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

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2007 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 15,000+


The Internet has changed all the rules here in terms of mobilizing public opinion on important issues.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.)


Editor's Note: I had the great pleasure of getting to know Don Hamilton after he invited me to present at the just-concluded and immensely successful National Campus Security Summit. I was very pleased when he offered this article to be published, because my clients and other business associates often ask me who should be the spokesperson for their organization in various circumstances. Don does an excellent job of delineating the different roles spokespersons may play.

Selecting Your Voice
By Donald R. Hamilton

Selecting a spokeswoman -- someone to be your public face -- is not as simple as may be supposed.

The Official Spokesman

Many, if not most, organizations have one person who is designated as the official Point of Contact for mass media, and often, for inquiries from the public. In the normal run of events, this person will be thoroughly informed about the general nature of the organization, and have more detailed knowledge about areas in which there are frequent inquiries. Additionally, the official spokesman is familiar with media requirements. She should know the broadcast times for all electronic media who are in regular contact, as well as the deadlines for both broadcast and print journalists. Often this spokesman will have established a personal relationship with reporters who routinely cover the organization he represents. Additionally, the spokesman knows the form in which media can most readily make use of the information he provides. For example, he would know that for television news it is important to provide short, quotable capsules that take up little air time ("sound bites"). He would routinely provide financial news organizations with earnings data, etc.

The Boss

This individual exercises executive authority over the organization and is presumed to have the authority to commit the organization to future actions and is ultimately responsible for the event or events which have provoked the crisis. The power of such a spokeswoman flows from her authority and responsibility. She is not expected to be able to know media requirements or even the details of the incident in question. This spokeswoman sets the tone for other spokesmen and tells general and specialized audiences, including internal audiences such as board members and line workers, how the organization regards the situation and what it intends to do.

The Operational Director

This is the man with muddy boots, the equivalent of a field commander, and he is expected to have mastered the details of what has happened, what is happening and what is expected to happen. The Operational DirectorÕs great strength is credibility. He is or has been on the scene and explains what he is doing and why he is doing it at a level of detail not expected of a chief executive or a full-time spokeswoman.

The Expert

Occasionally a crisis arises from an extraordinarily complex process, which is readily discernable only by experts. The expert in this case is analogous to an expert witness in a judicial process. The function is to take highly complex facts, circumstances and processes and convert them into simple language understandable to an audience accustomed to receiving information somewhere between the sixth and tenth grade level. The ability to simplify complex information is an absolute requirement for an expert serving as a spokesman. Technical mastery, no matter how complete, is of no value if it cannot be put in more simple, lay terms.

The Lawyer

An attorney is seldom the best choice for spokesman. While competent counsel will almost certainly not say anything to increase your legal exposure, legal exposure is not often the most serious element of a crisis -- and even when it is, legal exposure does not stand entirely apart from public opinion. We cannot deny that a thousand mafia movies and cop shows have led us to believe that those who speak through their attorney are guilty. An attorney is an appropriate spokeswoman on one occasion: If the organization must explain its legal position on an issue, by all means, use an attorney. Even then, use the attorney in conjunction with other spokesmen who will explain other aspects of the situation.

Donald R. Hamilton served at U.S. Embassies in Tel Aviv, Lima, Caracas, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Mexico. He also worked in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the State Department and the United States Information Agency in Washington and in the Coalition Provision Authority in Iraq. He is currently Executive Director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

Editor's Note: Larry Dietz does an superb job of succintly discussing a cross-section of the many elements we address in crisis preparedness work.

Crisis Action Planning, unlike chicken soup, does not get better with age
By Lawrence Dietz

Bad things happen to good people and unless they are prepared to deal with them bad things turn into disasters or worse. Like most aspects of running an organization, disaster planning is a mesh of people, process and technology. Most disruptions to business operations are unplanned; consequently, knowing what to do instinctively before something bad happens can mean the difference between success and failure and sometimes even life and death.

This week I had the opportunity to be an observer as a client went through a Ōtable topÕ Crisis Management Plan exercise. Key representatives came from the executive team, finance, corporate treasury, legal, corporate communications and HR. They were run through an expanding scenario that required them to state their priorities and indicate what they would need by way of information from the various teams in the room. Issues as to which organization would be the lead for various aspects of the "crisis" were also hashed out.

As the exercise unfolded it was clear that Corporate Security and HR had worked on many of these issues before, and that there was a general spirit of teamwork and cooperation. It wasnÕt until after the exercise was over that I learned that IT wasnÕt involved and that the Information Security functions were spread out over several "Managers". There was good news and bad news here. The good news was that the overall team functioned well and could work on the few areas where they needed improvement. The bad news was that the focus had shifted so far from technology that a second level exercise, one with real players and data, would very likely not be so smooth.

Disaster preparedness for organizations takes many forms. A good place to start is identifying the critical people and processes that need to continue to function regardless of interruptions. Then determine the tools they will need under a variety of circumstances to execute those functions and develop the plans and logistics needed to achieve these ends.

A couple of key things that may often get missed are:

  1. 7x24 hour crisis management and engagement of law enforcement. In the case of 7 x 24 operations it is important to realize that a special team needs to be identified and that team removed from their day to day duties to focus on crisis management and actions.
  2. The issue of engaging law enforcement is a bit more complex. Organizations recognize that they may need to involve law enforcement quickly in certain cases such as work place violence; however, in the case of theft of intellectual property, improper employee behavior such as ŌlegalÕ pornography, industry generally is in no rush to engage law enforcement. In any event, organizations need to determine their philosophy ahead of time. They need to identify: incidents that will immediately involve law enforcement; which law enforcement agency should be notified and the circumstances to do so; individuals who are the principal points of contact, etc. These decisions need to be made prior to the stress of incidents.

It should also be borne in mind that organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Natural disasters and selected manmade ones will likely involve the geographic area surrounding the organization and affect employee welfare and freedom of movement. It is prudent to work with local government and key non government organizations (NGO) such as the Red Cross to understand the total setting. Communal planning for disasters is a continuous process for many organizations — it should be for yours as well.

Lawrence Dietz is Research Director for The Sageza Group,

After Action Report — National Campus Security Summit

I just returned from presenting at the National Campus Security Summit in Oklahoma City, organized by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and the University of Central Oklahoma. The concept was born immediately following the VA Tech tragedy and, within days, speakers were being sought. The event was officially announced barely three weeks ago, but in-person attendance was sold out. Approximately 500 registrants from 34 states, plus a still-unavailable number of attendees via free webcasts of the sessions. My hat is off to what seemed to be hundreds of individuals who "worked" the event and made it happen almost flawlessly — and with rapid and effective scrambling for the few glitches I encountered.

The good news for everyone who couldn't attend or see the live webcasts is that in approximately two weeks, archived editions of the Summit's sessions will be available online. I'll be sure to bring you the URL.

In the meantime, if you'd like a copy of the handouts I used for my Fundamentals of Crisis Communications presentation, drop me an email,


Keeping The Wolves At Bay 3.0 Reviewed

"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" is much more than another media training guide — it is perhaps one of the most concise, insightful, useful and savvy guides to strategic thinking about reputation issues available.

Gerald Baron
Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of

It's like a Swiss Army knife — lots of cool tools in a compact package. In case of emergency, grab this.

Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
Publisher, About Public Relations

The spiral-bound print manual is available for $25, the PDF version for $10. Both can be ordered at

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.


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


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