PR - Crisis and Management

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.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

VNR's - The Fake News Cycle

The public relations industry has been fighting an uphill battle for the past few years concerning the ethical use of video news releases. Video news releases are typically 90 seconds in length and utilized by large organizations seeking enhanced recognition for their names, products, services and causes are the primary clients. Organizations prepare VNR's and send them to news stations in hope that the VNR will receive coverage and gain publicity for the organization. The problem arises when stations use the VNRs without saying who created them and portraying them as actual news. Over 90% of VNRs aren't correctly identified.

Typically a VNR includes tools for "customization" that allow and encourage news stations to pass the story off as their very own product. This is considered unethical but has become common practice for journalists. PR Watch sites the 5 following steps as the process by which a VNR comes from the drawing board to the six o'clock news.
1) Conception - client has a message they want to get out to the public. They hire media consultants to find the best way to turn their product, service or agenda into a newsworthy item.
2) Creation - the client employs a VNR production company to shoot a fully-polished 1-2 minute "news" feature. Although the VNR typically comes with scripted narration, the "reporter" never appears on screen
3) Delivery - the VNR is distributed to hundreds of newsrooms by satellite, hard copy, or network news feeds. Producers in top markets are often pitched individually by the publicists who created the VNR
4) Assimilation - At each TV station, a producer decides if the VNR is interesting, relevant, and journalistic, enough to be included in their broadcast. If so, they'll typically customize the VNR by adding or removing soundbites, inserting station-branded text overlays, and replacing the narration with the familiar voice of their own reporter
5) Showtime - The VNR is seamlessly blended into the newscast without attributing the original source of the story. Countless viewers are duped into believing they're watching an investigative news report when in reality they're getting a subtle dose of corporate or government propaganda.

Barry Bonds and the steroid scandal

Barry Bonds is a left fielder for the San Francisco Giants best known for his tremendous talent and his home-run hitting ability having hit 708 home runs in his career by 2005 ( While Bonds is usually praised for his outstanding performances, in recent news, Bonds has been under attack for allegedly using steroids and performance enhancing drugs throughout his career.

According to Sports, "Beginning in 1998 with injections in his buttocks of Winstrol, a powerful steroid, Barry Bonds took a wide array of performance-enhancing drugs over at least five seasons in a massive doping regimen that grew more sophisticated as the years went on", according to Game of Shadows, a book written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters at the forefront of reporting on the BALCO steroid distribution scandal. In addition to detailing the drug usage, the excerpt portrays Bonds as a menacing fool, a tax cheat and an adulterer with sexual dysfunction, hair loss and wild mood swings that included periods of rage.

Barry Bonds has come out with his argument. Bonds testified to a grand jury that he used a clear substance and a cream given to him by a trainer who was indicted in a steroid-distribution ring, but said he didn't know they were steroids. Bonds told a U.S. grand jury that he used undetectable steroids known as "the cream" and "the clear," which he received from personal trainer Greg Anderson during the 2003 season. According to Bonds, the trainer told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for the player's arthritis.

Major League baseball has been greatly affected by the steroid scandal as a whole in terms of public relations. Baseball's public image has taken a hit over the past two years, because of suspicions of performance-enhancing steroids. Big-name players like Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have all been accused of steroid use. This type of negative publicity has lessened fans trust in the sport as a whole and has greatly influenced the integrity of baseball.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

PETA vs. Ringling Brothers

Years of legal maneuvering culminated last week in the kickoff of a sensational trial pitting the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against the man who heads the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

According to Ringling's latest ad campaign, All our newborns come with a lifetime guarantee. The Ringling ad goes on to claim that its captive-breeding program is helping endangered Asian elephants. However, PETA has evidence that the ads are false. Government documents show that Ringling's elephants suffer abuse and die prematurely, that the circus has been cited for more than 100 deficiencies in animal care, and that most of its elephants were captured in the wild. PETA is asking the Federal Trade Commission to pull the bogus ads.

A former Ringling employee has even come forward to describe her experience with animal cruelty. Professional dancer Jodey Eliseo toured with Ringling Bros. for two years. When she saw coverage of the trial of Ringling CEO Kenneth Feld, she wanted to share her horrific recollections of the abuse of elephants by Ringling handlers. Eliseo told PETA how she saw an elephant forced to perform with a huge infected boil that covered half her leg. She also noted that Ringling handlers beat an elephant for stumbling during a performance. Eliseo added that teenage elephant Sophie was covered with bullhook wounds from constant beatings and a baby elephant was severely beaten as punishment for running wild and smashing through a wall at a civic center (

PETA launchedched a major campaign painting Ringling Brothers as unethical. They have come out with statements which say, "Parents should not bring their children to a Ringling Bros. circus because kids pick up on things we don't think they see. They see the animals getting whipped. They see the ringmaster hitting them. It teaches a very dangerous lesson, that it's OK to abuse animals; OK to exploit them for entertainment" ( This type of negative publicity will surely cause a decline in attendance and a growthdistrustrsut for Ringling Brothers.

In response to these kinds of statements, Ringling Bros. spokesman Darin Johnson tells newspapers that PETA's web site attacking the circus is filled with misinformation. For example, Johnson says video footage there distorts the events surrounding the birth of an elephant at the circus. Johnson also says that the online video at PETA's site purports to showing elephants being whipped by Ringling Bros. employees, but that the video is in fact not of Ringling Bros. elephants or employees. Johnson is quoted as saying, "They took footage from every zoo and animal park in the world and spliced it together" (

This battle, which has just gone to court in Fairfax, Virginia is being named "Elephantgate".

Working to spin negative publicity after Katrina

After such PR crisises as hotel price gouging, slow response by the President and racial discrimination following Hurrican Katrina, work is being done to try and change the public's image of the largest natural diasaster in history. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) Support Foundation has hired Ketchum Public Affairs, and its subsidiary The Washington Group, to help communicate the "progress of recovery efforts in New Orleans, demonstrate accountability for funds already allocated and make clear the need for additional federal resources" (PR Week).

Established by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and authorized by the Louisiana State Legislature, the LRA is responsible for overseeing all recovery activities in the state of Louisiana following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the collapse of the New Orleans levee system – the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history ( Ketchum will advise the LRA on all communications activities to execute a national public relations and public affairs campaign on behalf of the state of Louisiana. The Washington Group will develop and implement a government relations strategy in Washington. All funding for this initiative will come from private sources. No federal, state or local government funds will be spent on this program (

How the Government uses PR to gain support for the war

In a country where media and politics have gone hand in hand for centuries, it is no surprise that the government and business influenced the way media is produced and distributed. While the government promoted communication networks, the press, education, and innovation in the past three centuries, government has also had negative effects on how media is created. Journalist I.F. Stone went as far to say "all governments lie". I believe that governmental influences contribute to the deceptive and misleading nature of media today.

For instance, in covering the story of Jessica Lynch, an American soldier in Iraq, American news programs lied when reporting that Lynch was captured by Iraqi troops, sustained bullet and stab wounds, and had been taken to an Iraqi hospital where Iraqi doctors abused her, psychically and mentally. When Jessica Lynch told her story, it was revealed that Lynch had no wounds, was treated with kindness by Iraqi doctors for broken bones and other injuries, and that several attempts were made to return Lynch to U.S. troops (NYT, 5/11/03, NP). The story the news media reported was false and meant to portray American soldiers as heroes and Iraqi soldiers and doctors as inhumane. This story elevated patriotism in the United States as well as increased contempt Iraq. The story helped to rally support for the United StateÂ’s efforts in Iraq. This type of media propaganda, which could also be viewed as public relations, proves that the government lies in order to promote government actions and policies.

More recently, declaring it "within our authorities and responsibilities," the top U.S. general in Iraq, George Casey, announced that the Lincoln Group program that places stories written by United States troops in Iraqi newspapers will continue. The Lincoln group, whose program was recently accepted by the Pentagon, "is working to boost economic development in Pakistan" (PR Daily). Lincoln aims to increase "investments in the country's textile, energy, technology and telecom" industries. Lincoln has showed interest in helping the U.S. Army Reserve communicate its "vision of the future." The contract includes "speech writing, research, development of a comprehensive communications plan, and support for national outreach programs (PR Daily).

How Blogs can become PR nightmares

A blog is an interactive site where the owner can update information by creating new posts. Blogs are easy and inexpensive to set-up. Blogs often focus on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news. Some blogs function as a users personal diary or journal. A typical blog combines images, text, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. Since its appearance in 1995, blogging has emerged as a popular means of communication, affecting public opinion and mass media around the world (

All of this seems great, but the interactive nature of blogs not only allows for the spread of information, they also serve as a means for consumers to vent about products and build hostility toward organizations. Blogs have become a new way for customers to log complaints but with a national or even international scope. Blogs are dangerous in terms of public relations because they allow users to post responses to an owner's site which allows controversies to gather steam and gain a following from hostile consumers. Because blogs are often based on opinion, the real danger comes when other users build upon that opinion and create a chain reaction of complaints and dissatisfaction. One blogger can affect the opinions of thousands.

In response to negative blogging, organizations need to stay abreast of what their customers needs and wants are as well as consumers are saying about their product, service or organization. Following the steps of crisis public relations management, it is better to own up to any mistakes and work to correct them. Organizations should also try to counter negative publicity on blogs by posting positive stories about their product or industry. Organizations should also use blogs as an opportunity to foster two-way communication with customers and use the web to interact with customers to stay current with their needs and wants.

Wal-Mart "began working with bloggers in late 2005. Heading the program is Marshall Manson, of the PR firm Edelman. Manson contacted bloggers who wrote postings that either endorsed the retailer or challenged its critics.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Enron: The Aftermath

Prior to its bankruptcy in late 2001, Enron employed around 21,000 people and was one of the world's leading electricity, natural gas, and communications companies, with claimed revenues of $101 billion in 2000. Fortune Magazine named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years. It became most famous at the end of 2001 when it was revealed that it was sustained mostly by institutionalized, systematic, and well-planned accounting fruad. After what is now known as one of the biggest scandals not to metion crisis PR sitautions of all time, Enron is working to re-estalbish themselves in the aftermath of the scandal.

According to Enron's website, "Enron is in the midst of restructuring various businesses for distribution as ongoing companies to its creditors and liquidating its remaining operations. " This statement while encouraging will be hard to maintain because when there's a public relations crisis the magnitude of Enron's it is almost impossible to regain customer confidence.