© 2007 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
My Top 5 Internet-Related Crisis Management Tips
By Jonathan Bernstein
On January 4, 1994, I launched what was then known as Bernstein Communications, which evolved into Bernstein Crisis Management (BCM) about eight years later. My consultancy has been in the fortunate position of being a surfboard riding a wave called "the Internet," as I entered PR already a geek and was able to use that experience to enhance the visibility of BCM and to help my clients be effectively reactive or proactive via online communications.
So, in the tradition of some non-Western cultures, IÕd like to give you a gift on the occasion of my companyÕs 13th birthday. The following are the top 5 Internet-related actions any organization must take, in my opinion, to effectively prevent and/or manage crises:
1. Be Prepared to Manage Crises 24/7
I have had more than a few clients whose culture assumes that work is done during daylight hours on weekdays. The Internet, on the other hand, never sleeps - and neither do the newshounds who feed it. Virtually every media outlet has a website, in addition to its print or broadcast operation, and some media are strictly online operations. The hunger for news is not restricted to their time zones or even to their countries of origin. Recently, for example, a situation that would have only been news in Canada, if it had happened 10 or even 5 years ago, quickly appeared in a Russian publication. How do I know that? Because I collect intelligence - in real time - related to my clients. Your crisis management team members, especially anyone responsible for communication, must be available 24/7.
2. Collect Intelligence
IÕve said before that the Internet is much like the famous song "AliceÕs Restaurant," where you can get anything you want (except online you could also probably get Alice, IÕm afraid). Your critics, competitors and (if you come into the public eye) the media can and will read everything they can find about you, NONE of which should come as any surprise to you because you should already have read it and be prepared to answer questions about anything that would raise eyebrows. If you donÕt know how to do such expert research, then hire a geek who can. Heck, often you can find an intern who will be happy to do the job for minimum wage. Remember, though, IÕm not just talking about news clippings, but ANYTHING that might be in the public record (e.g., court records, regulatory agencies). Ensure that any news clipping service you use is capable of delivering you results almost the moment they appear online.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
DonÕt leave your organization vulnerable to critics who can launch an anti-(name of your organization) site in minutes. Make sure your own sites - multiple sites if possible - are highly ranked under your own name and under the terms by which you want to be found. ItÕs not only dangerous, but highly embarrassing, to be outranked by your critics! Effective SEO also produces more business (95 percent of my new business, for example) and makes you visible to media so that you can become expert sources in your respective fields.
4. Allocate the Budget Necessary to Maintain Information Security
There are few situations more embarrassing and, often, more damaging than a breach of confidentiality resulting from compromise of your computer system, whether it be a single computer or a corporate server. Additionally, almost all organizations outside of third-world countries are highly dependent on functional computer systems to operate, so anything which takes those systems down immediately creates a potential crisis. At the same time, corporate leadership often makes the assumption that someone qualified to work in your IT department, or as an IT consultant, is also fully qualified to ensure that your information remains secure and your systems uncompromised. THAT IS OFTEN A FALSE ASSUMPTION. There are specialists within the IT world just as within the legal or PR fields. You may well be best served by an IT "generalist" on a day-to-day basis, but that individual, and his/her CEO, needs to know what they donÕt know and be humble and practical enough to call in experts who can optimize system security. If you have the luxury of such expertise in-house, you are the rare exception, in my experience.
5. Have Multiple Means of Accessing the Internet
In my last issue, I wrote about how I maintain "connectivity" for my small business, how to ensure that you have Internet access no matter where you are, which is essential for crisis management in this century. A common flaw I have found in the connectivity plans of larger organizations is too much dependence on their own serverÕs "up time" and an inability to function when itÕs down. In particular, there is a lack of planning, by small and large organizations, for how to operate if you canÕt use your primary server and/or computer system for an extended period of time - e.g., following a major earthquake or hurricane. This is another of those usually under-funded crisis preparedness activities that come back to haunt you later.
Data Security, Terrorism Top List Of Executive Worries
Topping the list of crisis situations that worry corporate executives is Compromise of Corporate Information Systems, cited by 61 percent as a major worry or one of their top worries. The rest, in descending order, were terrorism (55%), corporate malfeasance (40%), environmental mishaps (32%), negative claims about product health or safety (30%), internet rumors and misinformation (29%), industrial accidents (24%), product contamination or tampering (23%), product recalls (21%) and workplace violence (19%).
These are among the results of an Internet-based survey of 197 senior executives of large corporations (US$1 billion+ in revenue) conducted in September 2006 by Harris Interactive¨.
"No business can survive without customer trust," said Mike Dabadie, division president of the companyÕs Brand and Strategic Consulting practice. "In todayÕs computerized economy, customers trust companies with a lot of sensitive personal and financial information. Any breach of data security that would compromise that trust can have a devastating impact on the companyÕs reputation."
Commenting on the 55 percent who named terrorism as a major worry, Dabadie said, "The fact that, more than five years after 9/11, more than half of business leaders are still worried about terrorism is a significant finding."
Source: "Crisis Management: Turning the Worst Case into a Positive," The Harris Report, Vol. 1 Issue 4 (December 2006), Harris Interactive, Inc. http://www.harrisinteractive.com/news/harrisreport.asp. A chart illustrating the results can also be found at: www.harrisinteractive.com/news/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=1132
Editor's Note: I received this email from a reader who preferred that her identity and that of her organization remain anonymous, but itÕs more proof that the basic concepts of effective crisis communications continue to hold true - and that you have to remember that your email could easily end up in the wrong hands!
Company Emails Forwarded To The Media
Good day! I just wanted to let you know that we recently encountered a situation where "company" emails had been forwarded directly to the media (a TV station). And although not illegal, they were about voting and taken very poorly by some staff and rightly so.
Our CEO thought she was being humorous, while some of the staff perceived it as being aggressive... no details really needed.
When she asked me what to do, since I'm the PR rep, I told her "the big dump" - tell the truth, say you are sorry and mean it. I also told her she had to do the TV interview... which she really didn't want to do. In fact, she was crying while speaking to the reporter.
We had a few disagreements when the board got involved, but when the TV crew came out she went on camera. I did have to tell her to hide her notes and I'm not sure I completely agreed with how our lawyer said not to admit to anything.
She did follow my advice and spoke to the reporter and I did notice that even after the camera was off, she was still hooked to the mike. When she was talking with the cameraman, I spoke with the reporter and noted how she was devastated that staff took the email the wrong way, that she will address the issues internally to heal the wounds.
It was then that he said that if she hadn't wanted to do the interview, or if she had appeared less sincere and not admitted to a 'mistake,' the producers of the 11 p.m. newscast would've led with this story.
Instead, it didn't even air.
So, honesty, showing emotion (within reason, I'm sure) and being willing to face your fears and answer the questions works! IT SAVED THE DAY for our not-for-profit organization and those we serve.
The information you provide works - I've heard it before and I'll keep doing it - be honest, don't hide anything, admit the mistake and let everyone know how you're going to work to prevent it from happening again!
Thanks and Happy Holidays.
CEO Must-Read: Time Magazine December 25 - January 1 Issue
If you want a superb, easy-to-digest description of todayÕs Internet environment, its risks, its opportunities, then retrieve or pick out of your "I mean to read this sometime" pile the TIME "Person of the Year" issue in which that person is "You."
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:
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 email@example.com.
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.
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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