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