Crisis Communications and Associations

Last week, I did a Q&A with Smart Blog insights about crisis communications in general and associations in particular.  I want to expand on that this morning a bit.

I used to teach crisis communications at the University of Maryland and have done a frequent bit in the private sector (let’s not even get into government – ugh).  It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations just plain mess up crisis work.

I have listed five tips below, but want to put this is perspective for associations.  What I think is unique to associations is that they are caught in a vise.  They are expected to be the leading voice for many controversial companies and industries (read: they take the hit), but need consensus in an organization made up of members who compete with each other on a regular basis.  Bad, bad recipe for success.

And tomorrow, I’ll talk about this on a panel at Buzz 2010 in Washington, DC.

A few of the crisis communications basics I mentioned in the Smart Blog Insights  piece (and a few more) include:

  • Rule #1:  Avoid the crisis to begin with. Many companies (see Nestle), without even realizing it, take a communications mole hill and make it a crisis mountain.  Some crises cannot be avoided, but this is the step that most people just plain forget.  You need to help define an issue with your stakeholder groups or you risk having others define it for you.
  • Rule #2.  HAVE a crisis communications plan. This is the “duh” rule.  Think about this.  If you are in the midst of a crisis, responding to media, operating under enormous pressure, are you going to be able to craft and deliver compelling messages?  Create stuff that will convince people not to blame you (best), or at least to accept an apology (second best).  This is why having a plan (updated at least quarterly) is critical.
  • Rule #3:  Make the crisis plan easy to access.  When I did crisis work, I consistently advocated for putting a crisis communications plan online. Again, like the Nestle example, opponent driven crises are often propagated during weekends or other times that companies are not in the office.  You get attacked when nobody is manning a desk. And if your CEO or VP of Communications is at the beach, it makes things a whole lot easier when the plan is not a huge, written document sitting on your shelf at work, but is online and you can access it 24/7. And  you can better coordinate with others as well.
  • Rule #4.  Tell the truth.  Period.  Full stop.  If you lie, people will find out, bust you and you will lose all credibility.  And it’s ok to tell people that you don’t know the answer – just tell them when you will tell them.
  • Rule #5.  Segment your audiences. A lot of crisis plans are based upon talking to the media – and this is important.  But also think about employees, stockholders, retirees, elected officials, federal officials and even law enforcement people.  Bottom line is you need to have custom-tailored messages for ALL of your stakeholder groups that matter.

Again, for associations, this means something even tougher. You have to develop all of the above in conjunction with the member companies – the ones who pay your salary.  And deal with lawyers. And gain consensus under stress.

Oy, vey.


Live Blogging from #BWE09 – The Death and Rebirth of Journalism

I am currently at the keynote address of BlogWorld Expo 09 – “The Death and Rebirth of Journalism.” Participants are Brian Solis (Moderator), Don Lemon, Hugh Hewitt, Jay Rosen, Joanna Drake Earl.

  • Don Lemon of CNN talked about how CNN uses Twitter and how he liked that it provides immediate feedback when they run a story.  In the past, you would send in a letter or even wait to call in a radio show, but now, within seconds, he reads tweets that provide feedback to stories.
  • Hugh Hewitt said that when you are pushing out a message, you can test it within one or two news cycles and you will have instantaneous feedback.  He also said that journalism school are now turning out students with “completely irrelevant skill sets.”
  • Jay Rosen talked how social media has made patients  learners, partners, and an educated audience.  When you think you have a medical condition, the first thing you will do is to look it up on the Web.  This has forced doctors to be more responsive, nimble, and expect more informed questions of their patients.  This is the equivalent of thousands of fact-checkers for a news organization.

More to come.



For my Georgetown students, I used to list some select jobs from Ned Lundquist’s “JOTW” or “Job of the Week.”

I still love you guys, so, what the hell;  here you go.


About JOTW:

Ned Lundquist’s “Job of the Week” free e-mail networking newsletter and website for professional communicators has a cult following of more than 10,000 readers (the 5-digit milestone was reached October 6, 2006). The job leads are just one reason his faithful followers begin their Mondays (and sometimes Tuesdays through Fridays) with a cuppa and JOTW.

So here’s a few that I found that may be of interest to my peeps in the Washington, DC area — with a big thanks to Ned to keeping this up all those years:

  1. Manager of Public Relations, Comcast Eastern Division, Largo, Maryland
  2. Publications Manager/Editor, The Partnership for Public Service, Washington, DC
  3. Communications Specialist, American Public Health Association, Washington, DC
  4. Event Marketing Coordinator, Kaulkin Ginsberg, Rockville, MD
  5. Director of Communications, Latin American/Caribbean Region,global financial services organization, Miami (area), FL – contact Susan San Martin of Plan B Communications
    at (note: Florida?!?!?   Sunshine?!?! I may just apply for this puppy myself).
  6. Director of Development and Communications, Center of Concern, Washington D.C.
  7. Communications Consultant – World Bank Sustainable Development Network, Washington, D.C. – Appointment Type:  Short Term Consultant
    Qualified candidates should send their resume, cover letter and three writing samples to with the subject line “Communications Consultant.”


  1. Butcher, Confidential Employer, Sioux City, IA
  2. Baker, Kickass Cupcakes, Boston, MA
  3. Candlemaker, Yankee Candle Company, South Deerfield, MA
  4. Hard Rock/Metal Band singer, Jenna’s Boneyard, Miami, FL

My caveat – I know nothing about the jobs, the organizations, the salaries, etc., but encourage you to check them out. The job market is not dead, it’s just really tired.

Happy hunting Georgetown grads.


Obama and The First Rule of Public Relations – And I’m Back


In yesterday’s post, I promised to become more of my own irasible, smart-ass self.  I didn’t think that it would happen this soon.  But, ah, how fate impacts one’s life.  It didn’t take me long to find something that makes me call people out – big time.  But this is the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Oh, and ABC News.

I am about as far from someone who follows awards shows as possible (I am not sure that I would slow down if I saw Joan and Melissa Rivers at a crosswalk) but apparently, some guy called Kanye West jumped up on a stage, drunk as a skunk the other night and acted like a jerk to some woman.  BFD.

I awaken this morning to read in Politico that President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass.”  And ABC reported it;  Tweeted it actually (tweet above).  But here’s where it gets interesting:

  1. The first thing that I taught on the first day of my class was the Rule #1 when you are in the public spotlight is that NOTHING IS EVER — EVER — OFF THE RECORD. Especially when you are, ummm.. the President of the United States.
  2. What is equally unfathomable for me is that ABC freakin’ APOLOGIZED:

“In the process of reporting on remarks by President Obama that were made during a CNBC interview, ABC News employees prematurely tweeted a portion of those remarks that turned out to be from an off-the-record portion of the interview. This was done before our editorial process had been completed. That was wrong. We apologize to the White House and CNBC and are taking steps to ensure that it will not happen again.”

  • President Obama:  See Professor Mark’s Rule #1.
  • ABC News:  See a doctor about your “premature” problem and grow a pair.  He said it.  You tweeted it.  Stand by it.


How’s that for returning as my irascible self?  I’ve got to have someone to poke besides Lou Capozzi.


P.S. I first learned of this by reading Lauren Fernandez’s tweet.  Her blog is pretty awesome too.

#Blogmonday Number Four – Bubbeleh, Blog!


I am starting to have real fun with #blogmonday.  Since I started it, I have learned about topics as varied as different ways to enjoy bacon (but it sucks that I cannot partake because I am on a diet), social media karma as well as how cool a town Omaha is.  So what more do I need?  I need YOU.

I need you to share some linkey love with some of the “hidden gems” of the blogosphere. Yeah, you gotta write a blog post, but you were going to anyway. But contribute to #blogmonday by blogging about who you like – and why.

Last week, my votes were for:

Here are this week’s contributions:

Tried, True and Terrific

  • Heavy Bag Media.  I like Jackie Peters’ writing style, but also enjoy her tweets about the wonderful places where she eats in the LA area (see prior note to being on a diet, however).  Jackie’s latest post is writing that I like: direct, concise and slightly snarky: “…too often marketing is approached as an ad-hoc jumble of tactics tossed against the wall in the hopes that one or two pieces will stick.” Bra-vo.
  • Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog.   I love her topics, her thinking, as well as the fact that often offers not just random thoughts and questions, but quite often, very thought-provoking posts.  I love movies that, after which, you have to go for a cup of coffee to think about and say “hmm.”   For me, Shannon’s blog is the online version of that movie.  Have a read if you would like to be enlightened and entertained.
  • Digital Street Journal.  I love reading Jonathan Trenn’s blog, because, dammit, I learn something new about every time I cruise over there.  His posts are longer than most, thoughtful and really examine issues.  It’s kind of like the BBC of the blogosphere.

Blogs That Need to Make it Onto Your Blogroll

  • The Fail Blog.  Any blog that makes you laugh out loud needs to be part of your weekly reading.  It’s all about typos, people crashing into things and other items that that make you glad that you are not part of Darwin’s Master Plan:

Blogs That You Might Not Read – But Should

  • Greenversations.  Yes, Virginia, the federal government CAN spend your tax dollars in meaningful and creative ways.  Jeff Levy of the Environmental Protection Agency does a lot of things right, and the “Greenversations” blog is just one of them.  I am not what you would call a tree hugger, but I sure can recognize good social media outreach when I see it.

Random Blogs of the Week:

  • Technosailor.  Aaron Brazell’s blog is informative, like me, he is in the swampland that is the Nation’s Capitol, and, most importantly of all, he is a Red Sox fan. Read the blog.

So like I said, start blogging, Bubbeleh.  Spread the linkey love.  You’ll thank me for it in the morning.

Mark #blogmonday Story