© 2006 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Athletes and fans of sport should not support a system that does not apply the rules in the same manner to high-ranking officials as those rules are applied to athletes and everyone else involved in the Olympic movement.
7-time Tour de France Winner
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: This article describes some of the thought process that goes into a Vulnerability Audit, the first phase in crisis preparedness.
Creeping, Slow-Burn, And Sudden Crises
By Jonathan Bernstein
Crises can be divided into three categories:
1. Creeping Crises - foreshadowed by a series of events that decision makers don't view as part of a pattern.
2. Slow-Burn Crises - some advance warning, before the situation has caused any actual damage.
3. Sudden Crises - damage has already occurred and will get worse the longer it takes to respond.
It is not uncommon for what seems to be a sudden crisis to have actually, first, been a creeping crisis that was not detected. Appropriate measures, early in the process, can often prevent or, at least, minimize the damage from slow-burn and sudden crises.
Below are some examples from the healthcare industry. From this, readers in other industries should be able to develop comparable lists.
1. Creeping Crises
- Lack of a rumor-control system, resulting in damaging rumors.
- Inadequate preparation for partial or complete business interruption.
- Inadequate steps to protect life and property in the event of emergencies.
- Inadequate two-way communication with all audiences, internal and external.
2. Slow-Burn Crises
- Internet activism
- Most lawsuits.
- Most discrimination complaints.
- Company reputation
- Lack of regulatory compliance - safety, immigration, environment, hiring, permits, etc.
- Major operational decisions that may distress any important audience, internal or external.
- Local/state/national governmental actions that negatively impact operations.
- Official/governmental investigations involving your healthcare organization and/or any of its employees.
- Labor unrest.
- Sudden management changes - voluntary or involuntary.
- Marketing misrepresentation.
3. Sudden Crises
- Patient death - Your healthcare organization perceived to be liable in some way.
- Patient condition worsened - Your healthcare organization perceived to be liable in some way.
- Serious on-site accident.
- Insane/dangerous behavior by anyone at a location controlled by your healthcare organization.
- Criminal activity at a company site and/or committed by company employees.
- Lawsuits with no advance notice or clue whatsoever.
- Natural disasters.
- Loss of workplace/business interruption (for any reason).
- Perceptions of significant impropriety that damage reputation and/or result in legal liability, e.g., publicized involvement of company employee in a group or activity perceived to be a threat to the U.S. government or society; inappropriate comments by a "loose cannon;" business activities not officially authorized by management.
Typically, reviewing a list like this triggers thoughts of other situations that need to be addressed during the crisis planning process.
No Issue July 15
I am relocating my home and home office, with my move date being July 14, so I will not be distributing "Crisis Manager" in mid-month. I will be attempting to avoid moving crises! I have made this issue a bit longer than usual to give readers something to tide them over until August 1. My new address is given in the About the Editor and Publisher box, below.
Google Responds To Google Trends Article
I sent a link to the PR folks at Google telling them of the article I wrote about the new Google Trends service I reviewed in the last issue of Crisis Manager, the one archived here.
I received a reply from a Google spokesperson adding some information that may or may not have been clear to readers, as follows:
"Thank you for your interest in Google Trends. After reading your article, I just wanted to clarify one aspect of your coverage. The Cities list (as well as the regions and languages lists) on Google Trends shows places with the most searches for a term as a proportion of all Google searches coming from that city - not absolute search volume. In other words, Google Trends does not tell you anything about the actual number of people who searched for a particular term."
How To Tell If Your Crisis Manager "Gets It"
By Gerald R. Baron
The public information world has changed dramatically in the last few years. Those changes have required whole new approaches to crisis communications. Yet, it is clear that there are some old war horses who are fighting today's battles with yesterday's tactics and technologies. It is like marching a tightly packed column of blunderbuss-toting soldiers into the face of a machine gun. Somebody is going to get hurt.
How do you know the difference? I came across the website of one firm that is active in crisis management and is headed by a luminary considered by many in the industry to be a leading expert in public relations and crisis management. Yet, a quick look at the description of their crisis management services shows they don't get it. The reason is that the entire focus is dealing with the media.
They advertise they will help you craft your messages and convey them to important journalists. That's good, that's necessary, but that is just a start. In today's communication world there are three imperatives: speed, directness and honesty. Getting things to the media in a hurry is important. But more and more, today's stakeholders are expecting to hear from you directly. If you insist on communicating your key messages only through the mainstream media, you will not meet the expectations of today's audiences. It's too slow, impersonal, and worst of all, you are putting your story and future in the hands of those who don't necessary place a high priority on what people think about you. That's just not their job.
On August 12, 2000, the Russian submarine Kursk sank with the loss of 118 lives. The outrage against the Russian government was not focused on the failed rescue and the sorry state of military equipment. It was focused on the fact that President Putin stayed in his dacha on vacation and no one bothered to communicate directly with the families. This was six years ago, in a nation still emerging from the communication blackout known as communism. If they had that expectation then, think how much more is expected today.
A couple of years ago, a major oil company had a refinery accident. Fenceline neighbors emailed the company asking if they should evacuate. The company responded two weeks later. Why not earlier? They were too busy dealing with the media. Somehow I think those fenceline neighbors had an expectation that the company had the resources to deal with their life or death question.
Crisis communication today is more and more about understanding whose opinion about you is critical for your future and putting in place the means to be able to communicate instantly and directly. To think you can satisfy these people by focusing your efforts on the mainstream media alone is to risk reputation disaster. But clearly, not everyone who claims to be a crisis management expert understands our changing world and the changes in strategies and technologies that it demands.
Gerald R. Baron is President of Baron & Company, (www.baron-co.com) founder of AudienceCentral, which provides PIER, the leading crisis communications technology. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
XM Emergency Alert
Editor's Note: Any XM Radio subscribers out there? I was very
pleased to hear that XM now has an emergency broadcast system of its own, and went to their website for the information below. It occurs to me that emergency responders will appreciate the fact that XM's satellite-centered communications will continue to operate even if, for example, local broadcast outlets' capabilities are damaged by a disaster.
XM 247 (they pronounce it XM twenty-four/seven) is dedicated to providing critical, updated information before, during and after natural disasters, weather emergencies and other hazardous incidents to listeners across the country.
Utilizing XM's nationwide broadcast system, XM Emergency Alert delivers key survival information such as evacuation routes, shelter locations, critical health and medical information, and updated weather emergency information for impacted areas. XM Emergency Alert provides data drawn from a variety of sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Weather Service, police and fire departments, and local eyewitness reports.
XM Emergency Alert is produced by a dedicated staff for instant, around-the-clock information during serious local emergencies.
Editor's Note: When Michael Jackson was at his worst "dancing on
top of his car and shooting his mouth off" mode during his recent
trial, reporters asked me "What should he be doing?" My reply was
"Michael Jackson should shut up!" Although I'm a strong advocate
for communication with your stakeholders, there are times --
as Rick Amme points out so ably in this article -- when restraint
is more important.
Watch Your Mouth In A Crisis
By Rick Amme
Sometimes it's best to shut up.
Nationwide, former journalists like me tell companies how to protect their reputations when they get in trouble. After years of pounding the skulls of businesses and institutions that erred, we are well suited. We witnessed strategies that stopped the media bleeding and those that didn't. However, there is one crisis management philosophy most ex-reporters endorse that can be risky. We consultants need to be careful of it and you, the potential crisis victim, should too. Beware of tell it all, tell it now.
This approach simply means that after you or your company stumble, tell how you screwed up, tell it fast, make amends, and move on. Tell it all, tell it now!
Journalists are inclined to think "tell it all" is smart because most of the businesses that got out of a mess with us the fastest were those that practiced it. They came clean quickly, didn't hide, were transparent, and vowed to do the right thing. We and the public got our pound of flesh and shifted to the next big story.
Well, it ain't always that simple! While "tell it all" usually works for companies restoring reputations after honest mistakes, simple negligence, or unavoidable events; it's quite another thing to spill your guts if you made mistakes carrying substantial potential penalties such as fines, sanctions, and prison.
As much as I hate to use them as examples, let's look at two lawbreakers to make the point: former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling and Martha Stewart. Skilling is likely to go to prison for a long time for conspiracy, fraud and more while his company famously tanked, and Stewart has long since logged her five months behind bars for false statements to federal investigators. Although juries convicted them for wholly different transgressions, Skilling and Stewart are noteworthy because both compounded their problems by talking too much.
Former Enron president Skilling told The Wall Street Journal June 17 that the person most helpful to prosecutors was himself. He said, "I was the best source of information that the government had. Absolutely." He told of how, after his company plunged into bankruptcy, he spoke at congressional hearings and appeared on the Larry King show. He even gave interviews to the Securities and Exchange Commission. All was done, Skilling said with no apparent irony, because it was the "ethical" thing to do. He described how prosecutors successfully used his statements against him in court. The former Enron exec chastised himself and said, "Stupid me."
In Martha Stewart's case, which I have written about before, she did not go to a federal correctional institution for insider trading. She went after openly talking to investigators looking into the matter and lying. L.A. defense lawyer Robert Shapiro (remember OJ?) chastised Stewart in the Journal for believing that she could give prosecutors "a convincingly innocent explanation of the suspect sale" of ImClone stock when she shouldn't have been talking at all. Stewart also talked a bit about her situation during a regular appearance on a network news morning show. She expressed confidence she would be exonerated of "all this ridiculousness." But should she have said anything?
This is why a team is essential to strategizing during a crisis. There should be a constructive push-pull between people like me trying to protect your reputation and lawyers and trusted colleagues trying to prevent you from self-inflicting wounds. It is a balancing act where no one strategy works all the time.
So, in especially serious matters, talk it through with your team before opening your mouth. Tell it all, tell it now may be just right. Then again, it could send you to jail. In my experience, the solution is somewhere in between.
Rick Amme is President of Amme & Associates, www.amme.com, a media/crisis communications company in Winston-Salem.
Disaster Response Challenge
The Disaster Response Challenge from 15-17 September 2006 is a unique two-day event exclusive to the British Red Cross. It provides an opportunity for participants to experience firsthand the issues and decisions faced by the British Red Cross Emergency Response Unit (ERU) - something that only a handful of people get to experience in a lifetime. Built around a hypothetical disaster that unfolds in real time, this Challenge tests the calmest and most practical of you as you develop your own 'Disaster Response Plan'. You will be taken out of your comfort zone, into an environment where in real life your decisions would be a matter of life and death. More info at: http://www.redcross.org.uk/events_page.asp?id=52474&ONav=52466 Contact: Clare Murray, email@example.com
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:
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 www.cafepress.com/crisismanager.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, email@example.com.
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