© 2007 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
The Athenians, alarmed at the internal decay of their Republic, asked Demosthenes what to do. His reply: "Do not do what you are doing now."
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
JetblueŐs Crisis Communications Planning
What You DidnŐt Read About in Most Media Coverage
By Jonathan Bernstein
I gave at least seven national media interviews about JetBlueŐs post-crisis response, agreeing with other crisis management pros that CEO David Neeleman and his team made a "textbook perfect" response, but media coverage to date has focused primarily on what JetBlue intends to do to correct operational deficiencies going forward. It has done little to reveal what the airline did in terms of crisis communications planning PRIOR to the icestorm situation, a topic of great interest to me and, I presume, readers of this newsletter. It beggared belief that Neeleman was just "winging it," although thatŐs impression left by some media interviews.
I fired off a series of questions on this topic to Sebastian White, manager of corporate communications for JetBlue, which became the basis for the Q&A below and my editorial side-comments youŐll find parenthetically therein. After reading this, I think youŐll understand how Mr. Neeleman seemed, almost effortlessly, to be everywhere he needed to be to preserve JetBlueŐs reputation despite its admitted errors.
JB: Prior to the ice storm, did JetBlue have a crisis communications plan?
SW: Yes. JetBlue has a comprehensive crisis strategy that includes a major communications component.
JB: Who created your plan?
SW: The corporate communications team, along with our Care and Emergency Response department.
JB: Was your crisis communications plan based on a formal company vulnerability assessment or based on collective estimates of what "might go wrong?" Or on some other factors?
SW: There are few unknowns in terms of possible crises that we must be prepared for. The historical record shows us what we need to be prepared for.
[Bernstein Comment: I have to disagree with this conclusion. The historical record only identifies what has gone wrong, not what MIGHT go wrong. Just because something hasnŐt happened yet doesnŐt mean youŐre invulnerable to it. A comprehensive vulnerability audit identifies the seeds of potential crises in every functional area of an organization.]
JB: Did your plan include communications procedures and response related to a major business interruption and/or serious weather condition?
SW: The crisis communications plan provides a guide for disruptions of all sorts, including system failures and weather. Fortunately for us, our strategy has rarely had to be put into place. When we activated our emergency command center and opened our media room - where we triaged thousands of inquiries from reporters - we were well-prepared. In addition to our team of full-time spokesmen, we brought in the half-dozen members of our marketing department who are trained to be spokesmen in these kinds of situations. Their help made it possible to respond quickly to all media inquiries without having to prioritize which news outlets we were going to call back first. Every call was answered, and most questions from reporters were answered immediately. From day one, our "strategy," which simply felt more like "the right thing to do," was to be as transparent and forthright as possible. We acknowledged our missteps and our shortcomings and apologized for them. We had nothing to hide, and we knew we owed it to our loyal Customers to let them know exactly what was happening.
JB: Were your procedures and messages designed for both internal and external stakeholders?
SW: Our team is comprised of communicators who are experts at not only media relations, but internal communications, as well. Our crisis communications plan is equal parts media outreach and internal messaging. Our Crewmembers rely on us to provide them the most accurate and up-to-date information, and our Customers rely on us to be able to deliver that information. Before any statements or official information was released publicly, it was released internally through company-wide emails and our intranet. Keeping our crewmembers informed of whatŐs happening in their company is a top priority in all situations, but especially when we are in crisis mode.
JB: Did you do any training with the plan pre-crisis?
SW: Crisis communication plans are reviewed periodically to ensure we are up-to-date and have the best strategies as our airline continues to grow and evolve. We are constantly planning media and communication trainings for company leaders, but we have a very strong company discipline for routing all media inquiries through our corporate communications office. We have locations in 50 cities and six countries, yet all official comment comes through our headquarters in New York. Our crewmembers did an excellent job at referring media to us, and for not commenting on the record. They also assisted immensely when confronted with television reporters and photographers in our airports.
JB: Had you conducted testing/simulation exercises with your plan?
SW: Our Care and Emergency Response team, in conjunction with the major departments at JetBlue, conducts regular crisis simulations exercises. This includes aircraft evacuation drills and tabletop exercises. However, even the most comprehensive crisis planning does not prepare you fully for the realities of a crisis situation. Our crisis plan laid the foundation for the strategy executed by our leadership and our communicators.
JB: Did your plan work for you in the icestorm situation or did you, if youŐll excuse the expression, have to "wing it" at the time?
SW: Crisis communication plans are essential to have, but every situation is unique and requires a communications team to be agile and resilient. Our crisis plan played out just as expected, but we did have a few situations we had not anticipated -- like the TV reporters who camped out at JFK for days on end. In conjunction with our security team, we responded quickly with a strategy for dealing with them. We instituted a policy requiring pre-approved TV crews to provide a password for airport security personnel. It was simple but effective way of managing the volume of TV requests, and for weeding out those outlets who were disturbing our customers or whose presence was interfering with normal airport operations.
JB: Did you discover, after the fact, that there were any of what I would call "system flaws" that slowed or blocked your efficacy in any component of crisis communications? Examples of system flaws would include insufficient phone lines for incoming and outgoing contacts, an overwhelmed 800# or a website that was greatly slowed or crashed due to traffic volume.
SW: We did have system issues with an overloaded reservations line; customers endured hold times that were unacceptable. We hadno real issues in executing our communication plan. We have a fully equipped media phone bank that served our needs well, and our online strategy went off without a hitch. Our website had no issues. We issued regular press releases informing customers of what was happening in our operation. We also created a proactive media list for the cities that were impacted by our suspension of service during our system disruption. We reached out to media in those 11 markets with at least two outreach communications to advise what was happening, and what resources JetBlue had available to them.
I didn't ask Sebastian if his department was conducting a post-mortem to assess what they could have done even better, but from what I've been told so far, I suspect that process will be crisis communications "business as usual" at JetBlue.
EditorŐs Note: IŐm pleased to bring you two short excerpts from this just-published, 12-page white paper. I am particularly impressed with the second excerpt, on detecting and analyzing "message travel," which is not a topic we see discussed very often.
How To Make Crisis Communications More Effective With Media Monitoring: Two Excerpts
By Chip Griffin
Detect the Crisis before it Occurs
Obviously, this is easier said than done. Not every crisis can be known in advance and some level of surprise is likely. The crash of an airliner or an industrial accident canŐt be accurately predicted in advance (and if it is, your corporate counsel is a better source of advice than any PR shop!). But other events can show early warning signs that may be picked up through careful media monitoring.
For instance, take the case of Kryptonite bike locks. In 2004, that company was hit with the allegation that one of its locks, the Evolution 2000, could be picked with a simple ballpoint pen. The charge appeared not in the mainstream media, but on a bike enthusiastsŐ message board. It was subsequently picked up by bloggers who included a link to a video demonstrating the ease with which the supposedly secure lock could be defeated.
Influential PR blogger Steve Rubel analyzed it succinctly when he wrote on his own blog: "Before I go on with the story, think for a moment what might have happened had the company been listening and using monitoring tools and had learned of this incident while it as in this early embryonic stage. They might have been able to have prevented what happened next."
Eleven days after the Kryptonite story broke in the blogs, the New York Times picked up the story. Still, the company had failed to notice or respond. As Steve says, if they had effectively employed a comprehensive monitoring strategy, they likely would have had an opportunity to eliminate or at least mitigate the threat before it mushroomed. Regrettably, they failed to do so and reports suggest that Kryptonite lost millions of dollars in the process.
Complaints from individuals about consumer products such as these are but one example of the kind of crisis that can be detected through careful monitoring. Restaurant chains might keep an eye out for posts of diners who report feeling ill after a visit to see if patterns develop that might require attention. Pharmaceutical companies can read reports on patientsŐ blogs that suggest possible adverse side effects. Software companies might detect security or other concerns in advance of formal media reports.
Discover Patterns of Message Travel
The rapid flow of information online can prove to be a blessing or a curse. By using media monitoring technology to filter through vast amounts of data, you can turn that information flow to your advantage. Utilizing real-time monitoring, you now have the ability to discover emerging patterns of message travel through traditional and new media.
What does "message travel" mean exactly? ItŐs the concept that there are certain news sources that serve as a catalyst for additional coverage from blogs or media outlets. For instance, there are certain bloggers, commonly referred to as the "A-List," who will see their posts frequently linked to by other prominent or up-and-coming bloggers. There are also traditional media outlets, such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which have a similar effect on their brethren. When you see a story appear in any of these key locations, you can expect that it will gain traction and see the light of day in many more places before the story is spent.
While some of these originators will be obvious to you based on common sense or your past experience, thereŐs little doubt that each crisis will reveal another outlet or blogger that has this sort of influence and impact. Since many crises will entail more than one round of coverage from key outlets, you should take advantage of the first wave of stories to find those individuals who are demonstrating that, on that particular story at that particular time, they are having the impact of being at the edge of the megaphone. As subsequent waves move forward, you can then be sure to communicate your message vigorously to those influencers to help guide the flow of messages throughout the rest of the media.
The full white paper can be downloaded at www.customscoop.com/crisis. Author Chip Griffin is CEO and co-founder of CustomScoop, www.customscoop.com, a leader in the online news clipping service industry. He is a long-time blogger, self-described "serial entrepreneur" and a pioneer in the field of online media tracking. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
RSS Can Deliver Malicious Code
EditorŐs Note: Since weŐre all staying informed for purposes of crisis prevention and response, many of us now use RSS feeds to track blogs, in particular. However, hackers are now targeting RSS feeds, so beware! The following is from PCWorld.com
Users of Web feed services such as Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and Atom might want to make doubly sure they are not downloading malicious code along with their favorite Web content.
That's because the growing use of Web feed readers and the proliferation of content-aggregation sites are giving hackers a really simple way to deliver keystroke loggers, Trojan horses and other malware onto their computers, security analysts warn.
See the full story at: http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,129262/article.html?tk=nl_cxanws
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:
email@example.com. $25 in hard copy, spiral bound/card stock cover and $10 as a printable PDF file.
Disaster Prep 101
Bernstein Crisis Management is pleased to present one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly family preparedness texts available today. "Disaster Prep 101." by Paul Purcell, goes above and beyond the simplistic "72-hour kit" concept and provides simple, yet detailed educational material that will drastically improve the ability of any family to respond to all manner of disasters or emergencies. This preparedness package contains over 400 pages of well-organized, original preparedness material written in an easy-to-understand, non-panic format; 80 pages of family data forms and worksheets (many of which are also useful to the employer); and a 2-CD set containing two interactive and searchable links collections for additional educational sources; all the family data forms and worksheets in softcopy format; and a complete emergency reference library of over 450 additional books and training manuals! US$59.95. Available here.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
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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.
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