick) minds as well as to prompt some folks to ask, "Who came up with this idea?" You can visit the store at

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, 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 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.


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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