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+


He was trespassing.

Only comment made by Norfolk-Southern Railroad spokesperson Rudy Husband after a man was killed by one of their trains


Editor's Note: I am the son of a career diplomat and therefore was born and raised overseas -- in France, Italy, Nigeria, England and Korea. Then the US Army gave me some time in Germany and I have traveled in the years since then. All this to say that while I was taught to become a functional part of the culture in which I resided, that doesn't come natural to Americans born and raised in the United States. Many -- not all -- act as if wherever we go is America and "how dare those foreigners" not bend their local ways to our needs. This article talks about how that type of mind-set hampers effective business and crisis management decisions by American companies overseas.

Whether It's Crisis Or Diplomacy Overseas: You Must Know The Culture
By Ram Baliga and Rick Amme

Coke and Pepsi's struggle to stop a pesticide scare in India is a window into an issue critical to all who do business with other countries, to those who plan to do so and frankly to the rest of us: the need for cultural immersion in all countries we deal with.

India's Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) claimed that 57 bottles of the soft drinks in 12 Indian states contained unsafe levels of pesticide. Sales plummeted and Kerala, a southern state governed by a democratically elected communist government, imposed a sales and production ban on both. Coke and Pepsi chiefly used domestic and international experts and studies to prove the drinks were safe. That usually effective crisis strategy didn't work and the companies labor to restore pre-scandal business.

Those who really know India understand that CSE and the government of Kerala were actually using Coke and Pepsi as straw men. Remembering Coke's trouble in Belgium with benzene contamination, CSE played the pesticide card against the cola companies: 1) to inflame public concern about India's economic reforms, reforms that it attributes to multinational corporations in general and American in particular, and 2) to play on the widespread belief that these reforms and globalization are re-colonizing India and widening the gap between haves and have-nots. If Coke and Pepsi had better understood this, their strategy should not have been a sound-bite battle over whether their drinks are safe, but rather a mobilization of employees, business, governmental and institutional allies to speak for them. Many Indians benefit from the Coke/Pepsi presence and their passionate voices would carry more weight with the Centre for Science and Environment and the Kerala government than arguments over parts per million.

Sun Tsu's The Art of War says "Know thine enemy as thyself." The aphorism for global interaction should be, "Know the cultures, histories and politics of your foreign partners as thine own."

American managers often don't. They prefer living in "golden ghettos" - enclaves isolated and insulated from the host country. Therefore they fail to see cultural, historical and political potholes. True cultural immersion can help managers better deal with a crisis and perhaps forestall one and, significantly, grow business. Consider KFC.

Indians accused KFC of undermining local agriculture with high-tech chicken breeding methods and selling chicken containing carcinogens. KFC's response emphasized its "Indian heart". Aware that the cow is sacred to Hindus, the menu had many vegetarian dishes. The restaurants even avoided rennet, a part of a calf's stomach often used to speed the curdling of milk for cheese. The outcome? KFC successfully re-launched its chain in India in 2003.

Government policymakers also need awareness of cultural and political sensitivities. Take China. Research shows that most Chinese believe the U.S. government is trying to tell their country what to do. They don't like it. China's leaders believe the U.S. wants to keep them poor and weak. China-bashing that sells here is counterproductive there. Despite U-S pressure, China's leaders have refused to revalue their currency to avoid the perception of caving to American demands. New U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a China veteran, is taking a different tack. He is making progress by persuading China how everyone benefits from revaluation. He's trying to persuade the Asian giant there would be further benefits if it opened itself to more global business. Paulson does not demand. He knows the culture, appreciates what works. He negotiates, he cajoles, but most of all he understands who he's dealing with.

Not just China believes the U.S. tries to muscle its goals on the globe. Those ridiculing U-N speeches in September by the leaders of Iran and Venezuela that inappropriately insulted President Bush, nevertheless also accused the U.S. of acting as though it ran the world. Significantly, many at the conference applauded.

Yes, there are enormously difficult issues with China, Iran, Venezuela, and other nations that are not of our making. Even so, whether in business or diplomacy, we believe that a deeper understanding of the histories, cultures, and politics of our overseas partners and potential adversaries combined with regular dialogue would be more constructive and more profitable.

Ram Baliga is the John B. McKinnon Professor of Management in the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University. Dr. Baliga teaches in the areas of strategy and international management. Rick Amme is President of Amme & Associates,, a media/crisis communications company in Winston-Salem. Rick's contact info:

Know The Blogosphere
By Jonathan Bernstein

There are now more then 57 million blogs, with that number expected to double in less than a year. Blogs currently optimize (show up in search engine rankings) quicker than most traditional websites, and the use of blogs by critics and activists has had a rapidly growing impact on crisis management.

One of the best places to become better educated about blogs is at Technorati, which is in the business of tracking the growth of what is now known as the "blogosphere." Technorati Founder Dave Sifry publishes a quarterly "State of the Blogosphere" report, the latest version being located at:

Some of the highlights from that report:

Today, the blogosphere is doubling in size approximately every 230 days.

About 100,000 new weblogs were created each day, again down slightly quarter-over-quarter but probably due in part to spam fighting efforts.

There is a strong correlation between the aging and post frequency of blogs and their authority and Technorati ranking.

The globalization of the blogosphere continues. Our data appears to show both English and Spanish languages are a more universal blog language than the other two most dominant language, Japanese and Chinese, which seem to be more regionally localized.

Coincident with a rise in blog posts about escalating Middle East tensions throughout the summer and fall, Farsi has moved into the top 10 languages of the blogosphere, indicating that blogging continues to play a critical role in debates about the important issues of our times.

The Big Story Will Appear Mid-December

For those who have been reading my promises of a major news story that I was going to break in this ezine, my client and I have had good fortune beyond our wildest expectations. I was able to get a very prominent national news organization interested in this matter even before it is published, and that organization has the exclusive first right to break the story. As they break it, I will publish a special edition of this ezine and launch a related website. As promised, all readers will have the opportunity to help resolve this crisis situation, should you choose to do so!


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:

Have Webcam And Videoconferencing, Will Consult
An Offer from Jonathan Bernstein

Would you like to bring me to your next staff or board meeting, virtually, to conduct some training on crisis preparedness, crisis response, or "just" to give a good solid orientation on the subject of crisis management? There's a great value to "face time," but sometimes the cost and time required for travel make it impossible. If you or your IT department can allow a webcam stream into your computer (and better yet if you can send one back), we don't need no stinkin' high-tech, we can do this lower tech. I am constantly trying to bring more affordable services to clients who may not have the budget for other options, so this is an experiment. I have a webcam and am happy to bill by the hour for short-term consulting if this option is of interest. There is also a videoconferencing facility very close to my office if you would like to use that instead. Call 626-825-3838 or 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


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


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.


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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