Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I don't believe anyone will be offended if the staff and Senior Consultants here at the Institute for Crisis Management wish you all a very HAPPY and MORE PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR.

Now that we've got that nasty old 2009 behind us, and the economic recovery is just around the corner, it's time to start catching up on all the projects that got put off or delayed in 2009.

Updating the old crisis communication plan, or even creating one for the first time, should be a top priority for everyone and every organization of any size.

And scheduling a table-top exercise, or two, to practice the crisis management team, is a must. You really don't have a crisis plan -- operation, communication or recovery, until your management team has tested them.

Then, there's the media/spokesperson training or update coaching for critical organization spokespersons that got put off in the past year.

And, if you have some key people in your organization that could and should be out meeting key audiences and telling your story, we also provide public-speaking training and coaching.

We do all kinds of custom crisis communication and media training on site at your facility and four times a year we offer comprehensive and intense crisis communication training and media/spokesperson training here in Louisville, KY. This training is open to anyone, no matter what their primary job responsibilities may be. In fact, almost every one of those classes, in recent years, has included participants from around the world who fly to Louisville to train with ICM.

To learn more about ICM Crisis Communication Certification Training click on:

"The System Worked" Wasn't What She Meant

This week's verbal blunder by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is a valuable lesson to anyone and everyone that may end up in front of a reporter or a camera and mic following a crisis or near crisis.

Following the unsuccessful attempt by a 23-year-old Nigerian to blow up a Detroit bound jetliner, Secretary Napolitano told a CNN audience "The system worked" when, in fact, it did NOT. Pundits and critics alike have compared her seeming Pollyanna statement to the former President Bush's declaration on live TV to then-FEMA Director Michael Brown, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" while the networks were showing live video of people going hungry and virtually trapped in the New Orleans' Superdome and bloated bodies were still floating in the flood waters left behind by Hurricane Katrina.

When you represent any organization in a crisis -- government, business, non-profit, school, hospital, etc. -- your every word and phrase will be dissected for its meaning, accuracy and even tone.

I don't believe Secretary Napolitano was even trying to imply the security system had worked when it failed to stop a young man from carrying explosives onto a U.S. bound passenger jet. She later tried to explain that she meant the follow-up "system" was working.

No matter, her statement was ambiguous at best or down right inappropriate. And she not only opened her self to criticism and attack by political opponents, she opened the whole Administration and President Obama to criticism.

Anyone who thinks he/she is good enough with the media/public to just "wing it" or just "speak honestly" and "from the heart" is naive and bound for additional disaster.

Even if you are not the CEO, or the designated spokesperson, or especially if you are NOT one of those, you must be careful what you say and how you say it. Anyone who hears or reads something you say, will assume you are speaking for the organization and if you misspeak, it may or may not be fixable.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finally, Someone Did It Right

Zhu Zhu Pets came under attack a week ago by the consumer protection website and within 24-hours ZhuZhu manufacturer Cepia, LLC went on the offensive.

The company launched an aggressive and fact-based crisis communication plan that was based on the idea "they had nothing to hide," and using traditional media, they drove concerned parents and grandparents to their web site with reassuring information about the safety of their product.

At the same time, Cepia contacted their distributors and toy stores, such as Toys R Us to give them information they could use and to reassure them the toy was safe.

Then, Cepia was able to capitalize on third-party endorsers, including the US Consumer Product Safety Commission which quickly declared the toys met all federal safety standards.

Cepia also took advantage of their core of "mommy bloggers" that helped promote the toy in its initial launch.

It didn't hurt any that the toy industry, as a whole, had a stake in this fight. Cepia vice-president of marketing Natalie Hornsby was quick to point out that the entire toy industry has very high safety standards.

Toy marketing experts predict the "bump in the road" for the mechanical hamster will be minor and Hornsby says they still expect to sell 6-million ZhuZhu pets by the end of this year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ouch! Did someone yell "FOUR?"

I tried, heaven knows I tried, to avoid a golfing metaphor, but I'm just too weak!

It has been almost as fascinating to hear and read all the different points of view about Tiger Woods and his lack of public response, as it has been to see the details trickle out, one morsel at a time, day after day.

Every day we work with intelligent men and women -- well educated, well read, well financed, used to authority and power and deferential treatment from almost everyone around them. And I still am amazed out how naive, self-centered and "above it all" some of them can be.

If you are a super star CEO, actor, politician, President of the United States or even the best golfer in the world, how can you convince yourself that you can do whatever feels good, or strokes your ego and no one will ever find out?

How many tell-all books and "exclusive" interviews are done every year by groupies who give themselves to celebrities and then try to cash in on it?

The first big name client of ours, who was about to be exposed by a woman, did not take our advice and ended up in the headlines for months. When he decided to ignore the threat and take his chances, I offered him one more bit of advise: "When you get ready to go to sleep each evening, make sure all the kitchen knives are locked up." He must have taken that advice. There was never a noticeable change in his voice after his wife found out.

When the tabloids broke the story about Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton, he dug in and denied knowing her and for months the story was in the news daily. It distracted him and Congress from dealing with serious national and world issues and went on until early the next year when he conceded he DID know "that woman."

After months of constant scrutiny and negative public attention, he finally took responsibility for his past misdeeds and the country got on with business, but his legacy will forever include an asterisk noting his dalliance with a White House intern.

Tiger is a lesson for any man or woman in the public eye. If you know anything at all about the Institute for Crisis Management, you know we study and track business and organizational crises. And for at least the past 20 years, we have documented that two-thirds of all crises are preventable. If you run a business and want to avoid losing it or having it badly damaged, keep an eye out for all those things that can smolder and simmer and eventually grow into a public disruption.

The same is true for Governors, NBA basketball stars, university basketball coaches and Congressmen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Should Tiger Do?

He hasn't asked me, but others are asking, "What should Tiger do or say?"

It's hard to give advice without some facts.

What we know is, the National Enquirer did a story recently claiming he was having an affair with a New York City night club hostess. Florida police did not test him for alcohol or other drugs and three days later, he has avoided talking to investigators.

We also know that if he were to lose all of his product endorsement contracts and never win another tournament, he still would not be able to spend all the money he has earned so far in his 33-years.

He basically has two choices. He can follow the route he has chosen so far, and refuse to answer questions and let the speculation go unchallenged. Or, he can conduct a news conference -- make a brief statement about what happened -- and refuse to answer questions, beyond the statement.

In either case, the rumors and speculation will continue just like they have for David Letterman, UofL Coach Rick Pitino, a couple of governors and other miscellaneous celebrities.

Remember what I said at the beginning of this post. We don't have enough facts to give definitive counsel. However, in almost all cases, it is still better to "take responsibility" for what you've done and make one effort to put your facts on the record, and then never get drawn into any more discussions about it.

That won't make the problem disappear, but reasonable people will accept a sincere explanation and apology if one is appropriate, and forget about it until the next time that person does something potentially scandalous. Unreasonable people will continue to talk about it until someone else trips up in public and they will then move on to gossip about the next celebrity's mistake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ATT VS Verizon To Sue Or Not To Sue, That Is The Question

We've worked with clients in the past that insisted on filing lawsuits. From a legal point of view, the lawsuits may have been justified. More often than not, they did not accomplish what the client wanted to accomplish, but there was the "legal principle" after all.

And in some cases the lawsuits hurt the clients more than their adversary because of the public perception of the motive for the lawsuits.

Now there is another such case involving the giant ATT and Verizon, and according to some bloggers and even some legal experts ATT may have missed the boat in deciding to go to court, without apparently seeking advice from their communications experts.

Verizon is running a series of television ads showing their mobile phones using their 3G network, displayed on a map of the United States, and comparing its coverage to that of ATT with another map showing its much smaller geographic 3G coverage area.

Someone at ATT called in a big outside law firm to teach those folks at Verizon they could not get away with their highly successful ad campaign. So far, Verizon is getting more attention to its so-called 3G coverage superiority and ATT seems to be drawing even more attention to its apparent inferior 3G coverage area.

No one asked us, but if they had, we would have counseled ATT to counter the Verizon ads with their own and rush improvements to their 3G or next generation 4G service.

There is a time and reason for going to court, but before that decision is made, the aggrieved organization must consider the "court of public opinion" and how, or even if, it can win there too.

If you can manage the court of public opinion and not lose there, too, then file. But if there is any doubt about how your key audiences, including employees, suppliers, customers and investors will perceive your "case" then look for another solution and hold off on the lawsuit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nobody Wins In This One

It started almost three years ago at a Wal-Mart in Kennett, a small town in southeast Missouri. A black college student, moved into a faster moving check-out lane, joining her cousin, and moving ahead of a white customer.

The young woman is now a school teacher and has insisted on vindication in a court room.

The clerk called a manager who called Kennett Police and both ordered the belligerent young woman to leave the store, although she wanted to pay for her merchandise. Police followed her or escorted her to the parking lot, depending on which version you believe. It was there, officers allege, she resisted arrest and kicked and hit two officers, leading to the charges that are scheduled to go to trial this week.

This is one of those situations where the victim/perpetrator loses no matter what.

So does the town of Kennett and Wal-Mart loses, too. Unless, cooler heads prevail, and everyone is wise enough to say "I'm sorry" and each admits they've made mistakes and have learned from the experience.

Wal-Mart apparently believes it is simply the "location" of a problem between a hot-headed youngster and the "authorities."

In the only statement I've seen from Wal-Mart, a spokesperson said, "Incidents involving our customers are unfortunate and we take them seriously." Corporate spokesman Lorenzo Lopez added, "In this matter, there was a disturbance and law enforcement was contacted, in accordance with our normal procedures. The police then determined how to proceed."

Someone at Wal-Mart is probably looking at the mostly white residents and customers of Kennett, MO, population 11,000, and thinking a conviction of this woman, won't hurt their image nor their business in that market, nor in the majority of mostly small-town Wal-Marts across America. And, they may be right.

But, the Police Chief and the Prosecutor, the young woman and Wal-Mart have allowed this "story" to live for nearly three years. The community is getting an image as a back-water, racist community. The police department thinks its righteous, but many outsiders don't.

The young woman may have experienced discrimination at that store, that day, or somewhere else before that day. And in one sense she may deserve an apology.

However, we all get upset when someone "jumps the line," no matter what color, age or gender they are. There is evidence she lost her cool and physically lashed out at two officers. They may deserve an apology.

And a better trained and more sensitive Wal-Mart manager probably could have defused the tension at the check-out lane and saved the company, the community and an angry young customer from nearly three years of fussing and bad feelings and negative publicity.

The bottom line for a company like Wal-Mart and for a police department, large or small, is to take the "conflict" out of a situation and story, not feed the conflict, as has been done in this case.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Leaders Didn't Notice Missing Cash

The not-for profit Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter in Lexington, KY is out $435,000, apparently embezzled by a former office manager, who forged checks to four accomplices over the span of year. About half of the pilfered money was taken in the two months before a bank employee became suspicious and notified the Board President.

To make matters worse, charitable giving has been down for the past year, and earlier this year the agency laid off a half-dozen staff and the remaining staff took a seven-percent pay cut. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported: ". . .even as they pinched pennies, nobody in the executive office or on the 28-member board noticed nearly half-a-million dollars being siphoned from the agency's accounts."

There are several lessons to be learned from this situation. All the standard book-keeping practices in the world are useless if someone is not following them and paying attention.

When the staff is not doing its job, the Board has a responsibility to notice and ask what's going on. If you agree to serve on a Board and all you want is to pad your social resume, shame on you. If you don't want to make "waves" go lay on a beach somewhere and don't take up space on the board of a worthwhile organization.

All of that probably isn't going to help, but I feel better having said it. This is not the first time an employee of a significant not-for-profit organization has taken advantage of people's good will. We at ICM, have helped a number of such organizations through this.

Now, the real lessons. Activate your crisis management team. Determine what processes broke down and why no one noticed and take responsibility for it. Be prepared to meet with staff and key volunteers, major funding sources and the clients of your agency. Do that before they read about it in the local newspaper or see the story on TV. Take responsibility for what happened and be prepared to explain in general terms what is being done to make sure it never happens again.

In each of those meetings be prepared to reassure each of those stakeholders how you're going to maintain service or what cuts will be necessary and for how long service will be curtailed.

DO NOT whine and complain and blame anyone else. The person who stole the money is only slightly more responsible, because the management and overseers of not-for-profits are assumed to be paying attention and when anything out of the ordinary happens those people should be investigating and demanding answers and solutions.

The founder of ICM and I were helping a major not-for-profit who had been the victim of only a $50,000 theft. Before the loss became public, the crisis team had been working for a week on what to do and say. At one meeting the chief fund raiser said enthusiastically, the loss was "an opportunity" for a special fund raising campaign to play on the sympathy of the community. ICM Founder Bob Irvine had one knee on the conference table on his way to "shake" the fund raiser when I got my hand on his belt and pulled him back into his chair. We still laugh about it, but that was not a good idea.

The news media seldom ask all the right questions, but that doesn't mean the Board should do the same. A non-profit has to file an annual report, usually compiled by an outside accounting firm. That report includes a sworn affidavit that affirms the books are in order. It always amazes me that no reporter ever asks how that annual audit could miss something as big as 400,000 misappropriated funds and the follow-up question "are you going to replace that auditing company?"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogs: A Hoax and a Revenge Blog Attack Which One Is Worse?

The answer – Neither, they’re both bad.

President Obama and Rush Limbaugh, and consequently his radio audience, were all victims in the blog hoax. A blogger made-up a satirical post on a so-called humor blog.

In it, the blogger wrote that Time Magazine writer Joe Klein had received ten pages of President Obama’s college thesis. In that thesis the blogger claimed that Obama, the college student, had doubts about the “so-called founders” of our country and suggested that the future president showed “disdain” for the United States Constitution.

The blog entry somehow ended up in Rush Limbaugh’s in-box and he used it as another club to beat-up on the President he wants to fail. After an hour or more of ranting about how right he had been (no pun intended) about the inadequacy of Obama to be president, someone finally did some fact checking and alerted Limbaugh that it was a hoax.

Limbaugh did not apologize, rather he defended his poor judgment by saying the blog post “felt true.”

What if that phony story had been written about you or your business or organization and some local reporter or editor picked it up and passed it on as fact without checking first?

And then there’s the continuing fall-out from ESPN’s firing of sports commentator Steve Phillips. He was dismissed because he got caught in a sexual “impropriety.” By the way, dad or mom, how will you answer your Little Leaguer’s question, “Mom, what is an impropriety?”

That story took a new twist last week when another blogger complained that ESPN had lied to him two months ago. A. J. Daulerio, editor of, a sports blog, says he asked ESPN Sept. 9 if Phillips was going to be fired the next day. A PR person for ESPN told him the rumor was wrong.

The problem is, the response was true at the time, but six weeks later on Oct. 25 it was no longer a rumor, but fact. Now Daulerio is accused of trying to get even because he got beat on the story. He has posted articles alleging sexual liaisons and harassment by other ESPN employees and inconsistent punishment

Welcome to the Social Media World.

The point of this blog is to challenge you to think about the “what ifs” this happened to you, your boss, your organization or business. In today’s world, this kind of social media attack is as real as a tornado in Kansas or a hurricane in Florida. You cannot wait to be surprised when the blog comes ashore on your turf.

If you have begun planning for this type of crisis, I and my readers would appreciate hearing about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Do You Spell Lawsuit? TASER

Recently, Taser International, the Arizona based maker of 50,000-volt stun guns, advised local police and sheriff's departments not to shoot its stun guns at a suspect's chest.

In a training bulletin to its law enforcement customers, the company says such action poses a risk, extremely low, but still a slight risk of an "adverse cardiac event."

It is the first time the manufacturer has hinted that there is a risk of heart damage when jolted by their product. At least one study says there have been about 50 cardiac deaths resulting from stun gun hits between 2001 and late 2008.

The Arizona Republic reported, "Taser officials said Tuesday the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy if their officers aim at areas other than the chest.

Here's where the legal and public relations challenge arises.

Even though it was carefully worded, Taser's advisory gives lawyers an argument to use to sue officers and police departments, and an excuse to seek big-dollar settlements. And for the public information officers of police agencies, it gives reporters another club to beat up on law enforcement when the rare death or serious injury does occur.

I would much rather an officer shoot me with his Taser than with his 9MM. But I would hate to be the PIO who has to defend his/her department and an officer, when they Taze a child or an elderly woman, even if they don't kill them.

One solution is for more and better training about the risks and the best way to utilize the stun gun and minimize lethal consequences. And, yes, I understand that officers often must make quick decisions under the most difficult and challenging circumstances, without time to think of the long-term consequences. But, with better and more thorough training, it becomes easier to make the correct decision in that split second.

The point of this post, is a challenge to chiefs and sheriffs to establish and enforce reasonable rules of engagement, and to the PIO's to anticipate the questions and potential firestorm that can result from such a tragic event. But, not only to anticipate, but to create a plan and talking points in case you are faced with this situation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Does "ROI" Hinder Your Crisis Planning?

The founder of the Institute for Crisis Management, Robert Irvine, had worked in corporate communications for 30-years before he wrote the first book on crisis communications "WHEN YOU ARE THE HEADLINE" in the late 80's.

After the book was published, he was in such demand as a speaker and consultant that he left corporate communications and started his own crisis consulting company, ICM.

He said when he started prospecting for clients, the book and his reputation gave him access to a number of top corporate executives. When he sat down with them, he began talking about his passion for building and protecting and occasionally rebuilding the corporate reputation. He said almost every time, his potential client's eyes would glaze over.

After months of frustration, he was telling a friend about his experience and his friend said, "Bob, these executives don't care about reputation. They care about dollars and cents -- the bottom line."

So, Bob decided to take his friend's advice and he said the next few executives he pitched for crisis planning and training, sat on the edge of their seats and listened to every word he had to say about the cost of having a crisis and the dollar savings of preventing crises.

But, he said, he couldn't resist preaching about corporate reputation and as soon as he switched from talking about dollars and cents to talking about protecting the company's reputation, their eyes glazed over.

Nothing much has changed since Bob started ICM in 1989.

The leaders of many organizations know they should have a crisis operations plan and a crisis communication plan and a business recovery plan. But almost every decision they make is based on that corporate concept of Return On Investment (ROI). If it costs $20-to-$30-thousand to create or even update a thorough crisis plan and train everyone to use it, where is the dollar return and how soon is the pay-off?

Many of the same decision makers are convinced that "nothing bad is ever gonna happen to this organization while I'm in charge!" So, they can't see any return on that expenditure.

A number of years ago, one of the international public relations organizations talked to Bob about sponsoring a PR competition for the best managed business crisis.
He didn't even have to think about a response. He said, how can you judge that? "The best managed crises are the one's no one will ever know about!"

If you're trying to get approval, or buy-in on creating a crisis plan or updating an old plan, do your research. Some of your peers and competitors have been through almost every crisis your organization will ever face. Many of them have been documented. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Point out what it cost in terms of lost business, lost employees, lawsuits, investigations, business failures and rebuilding costs. Compare that to the relatively small expense of preparing a plan or updating one.

And don't give up.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Will We Learn From Toyota's Mounting Crises?

If your company has a fire, you rebuild. If your company has a product recall, you manage it. If you face a patent infringement claim you prove its not true. If you have a disgruntled former employee you may have a whistle-blower and if you have all of these things or even most of these things all at once, you have a business crisis.

That would be Toyota!

The worldwide economic crash has not been kind to Toyota either. But, within a single year, The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation surrounding growing evidence that "severe frame corrosion" on 2000 and 2001 Tundra pickups is causing brake system failures and the spare tires to break away from the underside of the vehicle.

Within weeks of that disclosure Toyota began recalling 3.8-million Toyota and Lexus automobile because of problems with factory installed floor mats that may get caught in the accelerator pedal.

That recall resulted after a California state trooper and three members of his family were killed in a related accident in a Toyota built Lexus.

Within a couple more weeks, U.S. trade officials said they will investigate allegations by a Florida based company, Paice, that claims Toyota violated their patents when it developed their latest generation of hybrids cars, including the Prius and the Lexus HS250h.

Two of those issues shake the public's faith in the car company's QUALITY -- one of Toyota's biggest selling points for years.

But wait, there's more!

Dimitrios Biller, former national managing counsel of the company's National Rollover Campaign for four years, is now a whistle-blower publicly accusing the company of covering up potentially damaging information that, he says, has been withheld from victims of defective Toyota vehicles.

Do you remember Ralph Nader? He made his reputation and badly damaged General Motors' image with his campaign against what he called a death trap Chevrolet Corvair.

Toyota can recover but it must be aggressive both at cleaning up its quality issues on the drawing boards and assembly lines, AND in taking responsibility for past problems and communicating to employees, partners, regulators and customers what it is doing to restore their trust and confidence in the Toyota brand.

The company President got off to an appropriate start last week, when he offered his condolences to the California trooper's family and publicly acknowledged the company was in a "near rock-bottom crisis."

Many companies of every size will be watching, along with customers, competitors and investors, to see if Toyota's leadership can pull the company back from the brink.

Friday, October 2, 2009

David Letterman's Surreal "Confession"

When Bill Clinton talked about "that woman" referring to Monica Lewinsky, people rolled their eyes.

When a series of politicians confessed to illicit affairs in the past two years, members of the opposition parties were outraged. Members of their respective parties were strangely quiet.

When U of L Basketball Coach Rick Pitino confirmed that he was the victim of an extortion attempt by a woman he had sex with months earlier in a Louisville restaurant, U of L fans were still supportive of the Coach, while many were heard to whisper under their breath it's no big deal as long as he keeps on winning basketball games.

This week when David Letterman revealed on his Late Night TV show that a fellow CBS producer had demanded $2-million to keep quiet about his sexual encounters with female employees of his production company, the studio audience laughed and when he confirmed that he had, indeed, had sex with some of his staff, the studio audience applauded!

What's wrong with this picture?

Now Jon Gosselin, formerly of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" has gone to court to protect his children from exploitation by the producers of the reality show he once appeared on. He cheated on his wife and left her and their eight children. The show was renamed "Kate Plus Eight" last week, and now according to his lawyer, “Jon is resolved not to allow the TLC corporate machine to devour his family and promote the monster’s best interests over those of his family.”

We have worked with clients in similar "crises" and, for the most part, given each the same advice. Take responsibility, set out to fix the situation, and don't say any thing more. Most either ignore the advice altogether, or only follow part of it and end up with more negative public attention.

But the more publicity these situations generate, the less the public seems to pay attention. But that doesn't mean lives are not changed, families are not wrecked and organizations are not tarnished.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Revisiting Bank Crisis Communication

I had an interesting conversation this week with Laurie Kulikowski, who writes for

She's working on a follow-up article about Citigroup. In her Sept. 16 posting, she concluded that Citigroup is "sending mixed messages to investors." You'll want to watch for her new post.

Her call reminded me of a piece I wrote for this blog a month ago, inspired by Ahmed Hamed, an MBA student from Ireland who posed a series of questions to me about the current banking crisis.

He ask if I "believe that it is the bank's job to restore confidence to investors and stakeholders or would you be more inclined to believe that concentrating on performance and profit will ultimately lead to investor and stakeholder confidence?"

I have reconsidered this question and haven't changed my mind, but perhaps I can explain my self better.

The best communication strategy in the world is useless if it is not based on fact and reality. So, before banks can restore confidence, they must DO what their customers, investors and employees expect them to do -- operate a sound and profitable business with each of those groups in mind.

Only after a company "does the right thing" can it talk about what it is doing, and the combination of doing and talking will begin the process of rebuilding consumer confidence.

Here at the Institute for Crisis Management, we've been called by prospective clients, already in a crisis, and wanting us to help get them out of it. When I ask what they were doing to fix the problem, they sometimes will explain that they don't know what they're going to do, but can't we help improve their public image and reputation while they figure out what to do? The answer is always the same -- no, we can't fix your problem with words. We can help fix the public perception of a company, IF the company is doing something to earn that trust and confidence back.

Laurie's earlier article about Citigroup sending mixed messages is a problem a lot of organizations create for themselves. Operational decisions cannot be made in a public relations vacuum and public relations strategies will fail unless they are coordinated and consistent.

I'm looking forward to Laurie's Citigroup follow-up on .

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harvard Says You're Not Getting Ready

Two-thirds of more than 1,000 businesses surveyed nationwide told Harvard School of Public Health researchers they could not maintain normal operations if half their workforce was out sick, afraid to come to work or home taking care of sick loved ones during a pandemic this fall.

Four out of every five organizations admitted they would face severe problems if half their workforce was out for a month.

"What we found is that a minority of businesses have started some sort of emergency planning," said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and leader of the project sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Most, I don't think, have thought through the implications of something so widespread."

For four years we have been urging clients and prospective clients to prepare for a pandemic.

Pandemics come every 30-to-40 years and in the past century they have killed 35,000 Americans in 1968, 70,000 Americans in 1957 and half-a-million Americans in 1918. There is no way to know in advance what level of pandemic the next one will be. So, you have to plan for the worst and hope for the mildest.

The Harvard survey confirmed that about three-quarters of businesses offer paid sick leave for some employees, but almost none provide paid leave for employees to stay home and take care of sick family members. And almost 70% of all American businesses require a doctor's note when an employees returns to work.

The CDC is suggesting companies waive the rule about a doctor's note. We suggest organizations amend their HR policy to very narrowly define exceptions to "the doctor's note" rule. Otherwise, ignoring that policy during a pandemic could mean it could be challenged in future cases where an employee didn't have a doctor's confirmation of a real sickness.

Harvard conducted 1,057 telephone interviews with randomly selected businesses around the U.S. between July 16 and August 12. They sampled small businesses with 20 to 99 employees, medium size companies with 100 to 500 workers and large businesses with more than 500 employees.

There are other areas that organizations should be reviewing before a pandemic strikes, including health insurance contracts and all other contracts, as well as cash flow issues and employee and customer communication plans.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Travel and Tourism States Could Be Hit Hardest by Pandemic

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, you will need a back-up plan for any trips you must take this fall. And if you are IN the travel or tourism business, you need to plan NOW for an economic crisis that could make the current recession seem like kindergarten.

H1N1 or swine flu began to make headlines in Mexico late in the spring and the impact on the travel industry was instant and intense. Hotels throughout Mexico had cancellations and in May occupancy rates at Marriott Hotel and Resorts across Mexico were in the teens. Airports from Cancun to Cabo San Lucas looked like ghost towns.

In the second quarter, Continental and Delta Airlines reported pandemic related losses of $50-million to $150-million respectively. Delta feared losses for the year closer to $250-million and that was before this year’s fall flu season even got here.

Airlines are working on contingency plans, and Continental spokesperson Julie King says they are in constant contact with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Most airlines say they will either handle pandemic fears and cancellations on a case-by-case basis, or formalize their rebooking and cancellation policies after the government announces travel advisories.

At least 2,000 travelers from the U.S. and Mexico have been held in quarantine upon arriving in China, according to the U.S. State Department.

I travel a lot for business and the thought of being locked in a silver metal tube with potentially sick co-travelers has been bothering me. However, David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association says aircraft ventilation systems move air from side-to-side, NOT front to back. As a result, he says, the risk of exposure decreases with distance. AND, a pandemic flu virus doesn’t “live in the air” but is transmitted by droplets of fluids coughed or sneezed into the air, or passed from surface contact to hands and then to eyes, nose or mouth.

Travel insurance may help cover your costs if you get cancelled or rerouted, but travel experts say beware. Some travel insurance has a “pandemic clause” that could void your coverage.

If You're In The Travel Industry

States and regions that rely on travel and tourism for a significant part of their economic well-being could be hardest hit by a pandemic this fall. Nevada, Florida and Hawaii top the list, according to a report prepared in 2007 by The Trust for America’s Health.

Two years ago the Trust projected a $683-billion economic loss nationally during a pandemic. That’s about 5.5% of the goods and services produced in the United States. Nevada's economy could take a hit of more than 8%, while Hawaii's economic output could fall by about 6.6%.

"In a pandemic, we will see people avoiding discretionary travel and avoiding large gatherings for the legitimate fear of contagion," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. "

The Trust for America's Health examined how a severe pandemic could impact consumer demand for products and services. The Trust estimates tourism and entertainment could experience an 80% decline in demand. A comparable decline could occur for hotels and restaurants.

Meanwhile, the transportation and warehousing sectors could experience a 67% decline in demand. The organization predicted that the economies of Virginia and Maryland would fare the best among the states but still face significant declines of 5.13% and 5.06%, respectively. Washington, D.C., could face a 4.62% decline.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Most Pandemic Prone Victims -- Young Adults

When you are planning your staffing options for this fall's pandemic return, there is growing evidence that the most likely employee group to get really sick and die are the 20-30-40 year-olds, not the older managers and workers.

In recent years, researchers looking back at past pandemics have discovered that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s got sicker and an unexpectedly higher percentage of that age group died. That is not consistent with the impact the normal seasonal flu has.

And recent research reaffirms that earlier conclusion.

In a study by the European Center for Disease Prevention’s Eurosurveillance, researchers studied 574 swine flu-related deaths occurring in 28 countries to mid-July.

"51 percent of those deaths occurred in the age group of 20-to-49 year-olds," the researchers reported. Overall, the study found that about six people of every 1,000 infected, die from the virus, which is about two to three times the rate of seasonal flu, yet still far below the rate of the 1918 pandemic, so far.

The report noted that just 12 percent of those who died from the virus up to mid-July were aged 60 or older.

The earlier research concluded that the immune systems of 20-to-40 year-olds were at their peak and when the pandemic virus attacked their lungs in 1918, the immune system went into over-drive. The virus-fighting system could not tell the difference between flu cells and lung cells and attacked both. Autopsies found that many people suffocated from their own disintegrating lung tissue.

If, and its still a big if, this is going to be a 1918-type pandemic, you must include in your business pandemic planning how you will cope with 20-to-40 percent of your young employees and managers out sick and up to 2-percent of that number never returning to work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Can the CEO Take a Controverisal Public Position?

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has stirred up a stink, once again.

This time, he wrote an op-ed piece, published in The Wall Street Journal with the headline, "The Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare." The company and Mackey have come under fire from some of its customers, who are sometimes described as liberal Democrats and who are now calling for a boycott, while criticizing the company and its founder on blogs and other on-line sites.

In 2007 he was caught using another name while criticizing competitors on-line.

Compare his op-ed piece to the General Manager of a Louisville, KY NBC affiliate TV station that took part in a public demonstration sponsored by the local Republican party against Obamacare. There were viewers and bloggers complaining they could no longer trust his news department to fairly cover that issue, now that they know the boss feels so strongly about one side of that issue.

A little history will help put this issue in perspective. From the very beginning of this country, publishers of newspapers and pamphleteers (today's bloggers and on-line writers) started their publishing ventures because they wanted a political voice in their community, region or colony. Those early publications were blatant supporters of one side of an issue over all other sides. Someone with an opposing point of view would start their own paper or distribute their on pamphlets.

Nothing has changed, much, except how fast a point-of-view can be posted and how far it can travel. If anything has changed, at all, its how readers, viewers and listeners don't care or don't pay attention, nor seek out a balanced point of view on important issues.

Do you think a CEO or business owner should speak out on controversial issues, even if it means he/she will driver customers or clients away? Is your response different for a publicly traded company as opposed to a privately owned business?

Monday, August 17, 2009

How concerned should today’s business owner, manager or executive be about websites, blogs and tweets?

For decades there were limits on slander and libel and a price to pay if someone wrote, said or broadcast something that was not true. And sometimes, the target of even truthful statements might try to exact a pound of flesh from someone who dared make their secret mistakes public.
The big difference today is not the libelous or slanderous statements, but how QUICKLY and FAR they can travel before you have a chance to act.
Gene Policinski is Executive Director of the First Amendment Center, and in an article for the Gannett News Service, he raised the concern that abuses of websites, blogs and tweets could trigger an over-reaction that would interfere with our First Amendment rights of free speech.
Having spent 35 years in the news business, I hold the First Amendment near and dear. And, eventually some politicians will try to use our newest forms of communication as a reason to clamp down on existing freedoms. We have to be ready to respond to those attempts with sound reason and good judgment.
In the meantime, organizations of all kinds must be vigilant and monitor what is being written and said about them on the internet, and have a plan to respond, in a timely way, with the right message and in the appropriate medium.
Policinski used the example of Madison Square Garden’s lawsuit against a website that speculated Radio City management was considering a halt to their annual Christmas Spectacular. MSG accused the website of defamation.
In Maryland, a website operator has been accused in a lawsuit of posting an unsubstantiated comment claiming a public official was a sexual predator.
And, a nursing student at the University of Louisville has been ordered reinstated to class by a federal court judge, after the Medical School kicked her out because they didn’t like what she wrote about her school experiences on her blog. The University generated significant negative media attention by its actions.
Domino’s Pizza was slow to react when two former employees posted an unflattering kitchen video. Other companies have responded well and some have not.
You don’t have to be next. Learn from the mistakes of others and decide now, what you will do and how you will do it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's Time to Get Ready for the Real Pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the H1N1 pandemic flu has spread to 168 countries and they have confirmed 168,000 human cases and 1,154 deaths, including 436 deaths in the United States.

However, WHO officials say most people, in most parts of the world do not get tested and they estimate millions are, or have been infected.

In the United States the virus has caused more than 80 outbreaks in camps in more than 40 states this summer and officials estimate more than 1 million Americans have already been infected.

According to Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, "It's fair to say there will be tens of millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths. That's not atypical."

The greatest threat is to young people in their 20s, 30s and even early 40s. Research on the 1918 pandemic discovered that disproportionately more young people died than is the case in a normal fall flu outbreak. Researchers determined that people in that age range have their immune system at its lifetime peak. When the flu settled into their lungs their immune system went into high gear -- more aggressive than normal -- and the immune system could not tell the difference between flu cells and healthy cells and in many cases doctors say, immune systems did even more damage than the flu.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but there is still time to address some of the key business issues before the pandemic gets worse.

To read more about what needs to be done for businesses, not-for-profits, higher education and healthcare services, go to:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Who Does A Crisis Consultant Call When He Has a Crisis?

A freak storm caught us by surprise Tuesday morning. Who would ever have worried about flood damage on the 14th floor of an office building. But when this crisis consultant walked in the front door of his suite of offices he ran into a mini Niagara Falls.

First he ripped off his raincoat and covered his monitor and computer. Then he started dragging water-soaked files and work documents to another office in the company's suite.

Then he went next door to his Administrative Assistant's office to check on her computers and files.

All the while water logged ceiling tiles were buckling and crashing to the floor, as water streamed down from the law offices above, and water rose on the carpet.

Next, he called the building management and asked for plastic sheets and help.

Within minutes help arrived and office furniture was covered with plastic, and computers in both offices were unhooked and moved to a dry room. A bank of video play-back machines was rolled out of the adjoining conference room minutes before the ceiling tiles began to fall in that room.

Then, he called his administrative assistant.

This is the result of a 6 1/2 inch rainfall in one hour in Louisville, Kentucky. We're on the 14th floor of a 15-story downtown office building. The roof drains could not handle that much rain, that fast, and the roof could not hold back the weight of that much water.

If you think our offices are a mess, you should see the managing partner's law office and surrounding suite above us.

Not a single reporter called for a comment! But we were prepared with a standby statement. We practice what we preach.

By the way, we're still in business. Some of our Senior Consultants are working from home. I'm working from one of their offices at the other end of our suite, and much of our files and water logged office furniture has been moved elsewhere in the building.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Racial Profiling or Poor Communication?


If you just read the headlines, or even the mainstream media coverage about the "white" police officer and his arrest of a "black" Harvard professor after a report of a break-in at the professor's home, you could easily pick a "side," based on your life experiences.

I've been on all 3 sides of this issue. I was a county police officer years ago, a journalist for 35 years and a crisis communication consultant for nearly 20 years. I'm beginning to doubt racial profiling was the issue, unless it was "racial profiling in reverse".

HOWEVER, being tired, perhaps ill, and angry fed one side of the confrontation. Trying to do a thorough job, and perhaps not explaining clearly the steps the officer was taking and why, combined with an all too often exagerated sense of "power" that some police officers have, aggravated the other side of the issue.

If I were in a position to help, I would try very hard to get the officer and his Chief to meet with the Professor and one of his trusted advisors, with the goal of letting the officer properly explain why it was necessary to have the "homeowner" step outside, and then search the home...for the protection of the resident of the house.

I've been in that position. Hopefully I explained what I was doing and why, better than this officer was able to do.

There was the possiblity that someone was hiding in the house, threatening the resident or perhaps even holding a family member hostage. You would not want the officer to respond to a break-in call, then walk away immediately, if someone had just broken in and was somewhere in the house waiting to do you harm.

Both sides need to calm down, quit fueling the controversy with indignant demands for apologies, and quietly talk about what happened, then kiss and make up!

Are Banks Getting Better at Crisis Management?

If you're looking for the 2-part Q&A series on bank crisis management THIS IS PART 2. Part one precedes this one.

An MBA student from Ireland has posed a series of questions to the Institute for Crisis Management about the current banking crisis, as part of the research he's doing on his Master's thesis. This is the second of two articles inspired by his questions:

Ahmed Hamed asked:

Confidence in the banking system is at an all time low, do you believe that it is the banks job to restore confidence to investors and stakeholders or would you be more inclined to believe that concentrating on performance and profit will ultimately lead to investor and stakeholder confidence?

We are often asked by a prospective client to help them get through a crisis. The first question we asked them is “what are you doing to fix the problem?” Frequently a CEO will tell us he doesn’t know what to do, but if we’ll do our PR magic, that will buy them some time. We always tell them it doesn’t work that way. They FIRST have to begin fixing what is wrong, then we can use communication tools to let their customers know and begin the process of rebuilding the reputation and consumer confidence.

Currently, what do you think banks should do to restore confidence among stakeholders?

They must first return to sound business practices and quit trying to make unrealistic profits at the expense of their customers. They must also STOP rewarding mismanagement and greed. Only then can they begin to regain the trust and confidence of their customers and potential customers.

What changes in the role of crisis management do you expect to see over the next 5 years? How will these changes impact on the structure or organisation of banks?

I don’t have lot of confidence that much will change. All organizations, including banks, should have three crisis plans. 1.) A crisis operations plan – what happens when the fire alarm or the hold-up alarm goes off? Who does what? In what order? What do you do to protect employees and customers from harm? 2.)A crisis communication plan – who says what, when and how when a crisis is looming or has already struck? 3.) A continuity or business recovery plan – how do you restore vital services/functions and get back to normal operations as soon as possible.
And, in the best of all worlds, these three plans should be integrated into one comprehensive crisis management plan.

Following the current financial crisis what do you think will be the greatest obstacles or constraints that will face the banking sector in the future?

The greatest obstacle will be pressure to reach unrealistic profits, not only in the banking sector but in most other economic sectors throughout the world.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Investigation in Bank Crisis Management

An MBA student from Ireland has posed a series of questions to the Institute for Crisis Management about the current banking crisis, as part of the research he's doing on his Master's thesis. This is the first of two or three parts of an article inspired by his questions:

Ahmed Hamed asked:

In your opinion, do you think that banks have adopted a different approach to crisis management since the recent banking collapses? If so, in what ways?

I doubt many banks have made significant changes in their approach to crisis management. Based on nearly 20-years of research in business crisis management, the Institute for Crisis Management maintains that two-thirds of all crises are preventable. ICM calls them “smoldering crises.” They start out small, often internal, but not always, and are the kinds of issues that someone within the organization should spot and recognize as potential future disasters.

For example: loaning money to people who won’t be able to pay it back, just to make a quick up-front profit, knowing that someone later will have to suffer because of that decision. If financial institutions had “done what is right” and followed good business practices in the first place, the current financial crash would likely not have happened.

By the way, the other third of all business crises are what ICM calls “sudden crises” and that includes fires, explosions, natural disasters and workplace violence.

In your opinion, do you believe that it’s better to keep the media at arm’s length when a crisis occurs or do you believe it is important that the public is made aware of any issues that the bank may face?

It is important first, to identify what the crisis IS, then secondly, identify the key audiences or stakeholders, and ONLY then, begin formulating a communication strategy. In most cases there are several audiences that need to hear from the organization in crisis, including employees, business partners, investors and regulators.

In each case there is usually a better way to communicate with each of those audiences than through the public or mass media. For example, employee meetings, employee news letters, employee hotlines and an employee intranet. Business partners need to hear directly and in-person from company leaders. So do investors and regulators.

I am not suggesting that a company in crisis ignore the media, but the media is rarely ever the best way to reach the audiences that are most important.

How co-operative or open to the media do you think banks are in general when crises occurs? Can you give specific examples?

Most banks don’t know how to “use” the media, and the customers that most executives need to reach don’t depend on the mass media for their information to begin with.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are You Still Trying to Ignore the Threat of a Pandemic?

Swine Flu pandemic planning is now more critical than ever.

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced they have stopped counting the number of cases, although both agencies will continue to monitor the outbreak of H1N1 pandemic flu.

When they stopped reporting numbers this (Friday 7/17) morning WHO had counted more than 95,000 cases and 429 deaths world-wide and 40,600 confirmed cases with 263 deaths in the U.S. alone.

But, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said those numbers are meaningless. Great Britain estimated 55,000 new cases last week alone and Dr. Schuchat says there are likely millions of sick people in every country in the world. Most people infected with H1N1 are never tested, she said.

Five companies, mostly overseas, are beginning to make flu vaccines for the U.S. market, but won't begin to test those vaccines on humans until sometime in August.

If you have a business, run a health care facility, a government agency, police department, fire department, public or private school system, university or non-profit agency you are running out of time.

You must complete a plan to help your organization through a two to three month period this fall when as many as 20-to-40-percent of your workforce will be out sick or afraid to come to work or stuck taking care of sick family members or friends.

You can read more about the "issues" you need to be planning for at:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

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How NOT to Layoff Employees

Lay-offs, down-sizing, plant relocation, right-sizing, job cuts -- whatever you call it and for whatever reason you do it, putting people out of work is a nasty, painful experience.

It doesn't have to be that bad.

However, the Chicago Public School system made it that bad and it shouldn't have been.

In mid June a story leaked to the Chicago media that there would be lay-offs in the Central Office. That was how employees learned their jobs were in jeopardy. After the media reports, department managers sent out e-mails to their subordinates saying they didn't know how "budget concerns" would impact their department and employees were advised in that e-mail they would be "told" as soon as there was more information.

A few weeks later, the "further information" was delivered in one-on-one meetings in which department heads read a script basically saying, "so long, don't let the door hit you in the rear on your way out."

By July 2, 557 employees of the Chicago school system had been shown the door, for a savings of about $100-million. More lay-offs are rumored. Morale is in the toilet and productivity by remaining employees has taken a nose dive.

Carelessness is how employees hear about job cuts from the media. Poor planning, or a lack of planning creates a long-term problem whether it is a lay-off of a handful of employees or of hundreds.

There are a number of steps we recommend in preparing for a lay-off.

And you have to consider NOT ONLY those who are leaving, but you have to plan for those who will be keeping their jobs. They need counseling and reassurance, or at least compassion and honesty as they cope with the loss of co-worker friends and the bitterness that often comes from being told they are going to have to pick up the slack and "do more with less."


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Are You Communicating Effectively In This Economic Crisis?

Not all crises involve explosions, violence, high winds, flooding, fraud or mismanagement.

The whole world is working (or not) its way through the economic recession and for many organizations -- for-profit and not-for-profit -- it has become a very real crisis.

If your organization has never considered "communication" important, now is the time to reconsider.

If you are not communicating regularly and clearly with your internal audiences, as well as your external audiences, you are increasing the odds your business or organization will not come out well on the other side of this economic train-wreck.

Let's start with employees and partners:

Everyone talks to someone else within an organization. They are either talking about the facts or the rumors. If its your organization, which do you want them talking about and repeating outside the office or plant or store? There's only one place they are going to get the real facts and that's from the leadership/management.

If you are responsible and you are not out talking to your people, explaining the true situation and what you are doing about it, and reassuring those people you will get through this together, then you are, by default, sending a message that will do far more harm than good.

Employees and their families are likely living day-to-day, worrying about their jobs and what they will do if your business has to cut back more or even fails. Productivity needs to be at its peak right now, but worried employees are not going to be performing at their best.

Now, about customers, investors, and vendors:

Investors have been having second thoughts about putting any more money into your operation or anyone else's, for that matter. You need to be reaching out to them with information about what you're doing to keep your business headed in the right direction and reassuring them that you're still a good investment.

Customers have been considering their options for months -- will you be there when they need your product or service? Will you maintain quality and dependability and a reasonable price? You MUST be communicating effectively, often and reassuringly.

Vendors and suppliers need to hear from you, too.

Do not mislead anyone. A bleak, but honest report, is better than no report to these key audiences and a misleading report is even worse.

When you explain your difficulties to key audiences and ask them to help you work through them, you will likely be surprised to find support from places you never expected. When you keep those same key audiences in the dark, they'll leave you in the dark, when you need them most.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who Do You Feel Sorry For?

Remember Dina McGreevey, at the time, wife of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, standing next to him at the news conference in which he announced he was “a gay American”?

How about Silda Spitzer, standing beside her husband, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, at the news conference where he confessed he had been “client 9” to a call girl?

What about Jenny Sanford, estranged wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford?

She was not by his side when he met state house reporters and tearfully admitted “disappearing” to Argentina to see his “dear, dear friend” and lover.

In the corporate world this same thing happens and in some cases the "outed" man gets public attention and in a few cases not.

More and more, a public figure, no matter whether a corporate leader, a politician or another kind of public person will call us or a consulting practice like the Institute for Crisis Management and ask for help.

We were asked a couple of weeks ago if a man should have his wife stand beside him when he made a preemptive public disclosure. My response – “Absolutely not, unless she has something to confess also.”

Think about the subsequent news coverage following McGreevey and Spitzer’s public mea culpa. Neither man really looked repentant and both wives looked like they were absolutely miserable. And, that made their husbands look that much worse.

Gov. Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign do get credit for taking the “gotcha” out of the story and pre-empting someone else from making the disclosure. That still doesn’t mean they will escape with their careers, and certainly their reputations are seriously damaged.

In recent years, we have advised more than one public person how to minimize the damage from their own mistakes. The ones that listened, and did the “right thing,” didn’t get off without some pain, but they saved their careers. Those who thought they were untouchable or the public wouldn’t care or they could control their wives’ reactions were very, unpleasantly surprised.

I hate it when we make the correct call and clients do not take our advice.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How Many Times Do I Have To Ask? Are You Ready?

The number of confirmed cases of H1N1 pandemic flu, as of Friday 6/19/09, doubled from the week before to 21,500 and the death toll also doubled to 87 -- just in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) as of Friday 6/19/09 there are 44,287 confirmed cases of swine (H1N1) flu in 93 countries and 180-deaths.

Based on historical evidence, the world may be in phase one of a three-phase pandemic wave. It is relatively mild with a relatively low death rate, now. Based on what happened in 1918, 1957 and 1968, there will likely be a much stronger wave of flu sweep over the planet this fall, claiming many more victims.

It could be a matter of a few million sick Americans and 30,000 deaths, or it could be like the 1918 pandemic that killed 500,000 Americans and brought many organizations and communities to their collective knees.

There is still time to prepare your business, non-profit, or government agency to weather this storm a little easier. The world will NOT come to an end. It never has, but organizations that give a little thought to some key issues will come out on the other side a whole lot better prepared to get back to normal.

See the ICM Memo to Management on pandemic planning:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Do You Communicate With Your Employees?

It should come as no surprise that employees are twice as likely to work harder for a company that communicates well to them.

Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, NJ conducted one of it's Ouch Point Surveys in March and concluded: "With layoffs and other cost-cutting measures still on the rise, it is in an employer’s best interest to effectively communicate necessary changes with their workforce."

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of owners, CEO's, Presidents and Managers who believe what they do and why they do it is "none of their employees' business." That is a recipe for trouble.

The more employees know about their organization and why most decisions are made, the more understanding and supportive they will be. In crisis after crisis, when our clients meet frequently with key audiences, including employees, they seem to get through the hard times a little easier and with more support, and recover from the crisis faster.

If employees are kept in the dark, they will imagine things are even worse than they are and they will assume their leadership doesn't trust them or care about them.

As a reporter, anchor and news manager for almost 35 years, I learned that most constituencies will surprise you and come to your aid if they know what the issues or problems are. I recall a school board in Bloomington, IN in the 60s was facing all kinds of challenges and meeting weekly in secret. They were getting hammered by taxpayers, parents, teachers and voters.

When they took a drastic step and opened their meetings to all of those groups, they discovered critics could be great sources of solutions and support. All they needed was to know what the challenges were.

The same is true in most companies and other organizations.

In the current economic environment, most organizations are facing a number of problems and the ORC Ouch Point survey found "44 percent of respondents say their company has taken some form of action in response to the current economic situation, such as downsizing or other types of cutbacks, in the last six months. Almost half of respondents gave their employers high marks for the way in which they communicated the organizational actions taken (49% evaluated extremely/very well on actions taken)."

The survey says meetings (19%) and email (17%)were the most effective communication tool while memos (7%)were least effective.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ready Or Not It Is Officially A Pandemic

The World Health Organization officially declared a worldwide flu pandemic today, the first in 41 years.

If you have your pandemic plan, you are as prepared as you probably will ever be. If you do NOT have a pandemic crisis plan, your best bet is to hope and pray that this pandemic will be no worse than the last one in 1968. It only killed about a million people around the world and 34,000 in the United States. Most businesses were not impacted at all or only slightly because of employees that were out sick for a week or so.

In the United States there have been more than 13,000 confirmed cases and at least 27 deaths from swine flu as of Thursday 6/11/09. WHO says 74 countries have reported nearly 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths.

There is still time to consider the issues that will impact your organization and begin making "what if" decisions.

Volunteer organizations are even more likely to suffer. Volunteers may stay home rather than take the chance of putting themselves in position to be exposed to the flu. Paid employees have the motivation of a paycheck and "keeping their jobs" but even with that on their minds, the fear of being "exposed" to the flu may keep some workers out of the office or plant.

For more about pandemic planning:

Friday, June 5, 2009

What Have We Learned From The H1N1 Flu Outbreak?

Last month's short-lived flurry of media attention to the spread of a new type of flu has answered some questions about how well the world is prepared for the next worldwide pandemic. It also has revealed some significant shortcomings.

The initial government response to the H1N1 flu outbreak showed relatively strong coordination and communication from U.S. officials but it also underscored how quickly the nation's basic public health capacity would be overwhelmed by a serious outbreak of a pandemic type flu.

That was the conclusion of an analysis by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH), the Center for Biosecurity and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Dr. Jeff Levi, Executive Director of TFAH said, "H1N1 is a real-world test of our initial emergency response capabilities. All of the planning and preparations paid off."

"However," Dr. Levi added, "the outbreak also revealed serious gaps in our nation's preparedness for pandemic flu and other public health emergencies."

The Institute for Crisis Management, in an informal poll of clients and others, still find the majority of businesses and other organizations not taking the threat of a worldwide pandemic seriously. When asked about their pandemic planning, it is not unusual to have a 40 or 50-something executive ask, "What's a pandemic?"

Those that have given thought to pandemic planning often consider it only as a health issue to be dealt with by doctors, hospitals and local and federal health departments. Even hospital administrators and police and emergency services chiefs think about it as a health-issue and continue to ignore the administrative, financial, human resources and legal issues.

The TFAH/RWJF analysis found that school closings have major ramifications for students, parents and employers (well, surprise!). It also found sick leave and policies for limiting mass gatherings were also "problematic."

But perhaps most alarming was their conclusion that even with a mild outbreak, the U.S. health care delivery system was overwhelmed.

ICM has some clients that have been working on their pandemic plan for three years, or more, and have been fine-tuning those plans in recent weeks. But many executives are caught up in the current economic challenges and failing to take the steps to prepare their organizations for the inevitable next pandemic whether it comes this fall or in the next year or two. The world (that includes all of North America) has experienced a pandemic every 30-to-40 years since at least 1500.

The last two, in 1957 and 1968 came very close together and were relatively mild. In the fall of 1957 only 70,000 Americans were killed by the pandemic flu and in 1968 only about 34,000 Americans died, compared to the normal seasonal flu that kills about 35,000 annually in the U.S.

However, the fall wave of the 1918 pandemic left 500,000 Americans dead and an estimated 50-million people died worldwide.

Unlike Y2K planning, the cost of pandemic planning is more about taking the time to make some tough decision, not about how many dollars it will cost. We, at the Institute for Crisis Management can help an organization get started on their pandemic plan for less than $5,000.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Crises Were Most Likely To Impact Your Organization?

Overall, business crises were up only slightly in 2008, compared to the year before. But, there were significant increases in negative news coverage in eight of 16 crisis categories monitored by the Institute for Crisis Management. They were up 18 to 48 percent in 2008, according to the just released annual ICM Crisis Report, published each year since 1990.

Workplace violence was up the least by 18%. Defects and recalls, business financial losses, hostile takeovers, workplace accidents and deaths, and environmental incidents were up 21% to 48%. The other eight crisis categories hovered around the same level as 2007. While the percentage increases seem large, the actual number of crisis events in each of those categories was still relatively low.

For example, defects and recalls, including automobiles, toys, pet food, baby food and infant formula were up 44% compared to 2007, but that was just 410 major events that drew the attention of editors in the most recent year for which data is available.

ICM monitors 1,500 business print publications around the world, tracking 16 broad crisis categories.

The increase in negative news coverage may be evidence of a number of factors. The impact of the internet and social media cannot be discounted. Stories move quickly on the internet, forcing the mainstream media to take notice and often report on issues that editors otherwise might have missed or ignored.

Plus, election year rhetoric emphasized a lot of the “bad news,” day after day in the mainstream media.

The crashing economy (i.e. Madoff, GM, mortgage crisis, etc.) plus terrible natural disasters round the world, added to a significant increase in financial damages, hostile takeovers, business failures, workplace violence, casualty accidents in the workplace and even an increase in the number of environmental issues that drew public attention.
The first hint of trouble in the sub-prime market began in late 2006, but the real bad news began to make headlines in the third and fourth quarter of 2007. And the multi-faceted economic crisis spread to almost every corner of the world in 2008.

CEOs were bailing or getting the boot in record number. According to consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 370 CEO positions turned over in the first quarter of 2008 alone. Many were less than voluntary.

And then there was food poisoning – beef, tomatoes, jalapenos, pancake mix, cereal and bottled water, along with melamine tainted eggs, milk and infant formula. China reported nearly 53,000 children were sickened by tainted formula. Topps Meat Co. had been in business more than 60-years, but after recalling nearly 22-million pounds of contaminated beef in 2007, the company was forced out of business in 2008.

A uniquely American type crisis – the class action lawsuit -- increased slightly from 2006 to 2007, but soared in 2008. There were at least 525 class action cases that made headlines in the U.S.

Eight of the most crisis prone industries repeated from the previous year. The food and insurance industries were the two new additions to the less than honorable top ten list.

Non-profits, universities and health care had their share of organizational crises in 2008. Hospitals continued to make negative news and many demonstrated their lack of crisis planning. Eighteen California hospitals were fined for shoddy care, including leaving surgical instruments inside patients and in one case, someone failed to turn on a ventilator.

Hospitals in New York City and Raleigh, NC were sued after patients were left untreated for nearly a full day. Both patients died and hospital surveillance video showed staff walking around them, even after one had collapsed on the floor.

FaceBook, Myspace and Twitter began to make their impact on business crises. Late in the year Motrin became the poster child for how to get burned by the social media. An ill conceived marketing campaign outraged moms and others who took to Twitter and other social media to attack Motrin and within two days the campaign was cancelled.
Then Dominos Pizza began the new year of 2009 with another on-line moment!

For the full report go to

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who Does The CEO Listen To For PR Advice?

The simple answer is probably no one!

Which begs the question, why not?

Some experts have theorized that formerly successful companies have not had enough go wrong to maintain their so-called "crisis management skills." There is some validity to that concept. That's what table-top exercises are good for.

More likely, the same old reasons why organizations fail to anticipate and plan for crises is still the reasons so many "good" companies and other organizations get caught flatfooted.

"Nothing bad is gonna happen on my watch. . ." or "Nothing bad is gonna happen to my company." "That kinda stuff happens to the competition, but not to us."

In workshops and training sessions I ask the audience to picture the CEO bent over at the waist with his or her head buried deep in the sand. Now, I ask, what part of the anatomy is most exposed? That is followed by a snicker and a smile on most faces in the room. Then I conclude, "That's where you'll get it if you are not prepared."

Ever heard the preacher talk about "bad things happen to good people?" Bad things happen to good companies and good organizations of all kinds. They used to happen and it took hours or days before many people heard about it and you had hours or sometimes days to figure out what to do and say.

Then came the 24-hour newsroom and the 24-hour news cycle, followed by the internet and now blogs and Twitter.

Today, you may not have but a few minutes, let alone hours or days, to decide what action to initiate and what to say when something goes wrong.

Since the Institute for Crisis Management was born in the late 80's, we've always had to deal with owners, executives, leaders, CEOs and Presidents that were in denial and then paralyzed when something unexpected happened. We learned to deal with that.

But, today, its compounded by the decision to cut back on communications/PR staff and even worse to move the head of communications/PR to another department and cut off direct, daily interaction between the head of the organization and his/her communication counsel. How effective is the remaining PR person if she has to make an appointment to see the top decision maker?

I was the number two communications person in a Wing Information Office in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve in the late 60's and early 70's. Our office was next door to the Wing Commander -- one was a one-star general and the second boss was a two-star general. The door was always open between our offices.

Then I was Press Secretary for a U.S. Senator years later and my desk was ten feet from the door to the boss' office and rarely was the door closed between us.

Today, we have corporate clients with the head of public relations reporting to the Vice-President of Human Resources and another large chemical company with the PR staff in a separate building. Until recently a university client kept the PR department a floor away from the President. That has changed, with the director of communications just steps away from the top decision maker's office.

If you are a communicator and have been isolated from the top decision maker, ask yourself why? If you have the experience and nerve, ask the boss why? So often, executives see their PR staff as promoters of the organization. That is an important role for the comms staff, but in today's world, the more important role is to be problem solvers, just like the legal counsel. If you can't sell yourself to your boss as more than a promoter of the organization, then you need to find another place to work and perhaps another line of work.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What's the secret to a good interview?

When a client comes to Louisville for spokesperson training, or we go to the client, they want to know the "secret" to doing the best interview possible.

The "secret" is not one thing. It is NOT missing "one thing"

There are some basic, and relatively simple steps, to a successful and effective encounter with a reporter. If you skip or miss one of these steps you will not do as well.

1. Don't agree to an interview without first agreeing on a topic/subject/angle. If a reporter calls and wants to interview you about safety in the workplace, ask her "what about safety in the workplace." Take a little time to get a better defined subject, so you can actually prepare for the interview, not guess at what the reporter is really looking for.

2. After you agree on the subject, set a time and location, and tell the reporter how much time you have for the interview. Never ever agree to an open-ended interview.

3. If there is a "secret" to a successful interview, this step comes closest to it --take the time to identify the audience or audiences you will be talking to. It's not the reporter. Who will be reading or listening or watching this story and what do they already know about the subject. Are they advocates, adversaries or ambivilant.

4. Once you know the subject and the audience, then it gets a lot easier to identify the message you want to deliver and how best to present it.

Every enounter with a reporter is an opportunity. If you fail to take full advantage of every opportunity, shame on you.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Did the media go too far, too fast?

For three years the Senior Consultants at the Institute for Crisis Management have travelled from Halifax, NS to Sao Paulo, Brazil and coast to coast encouraging business leaders, executives, university and hospital administrators and heads of non-profits to plan for the next worldwide pandemic.

During those three years,the media has occasionally shown interest in a pandemic, and a couple of years ago one of the TV networks aired a made-for-TV movie about the "next" pandemic. Each time there was some media attention, a few more companies and organizations would decide to work on a pandemic plan. In between, nothing, nada, zip!

Then a little more than a week ago, people began to die in Mexico and the first cases were confirmed in the U.S. As of this writing (5-4-09) the Center for Disease Control reports 1,000 cases world-wide, including 286 in 36 states in the U.S., 727 cases in Mexico with a much reduced death rate of 26, compared to earlier reports that were much higher.

If you know me, you know I worked in newspaper, radio and TV news for 35 years before I joined the Institute for Crisis Management. The media has always had a difficult time putting news into perspective. Reporting on the latest flu outbreak and the possibility of a worldwide pandemic has been no different.

After a breathless week of pandemic coverage, don't be surprised if the coverage almost disappears. If the "death toll" drops or the media can't find any heart-tugging stories about families torn by "swine flu" then coverage will wane.

HOWEVER, that doesn't mean you should forget about pandemic planning. There will be another worldwide pandemic sooner than later. And if you own or run a business, or almost any other type of organization, you need to be preparing more than just for the health and safety issues.

See the preceding post of April 27.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Still Avoiding Planning for a Pandemic?

In two days the World Health Organization has raised the worldwide pandemic alert level twice as the infection rate spreads to seven countries, after apparently starting in Mexico. WHO declared a Level 5, which means it believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent. More than 150 people have died in Mexico and an infant from Mexico died in Texas this week. Another 2,400 have been sicken in Mexico alone.

Swine flu is a form of a potential pandemic flu and the first two Americans to die in the 1918 pandemic were Kansas farm brothers, drafted for WW I, and victims of swine flu. That outbreak of influenza claimed an estimated 50 million lives around the world and 500,000 in the US alone.

Remember how many millions of dollars and countless hours of worry and preparation were spent in anticipation of the Y2K Bug?

Remember, nothing much went wrong? Did you ever go back and review what you did, what it cost and what it might have cost if you had not prepared?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control are warning of a far greater threat facing the world, than Y2K. And like Y2K, there is not a lot executives, managers and leaders of corporations, small business and other organizations can do to prevent the possible pandemic disaster. But there is a lot they can do to prepare their organizations to avoid total business disaster.

In recent years, medical researchers determined that the pandemic flu usually comes in three waves. A relatively mild version in the spring. It will kill some, but mostly just make many people mildly ill. Then in the past, it disappeared after about two months, only to come back in the fall in full-deadly force, killing thousands and infecting millions of people.

The second wave lasts two to three months and then ends almost over-night. It then comes back the following spring in a very mild form, causing illness but almost no deaths.

While a few good companies and organizations have been preparing for a pandemic, the public and most business owners, executives and managers have turned a deaf ear to the threat.

But there is a great deal you can do to prepare, just in case, and without spending the kind of money that was spent on Y2K.

There are four key areas that you must consider:

1. Cash flow

2. Personnel Policies and issues

3. Legal Issues, i.e. contracts

4. How you are going to communicate with key audiences before, during and after the pandemic.

World Health Organization's Western Pacific regional director says the world is in "grave danger" and "overdue" for an influenza pandemic, since pandemics have occurred every 30 to 40 years and it's been nearly 40 years since the last one.

The normal functions of society have been disrupted in the past outbreaks of 1957 and 1968, but nothing like the world-wide impact of 1918 with workers too ill to work, others staying home out of fear, hospitals strained to meet the demand for care and basic essentials such as transportation, water, sanitation and power were threatened.

If history repeats itself, you have a little time to prepare your business, University, non-profit or almost any other type organization before the worst part of a pandemic strikes later this year.

Hospitals and police departments and other emergency services have been planning for a couple of years, but they have been concentrating on how they are going to "do their jobs" taking care of the sick, keeping cities safe, fighting fires. But, we've found most have failed to plan for keeping their own operations running. If 20-to-40 percent of their doctors, nurses, officers and command staff are out sick, how are they going to carry out the rest of their plan.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Are You Paying Attention to the Swine Flu?

In the years that followed the world-wide pandemic of 1918, researchers discovered a number of "facts" that are probably very relevant to what is happening around us today.

Those researchers discovered that the pandemic of 1918 came in three waves...the first in the spring of that year. It killed a few thousand people around the world, and made hundreds of thousands ill. But that first wave of flu was relatively mild and because communication between countries as well as communities was primitive by today's standards, no one realized what was happening.

In fact it was only in recent years that researchers discovered the three phases of the pandemic.

It was late September or early October before the deadly phase of the flu pandemic began to spread around the globe, killing half-a-million Americans and an estimated 50-million worldwide.

If the pattern holds true, you still have time to prepare a pandemic business plan and be ready to implement it later this year. To learn more about business planning for a pandemic:

By the way, the third phase of the 1918 pandemic showed up in the spring of 1919 with a mutated version of the flu, which was even milder than the first phase the year before

Friday, April 24, 2009

I Ask Again, Are You Ready for a Flu Pandemic?

A little over a week ago (see April 14 post) I asked if your company or organization was ready for a flu pandemic. As has been the case for the past couple of years, most folks ignored the question.

You are putting your business, non-profit, healthcare facility, university or other type of organization at great peril by ignoring that question.

The latest red-flag appeared yesterday (April 23, 2009) when NBC reported at least 60 people have died in Mexico from a deadly strain of swine flu, and at least seven people in California have been diagnosed with that same strain.

Let me remind you -- every 30-to-40 years the world is hit with a pandemic that sickens and kills people across the United States and in every other corner of the globe. These pandemic outbreaks have been recorded two and three times a century since at least the 1500s.

The last three were in 1918, 1957 and 1968. 70,000 Americans died in 1957 and only about 35,000 died in the U.S. in 1968. But in 1918, half-a-million Americans died in a six-month period, and an estimated 50-million more died around the world.

The first documented U.S. deaths were two brothers from a Kansas farm family, drafted into basic training for World War I and both died of swine flu.

In addition to all the health-safety issues you need to be considering, there are "business" issues that demand your attention NOW, before the next pandemic strikes.

I talked about those in the earlier post. Not the least of those plans is a communication plan that should already be in place and reassuring employees, vendors, customers and investors that you are preparing your organization and will not only get through the next pandemic, but recover quickly and effectively.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Would You Do If You Were Domino's?

Domino's is facing a "buger" of a problem with its pizza!

Earlier this week, two employees of a franchise store in North Carolina posted a "store-made" video on YouTube. While a young woman narrates and laughs, a teenage boy is making a sub sandwich, allegedly for a waiting customer.

He pokes cheese up his nose and appears to pull a buger from his nose and put it on the sandwich. By one estimate, more than 700,000 people have seen the 2-and-a-half minute video. Millions will eventually see it, because it's being forwarded by folks who find it on YouTube, and who want to gross out their friends.

Domino's is being criticized by some communication experts and certainly the company's brand and quality is being battered by the disgusting video that is going "viral," as they say!

The company's statements have been pretty good, except for an initial reference to "idots." But the debate is over how aggressive and what media tools Domino's is using and should use to fight the damage being done by the video.

One of the things we learned early on at the Institute for Crisis Management is you don't always have to reinvent the wheel. Learn from other companies' failures and successes.

Domino's management should go back a couple of years and study what Wendy's did after a woman claimed to have found a human finger in a bowl of chili she ordered at a California franchise. Wendy's said it didn't make chili with fingers in it and set up a hotline offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the finger's owner. The Dublin, Ohio-based company said it lost more than $2.5 million from the negative publicity.

Wendy's reported same store sales were down more than 2-percent in the next quarter after the "finger" made news around the world. But, after a couple was arrested and convicted of trying to extort money from Wendy's the publicity turned and within the year, people were enjoying Wendy's chili again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Question: Are You Ready For The Next Pandemic?

The death toll continues to climb, slowly, from the current avian influenza strain that is spreading among ducks, geese and chickens around the world. As of this writing, 257 people have died out of 417 people who have been infected in 15 countries.

Just because it hasn't happened yet, doesn't mean the next worldwide influenza pandemic isn't coming. And, no matter how big or small your business, you cannot afford not to plan for it.

Remember how many millions of dollars and countless hours of worry and preparation were spent in anticipation of the Y2K Bug? Remember, nothing much went wrong? Did you ever go back and review what you did, what it cost and what it might have cost if you had not prepared?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control are warning of a far greater threat facing the world, than Y2K. And like Y2K, there is not a lot executives, managers and leaders of corporations, small business and other organizations can do to prevent the possible pandemic disaster. But there is a lot you can do to prepare your organizations to avoid total business disaster.

While a few good companies and organizations have begun to prepare for a pandemic, the public and most business owners, executives and managers have turned a deaf ear to the threat. But there is a great deal you can do to prepare, just in case, and without spending the kind of money that was spent on Y2K.

There are four key areas that you must consider:
1. Cash flow
2. Personnel Policies and issues
3. Legal Issues, i.e. contracts
4. How to communicate with key audiences before, during and after the pandemic.

WHO's Western Pacific regional director says the world is in "grave danger" and "overdue" for an influenza pandemic, since pandemics have occurred every 30 to 40years and it's been nearly 40 years since the last one.

The worst outbreak of influenza was in 1918 and it killed an estimated 50 million people around the world and 500,000 in the US alone.

The normal functions of society have been disrupted in the past outbreaks of 1957 and 1968, but nothing like the world-wide impact of 1918 with people too ill to work, others staying home out of fear, hospitals strained to meet the demand for care and basic essentials such as transportation, water, sanitation and power were threatened.

Forward thinking companies are already planning for the next pandemic.
Planning should proceed on these fronts:

How are you going to maintain a minimal level of productivity for two to six months?
How are you going to communicate quickly and effectively with employees and vendors and customers?

Human Resources, Finance, Legal, IT, Purchasing, Transportation, Marketing and Sales all need a plan to keep the business functioning. Plan for how you are going to keep operating with up to half of your employees out sick or afraid to come to work, and knowing that some will never be back. Or, plan for when you will shut down and how you will make that decision and communicate that decision to your employees, vendors and customers.

What's the minimum workforce with which you can continue to operate safely? When you have as much as half your workforce out sick, or afraid to come to work, what can you do to meet production demands? When a number of those sick employees never return to work, where will you find qualified replacements? How long will it take to train them?

When your vendors are facing the same sickness and absenteeism, and your delivery services are slowed by sickness, how will you maintain production?
The communication challenge is just as significant.

You need a plan in place to communicate with employees, to reassure them, if you can:
~ their jobs will be safe
~ this will end and life will return to normal (whatever that is)
~ the company will stand by them and their families if the worst happens

You will need to daily update employees, partners and customers about the progress you are making in overcoming the challenges of the pandemic. But, be honest. You may be slowed by the illness or work may be temporarily halted.

To compound the threat, companies doing business overseas have people traveling back and forth regularly. In fact, CDC is warning people that plan to visit Asian countries for more than ten days to immediately go to hospital with any hint of pneumonia or respiratory problems.

Healthcare insurers and providers should already be developing their plan, and charitable organizations need to prepare, also. If you depend on volunteers, and they are sick or afraid of getting sick, you will be impacted. If you depend on individual and corporate funding, and work is slowed or temporarily stopped by a pandemic, you will suffer immediate and significant financial loss.

Like preparation for Y2K, planning for something like a bird flu pandemic may seem far fetched and unnecessary. Y2K came and went with hardly a ripple. A flu pandemic will cause ripples even with preparation, but it will cause tidal waves if you do not plan, just in case.