Thursday, March 8, 2012

Emergency Public Relations: Crisis Management in a 3.0 world by Alan Bernstein and Cindy Rakowitz

EMERGENCY PUBLIC RELATIONS: Crisis Management in a 3.0 world by Alan Bernstein and Cindy Rakowitz is not just nonfiction, but fantastic nonfiction, it teaches you about handelling the impossible; the improbably feared event, a crisis. As Cindy says in the book, most publicists would rather be shot than deal with a pr crisis. As a pr professional, I have been like the "Little Dutchman," foolishly using my thumb to plug a hole in a bursting dam. Wish I had had this book to school myself in the crisis mind-set and have some base-line plans for when the unexpected inevitably occured. The problem is there are very few mentors qualified to write such a book. Most PR people wing it with some perspective from the last crises, though they know that every one is different with it's own momentum and challenges. But experience in this book means more than "war stories." Between the two of them, Alan and Cindy have over 50 years of crisis management, from law enforcement to companies both public and private. Originally in 1981, this was a spiral notebook that dealt with a simpler slower media world of one to one communications. Jumping ahead to 2012 and the Internet, new techologies and social media platforms, crises happen fast and spread widely and are open to the interpretation of any citizen reporter. Immediate containment is crucial. Countering with your ideas means having specific tools in place. What are the mindsets and strategies essential to our era? Whether the crisis is physical (flood, fires, earthquakes, epidemics) or manmade (extramarital affairs, embezzlement, hostle takeovers, brand attacks) advance thinking means having plans in place, preparing with drills, looking at case studies and formulas that work. Uniquely, the authors show that you also have to be prepared to throw this out. You need knowledge but it's just as essential to build flexibility into your approach and improvise as needed. And you need tools for defense. Though crisis mindset means vigilence 365 days a year, defense depends on core values and a concise mission statement (that are real). These enable you to build trust and respect with both the public and media. And you will need that bulwark when a situation threatens your brand. EMERGENCY shows how they were used to enable Domino's Pizza to contain a nasty prank by employees that went viral. And when Johnson & Johnson had their Tylenol Crisis, they responded with such integrity in the end they enhanced their brand. When it comes to individuals and everybody is their own brand these days, you have to release facts with heart. This means messages are framed to be congruent with your core values and mission. Not thinking with compassion certainly worsened Bernie Madoff's verdict and hurt Tiger Woods. But look at Bill Clinton's rehabilitation. If not forgotten, his standing, as a force in international relations, is unaffected. The secrets of tailoring a message, even when you're wrong, are explained. And how to get them out out, ways to handle the media--from thinking like a journalist and avoiding manipulation, to writing a press release that's actually read. Cindy is a friend and colleague, but I was bowled over by how comprehensive this book is. It provides a template for a plan that can lierally "save your life." Pr crises apart. I considered how hysterical New Yorkers got after 9/11. My husband stocked powdered milk and gas masks, while a good friend bought a dingy from L.L.Bean to cross the Hudson--we all could have used this book. It's a new classic.