PR - Crisis and Management

Monday, April 24, 2006

Final Post

Crisis public relations plays an integral role in each and every corporation, organization and business. Every organization is vulnerable to crises. If you don't prepare, you will take more damage. Planning for the worst and expecting the backlash is what crisis PR is all about. Crisis public relations is a field which is rapidly expanding and becoming a well recognized field and career path.

Throughout the course of the semester, I have learned that a crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention. These situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or manmade disaster that could be attributed to your company. It can also be a situation where in the eyes of the media or general public your company did not react to one of the above situations in the appropriate manner. The basic causes of a business crisis are four in number:

1. Acts of God (storms, earthquakes, volcanic action, etc)
2. Mechanical problems (ruptured pipes, metal fatigue, etc.)
3. Human errors (the wrong valve was opened, miscommunication about what to do, etc.)
4. Management decisions/indecision (the problem is not serious, nobody will find out)

I have also learned that if handled correctly the damage can be minimized. The main point I have taken away from this blog is that if there’s one key rule is crisis management, it’s tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. Other main principles of crisis management that have been utilized by the subjects reviewed in my blog are:

• The first and foremost goal is protecting the integrity and reputation of the Company.
• Never try to lie, deny or hide your involvement.
• If you ignore the situation it will only get worse.
• Don't let the lawyers make the decisions. While they are good intentioned it may cause the crisis to escalate.
• The cause of almost all crises fall into two broad categories:
• Overt acts and acts of omission.
• Issues of competence or lack thereof in matters of public perception.

I have an interest in becoming a public relations specialist so this project has helped me learn how to prepare for my future. I want to pursue a career in public relations and throughout the course of this semester I have picked up a few pointers on a PR practitioner should deal with the media and the most effective strategies to use when facing a crisis. They include:

* Prepare "talking paper" on primary points you want to make when giving speeches to the media.
* Anticipate questions and prepare responses.
* Build bridges, network and make as many contacts as possible because you never know when you might need an ally.
* Use specifics, analogies, contrast and comparisons to help your audience understand the message you are trying to portray.
* Be enthusiastic/animated.
* Do be a listener.

After completing two months of blogging about crisis public relations I feel as though I have a better understanding of the field as a whole and the strategies employed in successful public relations campaigns. I have an increased interest in pursuing this field as a career as well. I have also learned the benefits of blogging as a medium for two-way communication. I feel that blogging is quickly becoming the future of the communication industry, bringing more interaction and engagement to consumers and organizations alike. Blogging helps create an environment that facilitates two-way communication and feedback from users which in turn helps organizations better meet the needs and wants of their consumers. Blogging also provides an opportunity to speak freely about topics and gives other users the chance to read a variety of opinions and perspectives.

Blogging is extremely important to the public relations departments of companies as the public image and awareness of a product or person is greatly affected by what appears on blogs. In terms of crisis public relations, I believe blogging will be a positive and a negative, both aiding in free publicity for a company but also serving as an outlet for unsatisfied customers to vent about their frustrations with your company. Keeping on top of what is being said about your company or organization throughout the blogosphere will be an important component of any crisis public relations strategy from now on.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wal-Mart's new PR perspective

Wal-Mart owner Sam Walton has never been an advocate for the practice of public relations. The now deceased business tycoon was said to detest public relations, preferring to let Wal-Mart products and services speak for themselves. Under the new regime, public relations has taken on a special role in the corporate life of Wal-Mart, with company officials locking into a political campaign-like mentality to respond to critics of its labor and big box store setting strategies.

Recently, there have been reports that the company is looking for "triage" and "emergency response" specialists in its next key hires. Michael Barbaro reported that the executive search firm Crowe-Innes & Associates has been engaged to help find a director of media relations who can manage a "crisis communications program" and "triage" such crises "in rapid response mode." Hours of work: up to "24/7" according to the posting, which was released to the Times by one of Wal-Mart's biggest critics, Wal-Mart Watch.

A second job posting seeks a candidate who can address "high profile political activities" and "operate successfully in a campaign mode." Wal-Mart does not seem to worry about getting a bargain when it comes to hiring high level public relations professionals. In November, 2005, the New York Times reported that the company had hired the Edelman public relations firm, including ex-advisers from the camps of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and John Kerry.

Wal-Mart's new perspective on the importance of public relations, and more interestingly, crisis public relations further proves the point that no one is safe from a potential crisis, not even a business leader such as Wal-Mart. I find it hard to believe that public relations wasn't high on Wal-Mart's priority list prior to now seeing as they have been linked to so much negative publicity surrounding their labor relations and alleged discrimination in hiring. It will be interesting to see how an independent public relations firm will handle such a large and controversial account. I'd say, Edelman has their work cut out for them!

In other Wal-Mart news, CNN reported this morning that Wal-Mart plans to open 50 new stores in communities where crime and or unemployment rates are high. Critics say this plan is a superficial effort by the chain to create favorable publicity for the company. Wal-Mart claims the new stores will hundreds of thousands of dollars in state tax revenue and hundreds of new jobs to the communities where stores are being built.

New York Times: March 30, 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Duke Lacrosse Scandal

"The victim stated she tried to leave and the three males (Adam, Bret, and Matt) forcefully held her legs and arms and sexually assaulted her anally, vaginally and orally. The victim states she was hit, kicked and strangled during the assault and she attempted to defend herself, but was overpowered. The victim reported she was sexually assaulted for an approximate 30 minute time period by the three males. " This is the statement from police in Durham, North Carolina, where the Duke Lacrosse program is in the midst of a catastrophic controversy.

The allegation is that three white players from Duke's lacrosse team raped a black student from North Carolina Central University. The student, an exotic dancer, was hired to work at a party in an off-campus home, where the alleged rape occurred. So far, no one has been officially charged with a crime. Investigators are waiting on DNA tests performed on 46 of the 47 players.

Duke had the No. 2 lacrosse team in the country and was expected to win the national title this year. So far, members of the team have remained silent in solidarity, but officials vow to break the stalemate. It is not surprising that team is remaining so silent; the party was hosted in a house rented to the team's three captains.

This scandal will catapult Duke lacrosse into the nationalconsciousnesss negatively for a long time. This story is front page news: rape and gender, race, class, timing, and the team's foolhardy adherence to a code of silence are issues that make this crisis one of such great magnitude. The incident has sparked a series of protests on campus this week. Many of the protesters have said the case is the product of a culture of power and privilege at Duke that protects the wealthy and well-placed, especially athletes, at the expense of others.

Duke University staff are trying to keep positive and spin the negative aspects of the scandal. Duke vice president of communications John Burness says the school is trying to use the incident as a "teachable moment." ( "There are many topics to consider," he says. "The Fifth Amendment, race, privilege and the role athletics plays." After suspending the team from playing, Duke President ,Richard Brodhead said, "In this painful period of uncertainty, it is clear to me, as it was to the players, that it would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play." (SI.Com) Brodhead met with students Wednesday morning to discuss the incident in a forum closed to reporters.

Tom Delay to resign in coming weeks

Former Majority Leader Tom Delay intends to resign from Congress within weeks. The conservative is known for his bare-knuckled political style. Delay was first elected in 1984 and his career will come to an end in the coming weeks. Republican officials expect Delay to quit his seat later this spring. "He has served our nation with integrity and honor," said Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who succeeded DeLay in his leadership post earlier this year.

Tom DeLay's decision to leave Congress is just the latest piece of evidence that the Republican Party is a party in disarray, a party out of ideas and out of energy," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

DeLay is under indictment in Texas as part of an investigation into the allegedly illegal use of funds for state legislative races. He is accused of funneling corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas House in violation of state laws. A federal investigation also is pursuing DeLay's ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Delay's ties with lobbyist Jack Abramoff caused him to formally surrender his post as majority leader in January.

Neither Rudy, Abramoff nor anyone else connected with the investigation has publicly accused DeLay of breaking the law. DeLay has consistently denied all wrongdoing. Delay told Time magazine he was to announce on Tuesday that he was not running for re-election. "I'm very much at peace with it," he said.

On Friday, March 31, DeLay's former chief of staff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promised to help with a federal investigation of bribery and lobbying fraud relating to Abramoff. Tony Rudy admitted conspiring with Abramoff, both while Rudy worked for Delay and after he left the lawmaker's staff to become a lobbyist himself. He is the second former DeLay staffer to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the lobbying probe. The plea agreement makes no allegation that DeLay did anything wrong.

Delay has had a successful career filled with legislation, lobbying, political campaigns and money. And while he was a conservative, he raised millions of dollars for the campaigns of fellow House Republicans regardless of their ideology. He supported tax cuts, limits on abortions, looser government regulation of business and other items on the conservative agenda, and he rarely backed down. DeLay was the driving force behind
President Clinton' impeachment in 1999.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

How baseball should deal with the steroid scandal

Baseball's image at stake as commissioner mulls response to most recent steroid abuse allegations. Selig said he would rather have root-canal surgery than deal with the controversy stirred by Game of Shadows, the new book about Barry Bonds reportedly using steroids. Experts are saying that Selig has no choice now but to be proactive and aggressive in dealing with Bonds. These experts say"One of the first things to do is talk to Bonds. Will he cooperate? If he doesn't, I think that leads to disaster for Bonds,"

steroids were, in fact, banned from baseball as early as 1991, when Fay Vincent, as commissioner, circulated a document titled "Baseball's Drug Policy and Prevention Program," detailing the prohibition of "all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids." ESPN The Magazine has reported on the little-known policy's existence, and also reported that Selig sent out a similar memo in 1997. The players' union refused to submit to a testing program. But that didn't mean steroids were legal.

Bonds wasn't the only one breaking the rules. There's no telling how many players used illegal performance-enhancing substances to better themselves and their games. That's one reason Bonds' supporters say he shouldn't be singled out.

The debate is over what Selig should do in response to this scandal. The easy response would be to do nothing and Selig would love to do that, despite his professed concern for ridding baseball of steroids. However, taking on Bonds could lead to trouble with the players union, complaints from Bonds' team, the San Francisco Giants and maybe even a lawsuit from Bonds himself. Vincent suggests furthering the story and gathering information grounded in fact, not rumor. The public relations lesson to be learned is that you have to act, respond, take chances.The one thing you can't do is, nothing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Conflict Management Process

Strategic conflict management is the function where the public relations professional must develop communication strategies and processes to influence the course of conflicts to the benefit of the organization and when possible, to the benefit of the organization's any constituents.Theh PR practitioner can use the following four step process to do so.

Proactive phase - includes activities and thought processes that can prevent a conflict from arising or from getting out of hand.

* Environmental scanning - constant reading, listening and watching of current affairs with an eyes to the organization's interests
* Issues tracking - more focused and systematic through processes such as the daily clipping of news stores
* Issues management -occurs when the organization makes behavioral changes or creates strategic plans in ways that address the emerging issue
* crisis plan -first step in preparing for the worst-an issue or an event that has escalated to crisis proportions

Strategic phase - an issue that has become an emerging conflict is identified as needed concerted action by the public relations professional

· Risk communication - dangers or threats to people or organizations are conveyed to forestall personal injury, health problems, and environmental damage. Continues so long as the risk exists or until the risk escalates into a crisis
· Conflict-positioning - enable the organization to position itself favorably in anticipation of actions such as litigation, boycott, adverse legislation, elections or similar events that will play out in the "court of public opinion"
· Crisis management -a plan is developed when an issue resists risk communication efforts and becomes a conflict of crisis proportions

Reactive phase -once the issue or imminent conflict reach a critical level of impact on the organization, the public relations professional must react to events in the external communication environment as they unfold

* Crisis communications -includes the implementation of the crisis management plan as well as 24/7 efforts to meet the needs of publics such as disaster victims, employees, government officials and media
* Conflict resolution -used when conflict has emerged but is not careening out of control. Techniques are used to bring a heated conflict to a favorable resolution using negotiation or arbitration efforts to resolve conflict
* Litigation public relations - employs communication strategies and publicity efforts in supports of legal actions or trials

Recovery phase - in the aftermath of a crisis or a high profile, heated conflict with a public, the organization should employ strategies either to bolster or repair its reputation in the eyes of key publics

* Reputation management - includes systematic research to learn the state of the organization's reputation and then taking steps to improve it

Wilcox, Dennis. Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. Boston, MA: Pearson Education INC. 2006

Controversial drug supported by Ketchum PR

Four years ago, almost no one had heard of Herceptin. Today, the drug is a household name, and British women with early-stage breast cancer are going to court for the right to get it. Despite the fact that Herceptin is not actually licensed for use in early-stage cancer, and clinical tests have yet to prove it will ever save lives, it is in high demand. Ketchum PR firm helped promote the drug for Roche Pharmaceuticals through support for patient groups such as CancerBACUP, which gets a significant chunk of its funding from Roche and other drug companies.

Ketchum describes the benefits of the product on "Herceptin is a humanized antibody, designed to target and block the function of HER2, a protein produced by a specific gene with cancer-causing potential. Herceptin has demonstrated improved survival in the advanced setting, where its addition to chemotherapy allows patients to live up to one-third longer than chemotherapy alone. Herceptin received approval in the European Union in 2000 for use in patients with metastatic breast cancer, whose tumors overexpress the HER2 protein, as first-line therapy in combination with paclitaxel where anthracyclines are unsuitable, and as a single agent in second- and third-line therapy. In 2004, it also received approval for use in combination with docetaxel as a first-line therapy in HER2-positive patients who have not received chemotherapy for their metastatic disease. Herceptin is marketed in the United States by Genentech, in Japan by Chugai and internationally by Roche. Since 1998, Herceptin has been used to treat over 230,000 HER2-positive breast cancer patients worldwide."

"It is not just the patient groups that drug companies hope to get support from," PR executive Sarah Bosely writes. "They also want 'opinion leaders' - people with credibility who can be quoted in the papers and on TV. ... But patient groups are the most rewarding target and there is an obvious risk that they could be influenced by companies with turnovers as large as the GDP of small nations. (

Ketchum's web-site had this to say about it's relationship with the controversial drug company.

"Roche UK has appointed Ketchum to provide UK public relations support for its portfolio of oncology products, including Herceptin (trastuzumab) for breast cancer, MabThera (rituximab) for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Xeloda (capecitabine) indicated for colorectal cancer and under investigation for other forms of cancer.
Ketchum's appointment follows a competitive proposal process conducted during January and February 2001.
"We're thrilled to be working in the UK on such an exciting group of products," said David Gallagher, Managing Director/Healthcare. "We're pleased to be expanding our relationship with a great company dedicated to providing innovative cancer treatments for patients worldwide and in the UK."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Da Vinci Code goes from best-selling book to big-screen blockbuster amid the sort of ticket-selling controversy that studios pray for. While the film is gaining publicity, it's also coming under attack from religious leaders who have argued that the film should be changed so as not to offend Catholics. With the movie's release only a few months ahead, this controversy is gaining both negative and positive publicity for this greatly anticipated film.

Sony is launching a marketing campaign designed to both increase anticipation for the film while catering to the religious groups who have abeen known to trash films that displease them. The problem with a film that has such high expectations like The Da Vinci Code is that the huge publicity can backfire. Sony is doing its best to pacify religious leaders. It hired crisis public relations firm Sitrick & Company to help it devise a strategy that gave Catholics the ability to vent while pitching the Da Vinci Code film as fiction, not a dramatization of real events.

Sitrick, in true crisis public relations form, had personnel interview religious leaders to gauge their attitudes, and the company hired one-time Warner Brothers publicists Jonathan Bock, whose company Grace Hill Media has promoted films like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Exorcism of Emily Rose to religious groups. Bock, in turn has built a Web site,, and invited a cross-section of Christian writers, scholars, and evangelical leaders to discuss the book in a series of essays. Sitrick & Company and Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard's production company, did not return phone calls. A Sony spokesman says: "We view The Da Vinci Code as a work of fiction that is not meant to harm any organization. And at its heart, it's a thriller, not a religious tract" (

Coke on college campuses

Coca-Cola has billed itself as the world's beverage, uniting all colors and cultures within its red-and-white swoosh. Behind that image, however, a growing student movement is taking the company to task for its less than harmonious record of human rights around the globe. The anti-Coke movement says that the beverage giant is complicit in murders and attacks on union organizers in Colombia and in environmental damage in India.

In 2005, six colleges and universities in the United States, including Carleton, Oberlin and Bard-have responded either by canceling contracts or banning vending machines. Campaigns are active at about ninety more campuses since then, making this the largest anticorporate campaign since the one against Nike. In 2006, critics of Coca-Cola have much to celebrate. 23 colleges worldwide have now banned Coke products from their campuses. The movement has spread within the United States as well and now includes bans approved in December by two large institutions, New York University and the University of Michigan.

In the context of crisis public relations Coke has done almost everything right according to established protocols. Coke acknowledges that many of the countries in which it does business do not have the labor or environmental standards of the United States, but the company says that it is a good corporate citizen, and is helping union organizers and environmentalists. And in an argument clearly designed to reach the hearts of student activists, the company is also now arguing that the boycott is in some cases taking business away from unionized workers in the United States and helping non-union businesses.

"We are costing Coke tens of millions of dollars, and this is growing," said Ray Rogers, director of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, which is coordinating many of the campus efforts ( Rogers said that major targets in coming months would be the City and State Universities of New York, and the Universities of California, Minnesota and Montana.

In order to combat the negative publicity from the boycotts, Coke has responded with a series of visits by company officials to campuses and a Web site, Coke Facts, with the company's take on its foreign operations. Kari Bjorhus, a spokeswoman for Coke, called the boycott efforts "misguided and unfortunate." She said she didn't think the movement had momentum, and said that the company was working to prevent that from happening. She said that the protests against the company were "a distraction" from its efforts to help labor and the environment in various countries with Coke plants. She said she hoped that colleges would "be open to hearing the facts" about the company's operations before making decisions (
Bjorhus said that the problems facing union leaders in Colombia are real, but that they are not linked to Coke. She said almost one-third of Coke's employees in the country are unionized, compared to an average in that country of about 4 percent.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

True or False - 2005 was the year of lies

It's an event that's anticipated all year long. An honor that will make the winners infamous. These awards are as exciting as the Oscars, Grammy's or Emmy's. Each year the Center for Media and Democracy gives out their coveted Falsies Awards for those public relations campaigns that have outperformed and out-spun all other flack campaigns.

The year of 2005 seemed to be the year of fake news. Over the past twelve months, the ideal of accurate, reliable, accountable news media faced nearly constant attack. Artificial news ranging from Pentagon-planted stories in Iraqi newspapers to corporate- and government-funded VNR's aired by U.S. newsrooms.
Then there were the public relations campaigns that sought to redefine reality itself. The oil and nuclear industries are big award winners. As are rights abusing governments and labor abusing companies. Junk food companies made the list as did genetically modified foods.

The coveted Gold Falsies Award of 2005 goes to the video news release industry with a supporting role from the newsrooms that aired them. In March, the New York Times reported, "At least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgment of the government's role."

The Silver Falsies Award goes to the mainstream media and the Bush administration, for "Not Counting the Dead." Its no surprise at this point that many media outlets self-censored their reporting on Iraq, often out of fear of offending their audience. The U.S. media downplayed, in an October 2004 medical study that estimated nearly 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the U.S. invasion. In response to a question at a December talk, President Bush broke his silence on civilian casualties and admitted that "30,000 Iraqis, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence.

The Bronze Falsies Award goes to the U.S. military and their public relations contractors, for "Spinning Wars and PsyOps." In January, the Pentagon increased media training for forces going to Iraq, making briefings by public-affairs specialists mandatory for Army troops. Soldiers were also given wallet-sized "talking point" cards, one of which said, "We are not an occupying force" Also, in June, the Pentagon awarded up to $300 million over five years to SYColeman, Inc., Lincoln Group and Science Applications International Corporation, to "inject more creativity into efforts to improve foreign public opinion about the United States, particularly the military," reported the Washington Post.