Friday, September 30, 2011

Finally, Someone Did It Right!

Monday morning, Sept. 26 someone or some group calling itself the “Syrian Electronic Army” hacked its way into the Harvard University home page, posting a picture of Syria’s president and a message that said,   “SyRiAn eLeCTronic ArMy WeRe HeRE.”

“This site has been breached to spread our message even if illegally,” the hacker added. There was more, but you get the picture.
Hardly a week goes by that some institution or organization doesn’t make headlines because of an intrusion into their website.  And there’s no way of knowing how many hacks go unreported.

Some just fix it and never say anything, others over-react, but the leadership at Harvard reacted about as well as any responsible decision maker could.
They acted quickly and said, “The University’s home page was compromised by an outside party this morning.  We took down the site for several hours in order to restore it.  The attack appears to have been the work of a sophisticated individual or group.”

The secret to their public response was acknowledging it happened, but not responding in any way to create more conflict, or give the perpetrator credit by name.   Hacks are usually done for one or two reasons – just to be disruptive, or to get broader attention for their cause.

Harvard didn’t let the disruption last long, and did not sucker into a public debate about the hacker’s “cause.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don't Sell TV News Short, Yet!

Local TV is the only source of news to beat word-of-mouth as the go-to source for local information, according to a recently released Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation study.

In a nationwide survey of 2,251 adults, 74% said they turned to local TV news at least once a week to get information about their community.  That compares to similar research in the late 80s, when viewers watched local news at least four-times a week.

That old fashioned word-of-mouth came in second with 55-percent of those surveyed, radio with 51-percent, newspapers a shrinking 50-percent and the Internet with an increasing 47-percent, as a source of news and information.

Research shows that word-of-mouth grows in importance as the traditional media pay less attention to what's important to their viewers, listeners or readers.  A Brookings Institute study found that family and friends were the most popular and reliable sources of a lot of information today.

One example was education and school news.  When was the last time you saw a local television station cover a school board meeting when there was no big protest expected? 

The Pew study respondents said  if they were interested in weather, breaking news, politics or crime then TV news was the best source.

(Disclaimer here) I spent 35-years in newspapers and radio and television news, including about half of that as a newspaper editor or radio or TV news director.

It didn't used to be this way, but now local TV news ranks low as a source on such important things as business, schools, government and cultural events.

THE LESSON HERE:  When you are facing a crisis or managing a crisis, after you are clear what the crisis is, the next step is to identify your key audiences, and before you start "communicating," identify the media that will best reach the key audiences that are important.

TV news mostly appeals to an audience over 40.  Younger audiences tend to get their news and information from digital sources such as the Internet and mobile phones.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who Do You Think Is Doing A Good Job?

It certainly isn't the oil companies, managed care (HMOs) or health insurance companies.

A new Harris Poll measuring what you think about 22 of the nation's largest industries, concludes you don't think very kindly about some of the industries that we all have to depend on.

The poll is done every two years, and the most recent one was done in August, with interviews of 1,956 adults.

One "improvement" from the 2009 survey to this most recent one, found consumers think the automobile industry is doing a much better job with a 36-percent higher "positive,"  but in contrast, 27-percent say the airline industry is doing an awful job.

At the other end of the good job/bad job scale, supermarkets are ranked best with 90-percent of those surveyed giving a "good job" rating and only 10-percent a "bad job" rating for the nation's big food stores.

At the bottom of the list of 22 industries -- the oil companies with 33% of the respondents giving them a "good job" evaluation and 64% a "bad job" rating.

Tobacco companies were next to last and on-line search engines  were 2nd from the top of the list. Hospitals were third with an 82-percent favorable rating and 16-percent bad-job rating. Two-percent were not sure.

Computer hardware and software companies were 4th and 5th, online retailers ranked 6th, Internet service providers were 7th and packaged food companies ranked 8th.

Car manufacturers were 9th and electric and gas utilities came it at 10th with a 70% favorable rating and a 29% unfavorable rating with one-percent undecided.

Telephone companies were 13th, banks 14th, drug companies 15th, cable companies 16th and airlines 17th.

Why does this matter?  Dollars and cents is why it matters. Although most of us have no choice but to do business with many of these kinds of companies, where there is a choice, the business that treats us better than a competitor is more likely to get our money.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beware of Whistleblowers!

Not only should you plan for fires, explosions, natural disasters and workplace violence, but you MUST anticipate and be prepared to manage a WHISTLEBLOWER crisis.

The U.S. Government has reported a steady increase in whistleblower cases since 2005, and one of the nation's largest labor law practices has had an increase of 25-percent in whistleblower and retaliation complaints from 2009 to the present. They recently created a stand-alone specialty Whistleblowing and Retaliation Practice.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has seen an increase of 2011 whistleblower cases already totalling 2,339 as of last week, and that compares to 2,319 for all of last year and 2,010 for all of 2009.

So, you need a section in your crisis communication plan for a whistleblower sparked crisis and a response for a whistleblower who isn't accurate.

ICM had a relatively small company client with less than 200 employees. They had fired an employee for cause.  That employee set out to "get even" by making whistleblower charges with a number of federal agencies and offices.  The employee finally got a government lawyer to listen.  It was likely the lawyer had political aspirations and saw an opportunity to use this case.

The company was well run, had a great reputation, and a number of government contracts.  The only two people in the world who wanted to hurt the company was the fired worker and one government lawyer.

The company had ignored or missed a technical record keeping step and the whistleblower "got 'em" on that.  The company paid a million dollar fine and the whistleblower got a couple of hundred-thousand dollars of the penalty.

By comparison, Bank of America was just ordered to pay a whistleblower $930,000 in interest and back wages and reinstate the employee. OSHA concluded, "This employee showed great courage reporting potential fraud and standing up for the rights of other employees to do the same."  BoA was found to have used illegal retaliatory tactics against the whistleblower.

Several legal experts agree the increase in whistleblowing is a good thing, unless you are a company that is cutting corners, operating illegally or otherwise not operating in the public interest.

We recommend two things:  1.  Don't do that!  Doing the right thing is almost always the right thing to do. And, 2. Maintain a crisis communication plan, just in case you make a mistake and someone blows the whistle on your organization.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Workplace Safety Still Requires Planning

While the Institute for Crisis Management's annual Crisis Report continues to conclude that "sudden" crises, such as fires, explosions, natural disasters and workplace violence still make up only about one-third of all business and organizational crises, it doesn't mean that you can let your guard down nor take steps to continue to minimize those types of business disruptions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has just reported the numbers for 2010 and they say there were 4,547 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2010 -- four fewer than in 2009.

The number of workplace homicides was down significantly last year -- seven percent fewer than in 2009 with 506 cases in 2010 and down more than 50-percent from 1994.  The U.S. Labor Department had reported in some recent years as many as 700 workplace homicides, and thousands of non-fatal workplace attacks.

Returning to workplace injuries and deaths, the Labor Department says construction accidents account for more fatal workplace injuries than any other industry, with 751 deaths in 2010.

Some have argued that number is declining because there are fewer people working in construction jobs in the past three years, but the Associated General Contractors of American maintain the number is dropping because of planning and training efforts.

Deaths in the mining industry jumped 74-percent last year to a total of 172 fatalities.  Leading that category were multiple deaths at the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in West Virginia and the 11 deaths on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Operational Crisis Planning and Crisis Communication Planning should not ignore the more frequent "smoldering crisis" types, such as mismanagement, labor issues, activist protests, product defects and the many human resources types of problems, but at the same time, never stop working to prevent the sudden type crises, and plan for ways to manage them when they cannot be avoided.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Cell Phone Could Put You Out Of Business

If you have a small or even medium size business, have you thought about how a single cell phone could destroy everything you've worked so hard for?

A recent survey discovered that 32-percent of companies know or have evidence that distracted employees, using a cell phone, triggered an on-the-job crash.  That is a sure fire basis for a lawsuit.
And, if there was serious injury or death resulting from that crash, the financial loss could wipe out even a medium size business.

The survey by ZoomSafer found that 62-percent of companies have written policies prohibiting employees from using mobile phones while driving on company business.  That was relative good news, but the bad news--only about half make an effort to enforce that policy.

And of those who try to enforce the policy, 61-percent depend on after-the-fact disciplinary action.

Now for the really serious news --7.6-percent of the 500 companies surveyed have been sued as a result of an employee being distracted by a phone while driving. For companies with more than 5,000 drivers, 37-percent have been served with lawsuits.

71-percent of long-haul trucking companies, and 83-percent of local trucking companies have written cell phone use policies.  

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given moment, 11-percent of drivers are using their cell phone, and the National Safety Council estimates that one out of every four vehicle crashes involves a driver on the phone.

Remember, ICM research consistently reaffirms that nearly two-thirds of all business crises are preventable, and most of those driving while distracted wrecks could be prevented, if the driver was NOT using a cell phone.

A business crisis is still a business crisis, whether it was caused by a hurricane or a distracted driver.

Your liability is probably greater if the loss was caused by your employee, driving while distracted.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/11 Anniversary

Within 24 hours after the twin towers were leveled by hijacked airliners in New York City, we began to take a series of anxious telephone calls from companies and organizations all over North America.

There was no beating around the bush. Almost, without exception, all callers wanted to know if we could help them develop a terrorism crisis plan, and how much would it cost?

I made a quick decision that first day, and did NOT set out to take advantage of anyone.  It would have been easy, and financially rewarding, but, instead I was honest with each caller.

I said, "I cannot guarantee you will never need a 'terrorism crisis plan,' but the odds are very slim, if you do not live and/or operate in New York City, Washington, DC, or maybe a handful of other major media markets."

I assured them the Institute for Crisis Management could help them develop a terrorism crisis plan, but added, "you are far more likely to experience one of a dozen more likely crisis types."  And offered to
submit a proposal for a practical, custom crisis communication plan.

That was almost a daily conversation for nearly six months.

But as time passed, and the television news video began to lose its shock value, almost none of those organizations ever completed work on any kind of a crisis communication plan, let alone a terrorism crisis plan.

Nothing has changed. 

Businesses and other types of organizations, including non-profits, higher education, healthcare and even professional organizations still face the same kinds of disrupting events and still need to plan and train for them.

ICM research See the Annual ICM Crisis Report reaffirms, year after year, that about two-thirds of all crises are preventable.

Even crises that cannot be prevented, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, can be anticipated, and recovery will be easier and quicker if you have a crisis plan and have practiced with that plan before the real thing hits.