Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crisis Communication Training -- Register Now

The new year is fast approaching and participants are beginning to register for the Institute for Crisis Management 2012 Crisis Communication Certification Courses in  Louisville, KY.

You should register as soon as you can for the intensive and thorough two-day crisis communication training and the optional third day of media/spokesperson training.

There are still openings in all four sessions of the 2012 ICM Crisis Communication Management Certification Course.
Feb. 7-8 & 9, 2012
May 15-16 & 17, 2012
July 17-18 & 19, 2012
Sept. 11-12 & 13, 2012

For more information go to:

If you are part of a management team, and particularly if you are on the crisis management team, you will find ICM's crisis training extremely valuable.

Whether you are responsible for internal or external communication or not, the ICM crisis training will be worth the trip. And even if you are not normally the designated spokesperson, the third day of spokesperson training will be helpful. The more you know about the media and how to "use" the media in a crisis or any other time, the easier it will be for you to do your job, regardless of what your responsibilities may be.

There is no company, organization or non-profit, no matter how big or small, that will not benefit from crisis communication planning, training and media/spokesperson training.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Old Threat Still Hangs Over Us

The Institute for Crisis Management has been warning clients and anyone else who will listen that every business, no matter how small or big, every organization -- for profit or non-profit--needs to have a Pandemic Crisis Plan.

Ten years ago I was speaking to groups all over the U.S., Canada and South America urging them to develop a crisis plan for the next Pandemic.  Some listened, some pandemic plans were begun, but many blew it off. 

The attitude was and still is, that isn't gonna happen.  Medicine has advanced so much, doctors aren't going to let that happen.

This week The World Health Organization (WHO) hosted an international conference and  issued a strong warning that another deadly pandemic is "a matter of when and not if," according to WHO Assistant Director-General of Health Security Keiji Fukuda.

In 1918/1919 50-million people died worldwide, with half-a-million of those deaths in the United States

There have been two smaller worldwide pandemics since 1919. The next one was in 1957 when the Asian Flu killed 70,000 Americans and the most recent was 1968, when the Hong Kong Flu killed 34,000 Americans and thousands more around the world.

In spite of the medical advances and the worldwide surveillance for signs of pandemic type infected birds, the experts at WHO still maintain the terrible disease, borne by birds that travel from country to country, is a significant threat.

Besides, we have argued, the Pandemic Plan is just a specialized part of any organization's crisis plan.  Particularly that part of the crisis plan that deals with how your business or organization will respond to someone else's crisis.

An example:  You're Ford Motor Company and you have this wonderful, modern plant in Louisville, KY that makes the new Ford Escape.  The pandemic strikes the U.S.  You depend on scores of plants around north America and Mexico to supply parts that ultimately go into making your new Escape.

The pandemic hits some of the communities with suppliers that you depend on.  Half of the employees at six supplier plants are out sick or dieing.  You can't get enough parts to build vehicles and then you realize 30-percent of your workforce is out sick or dieing.  Do you have a plan for that?

PR Can't Prevent Or Fix Bad Managment

The Penn State Football "crisis" has become a public relations problem for the University, but it started as a failing leadership/management problem.

I always say, "Doing the right thing is almost always the right thing to do."  That may seem trite, but consider the whole Penn State dilemma.  If the Head Coach and the Athletic Director and the Chief of the Campus Police and the President of the University had each done the "right thing" to begin with, there would have been a relatively smaller PR problem and the bigger problem -- sexual abuse of young boys -- would have been stopped sooner.

It doesn't matter what your organization does -- make millions playing football, manufacture widgets, provide a service or sell those widgets -- doing the right thing as soon as you discover someone in your organization is not, will save you potentially thousands if not millions of dollars in lost business or support and legal fees and settlements.

We have been called by potential clients in crisis and want us to fly in a fix it.  I always ask what the organization is doing, or going to do to fix "it."  And I often get this reponse -- "we're not sure, but while we decide what to do, we want you to come in and do your thing."

Our "thing" is to help leadlership explain what they are doing to their internal audiences, first, and then to all the important audiences outside.  We can't, really we won't, cover for a poor or indecisive leader.  We WILL help a management/leadership team identify what the real problem(s) are, and suggest steps they can and should take, and how to explain what they have decided to do or not do.

But, in most cases, when you see a business, hospital, university or other organization in negative news  headlines, the crisis was probably smoldering for weeks or months or in the case of Penn State
for years before it figuratively blew up in their faces. 

We call those "smoldering crises" and two-thirds of all organizational crises are the smoldering type.

They start out small and are undetected or ignored, and as a result they get bigger and potentially more dangerous and then, inevitably they explode in public view. Causing much more damage than they would have had they been dealt with when they first were discovered.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who Tells The CEO He Can't Be The Spokesman In A Crisis?

A recent study raises a question about whether the CEO is a good or bad choice as spokesperson in a crisis.

To begin with, the Institute for Crisis Management has always pleaded with clients to identify spokespersons other than the CEO.  The CEO of any company in a crisis has more on his/her plate than any one person should be expected to manage and being the on-going spokesperson is almost a full-time job in itself.

Plus, if the CEO misspeaks, there is no one left who can step in and fix it!

There IS a place and carefully controlled situation when the CEO must step up and speak for the company, but not in an on-going spokesperson role.

But, if you won’t take our advice consider the new survey from the Public Affairs Council and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

The latest survey of public opinion about the honesty and ethics of business leaders and lower level employees turns that whole thing upside down.  The lower an employee is in the chain of command the higher he or she is considered as honest and ethical.

86-percent of Americans found non-managers ranked average or highly honest and ethical, while the same survey found only 50-percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethics of CEOs as average or high.

So, if you put the CEO out front in a crisis, you are starting at a 50-50 disadvantage with key audiences already doubting that spokesperson’s credibility.

It’s not hard to understand the results of the survey.  Most people don’t live like a CEO and most don’t even know a CEO in person.  However, they CAN identify with the “working man and woman.” They believe that people like themselves are honest and ethical like they are.

But that same survey found another reason why CEO’s are held in such low esteem – outlandish pay and bonuses.  Even if the company is doing well, Americans do not like executive bonuses. And when times are bad, 87 percent oppose bonuses for top management. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Penn State a Smoldering Crisis for 17-Years

“It’s not about Paterno or football, it is about making sure processes are in place and individuals are held accountable so Penn State’s name is never shamed again,” Paul Silvis, a member of Penn State’s board of trustees said shortly before veteran coach Joe Paterno confirmed he would be retiring at the end of the season.

Well, this post is not about Paterno or football or even Penn State.  It is about any organization – business, charity, not-for-profit, public school or university having a plan in place to manage and communicate when something as big and smelly as the assistant coach molesting young men and boys blows up in your face.
First of all, this was what we at the Institute for Crisis Management call a smoldering crisis.

Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was temporarily jailed last weekend and charged with sexual assaults or advances on at least eight boys starting as early as 1994.  Someone or several someones have known about the smoldering crisis for years.  And someone could have started the process of shutting down the “problem” and beginning the process to both take care of the victims AND prepare the Administration and Head Coach to minimize the damage. 

“This is a tragedy,” Coach Paterno, said in a statement released today by his public relations agency. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

And the school’s Board of Trustees issued a statement saying it was “outraged by the horrifying details” in the grand jury report about the Sandusky case.”

The statements are okay, but are 17-years late!

Every organization should have what we call a MEWS, or Management Early Warning System in place. Everyone in the organization should be educated and encouraged to pay attention to what’s going on around them and not be afraid to report potential problems to someone up the management chain. Even when it impacts your  money making football or basketball program and its star coach.
The boys themselves may or may not have been telling anyone about what the “Coach” had or was doing to them...but very likely one or two did tell someone.  If that person had only told someone else.

Well, a graduate assistant DID tell Paterno about Sandusky assaulting a boy visiting  the Penn State locker room in 2002, but nothing was done to fully stop the molestations nor to take the appropriate steps to make it public, take care of the victims, apologize and begin immediately repairing the athletic department and university’s reputation.

Once again I appeal to leaders of all organizations to plan for every possible thing that can go wrong, from the building blowing up, blowing away or getting damaged by the stench of misbehavior by someone that works for you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mr. Cain Continues to Set An Example

It’s not the right example, but it certainly is a teaching moment, not only for politicians, but for executives at every level of a business or organization.

GOP Presidential Candidate Herman Cain now says he told a friend of Presidential opponent Rick Perry back in 2003 about a charge against him while he worked for the National Restaurant Association in the 90’s. And, as a result, Cain is blaming the Perry staff for leaking the allegations of sexual harassment against him.
That raises the question:  If he knew it was out there, why didn’t he have a prepared response?

When you have something that can be used against you or your company or organization, you must anticipate that it will come up at some time, and be prepared to make it a one-day story, not drag it on for days with denials, then half-truths, lame explanations and then blame the competition for stirring up the stink.
NBC News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd says, Cain has “evolved his explanation so much that it’s confirmed some of the charges, making his denials on all of them harder to believe.”

Let me 'splain this again:  If you have something questionable or potentially damaging in your past, just assume that at some critical time in your career, your business or your campaign, it will come out -- sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose. Decide NOW what you can and will say, practice it out-loud, polish it, and be prepared.

At ICM we recommend you tell your side of what happened/or didn’t, say you made a mistake (if you did) and have been working to make it right (if you have) and say you’re sorry – and mean it.

It won’t always stop the damage from eating away at you or your organization, but most of the time it will be a one-day story and then disappear.  It’s when you are not forthcoming, your enemies/opponents can and will keep chipping away at your integrity, reputation and name.

I know, you want to know what we would have suggested Mr. Cain say when the issue first came up. 
How about something like this:
You’ve seen me speak and interact with staff and supporters and voters. Sometimes my attempt at humor succeeds and sometimes it doesn’t.  There were two co-workers at NRA that apparently miss-interpreted something I said or did.  At the time I said I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and I can say it again – if I offended either of those two ladies or anyone else, forgive me.  I love my wife, I don’t need anyone but her.

Then when asked about it again, simply be prepared to say:  I answered that question yesterday (or when ever) do you have anything you want to ask me?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Invaluable Lesson From Herman Cain

If Herman Cain accomplishes nothing else in his career, he is providing an invaluable lesson in how to respond to allegations of misconduct.

He was accused of sexually harassing two female employees while he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 90’s.

The first public statement on behalf of the Republican Presidential candidate came from his chief campaign aide Mark Block, who told MSNBC that Cain “never sexually harassed anybody. Period. End of Story. And he added, I am not personally aware of any settlement.”

In a later interview on FOX TV, Cain said, “If the restaurant association did a settlement, I wasn’t even aware of it, and hope it wasn’t for much.”

In a still later interview Cain’s story changed.  He said, “Yes, there was some sort of settlement or termination,” in an interview with Greta Van Susteren.

Then on PBS, Cain said, “I was aware that an agreement was reached. The word settlement versus the word agreement, you know, I’m not sure what they called it.”

So on the first day Cain began with a declaration there had been no sexual harassment. And finally he concluded that one woman might have incorrectly interpreted something he said as being inappropriate and a settlement of agreement was reached.

Political pundits immediately began to ask “Can he survive this?” 

That’s not the question to ask.  The question to ask is why didn’t he respond truthfully and adequately to end the story on the first day, rather than draw the story out over several days, leaving potential voters to wonder what really happened and why didn’t he answer the question to begin with.
If you, or your company/organization are accused of something “wrong” answer as thoroughly as you can as quickly as you can, and then every time the question comes up again, simply respond with “I’ve already answered that, do you have any other questions?”