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.