Reacting slowly in a crisis
feels like water torture.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

There are scandals you survive, and scandals you don’t. Deal with it quickly, and you have the best chance of putting it behind you. Be slow to react, and the damage will be deeper. Think Hillary Clinton, running the U.S. State Department on her personal email. Or suspended NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams, embellishing…

Winning a fight is nice.Winning the war is better.

Short Gain, Long Value

Mutual fund guru John Bogle leaves no doubt where he stands — in the same spot as investor Warren Buffett: Chasing short-term gain is a fool’s errand. Capturing intrinsic value is the real prize. In Reputation Management, the calculus differs only slightly. You can’t ignore the crisis that’s staring you in the face. That would…

Shift tone of story beforeit takes on life of its own

Life of Its Own

Once a story is embraced, it’s hard to shake. Even if evidence proves otherwise. Take the outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland and swept across the U.S. Why did the once-eradicated disease return, and why did it spread so quickly and virulently? For a long time, a tiny segment of society opposed immunization. They…

Didn't sign on to be liked.
We signed on to do a job.

The Breakup Letters

      “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” ~ Sophocles, Antigone Breakup letters are a thing of beauty. Business world communications and lined paper communications (the 3-ring binder kind) are more similar than you might think. “I need your advice. [Followed by detailed explanation.] I don’t know what to do! What should…

Be prepared: Better to do and not need,
than to need and not have done.

The Love Letters

Love letters. We’ve all written them. Whether they’re actually delivered is a whole other matter. Likewise, we’ve also written term papers and reports. Hopefully, those made it to their intended audience before the proverbial dog ate them. It’s all about being prepared, personally and professionally. Regrettably, too many people do the opposite: Step 1: Ignore…

Ultimate test: What will let
you control the conversation?

Telephone, Telegraph …

No. This isn’t a sexist commentary on the alleged inability of women to keep secrets. It is about thinking before you speak, and choosing your words with the precision of a surgeon. Faced with unexpected and unwanted situations, clients too often are inclined to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind — You…

Expect worst & plan for it.
Don't be caught unprepared.

Wall of Worry

We all have worries. Left on their own, they skew our vision and consume us. They crowd out factors that are positive — and even those that are neutral. Consider investors who wring their hands as oil prices fall because the stock market falls in tandem — until traders pause long enough to realize that’s…

Forget about extremes.
Focus on the middle.

Belief & “Truth”

Is “truth” really knowable? Or is it a fiction we create to reaffirm our beliefs? Did Bill Cosby repeatedly have non-consensual sex after drugging women? Did police in Ferguson and Brooklyn act rashly and wrongly? Did the CIA torture prisoners at Guantanamo, and was it justified? Did University of Virginia fraternity members gang-rape a female…


$37 Billion Memo

As the U.S. Justice Department and states investigated wrong-doing that led to the financial collapse, the nation’s biggest banks dumped tens of millions of documents on them. That’d make finding anything impossible, right? Wrong. From that mountain of information, one internal memo emerged warning bank bosses, before the collapse and Great Recession, that they were…

Sin once, you may escape.Sin again, and you won't.

Fool Me Once…

Generations came and went, but they endured. Oscar de la Renta. Ben Bradlee. Joan Rivers. Nelson Bunker Hunt. All were born in the brief period between First and Second World Wars. When their end came this autumn, they were their 80s and 90s. People often die younger, sometimes older. But few so control their destinies…

Secret of Crisis PR:
Create the best light.

Different Prisms

A recent Vatican report about U.S. nuns was most significant for what it didn’t say. It didn’t condemn the nuns for “radical” and “feminist” ideas as expected when the investigation began in 2008 under conservative Pope Benedict XVI. Rather, it bore the compassionate imprint of his successor, Pope Francis. The final report shifted the spotlight…

Good Crisis PR can turna lump of coal into a gift

A Christmas Story

The holiday season is a busy time. Santa isn’t the only one who brings packages on Christmas Eve. So do judges. Recognizing and seizing every opportunity when it happens gets you the best results. The media wants their story now, not when you get around to it. Let us tell you a tale of how a smart Crisis PR…

Media's power is immense.
Use it to your advantage.

Hard Facts, Soft Feelings

Regardless of what economists say, pundits prefer their own definition of economic hard times: “A recession is when your neighbor is unemployed. A depression is when you are.” It’s simple. It’s pithy. It’s memorable. It’s based on your awareness of the moment, not on statisticians sifting through numbers after the fact. Case in point regarding…

History is often revised.
But seldom in short term.

On Second Thought

Time softens the sharp edges. As memories fade, events are reinterpreted. Sometimes to reflect new evidence. More often to better fit with what is comfortable for our purposes today. Take the Union Army’s Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. It’s the 150th anniversary of his brutal March to the Sea, and historians — including some…

Surviving crisis is tough.
Preparing eases the pain.

Be Very Afraid

“It’s only a matter of the ‘when,’ not the ‘if,’ that we are going to see something dramatic.”    ~ Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the NSA It’s a mantra apropos to many of our professions, and often our daily lives. Hit with a liability lawsuit: doctors. Car accidents: LA drivers.  Client won’t listen to…

Guilty of commiting oneof the 3 Deadly Sins of Crisis PR?

3 Deadly Sins

“I won’t dignify that with a response.” It conjures up images of high-brow society (very Downton Abbey or Masterpiece Theatre). For some, it seems an effective way to let the others know they’re being ridiculous and offensive. It might even thwart further taunting. But with the media, this is the first of the 3 Deadly…

Building up goodwillhelps you in the future.


For ages, men gazed skyward and dreamt of going to distant planets. It’s long been a theme of science fiction. Comets were another matter. They were mysterious fireballs of ice and dust streaking through the heavens. But this week — after a journey that began 10 years ago and stretched over 4 billion miles —…


Alien Realities

HG Wells wrote about it. So did Isaac Asimov. It was a recurring theme for Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone. Earthlings encounter aliens or experience different realities. Some stories are straightforward. You know from the outset who is who, but want to see how it plays out. In others, you think you know, but…

In crisis, change is fast.
Be prepared for worst.

Fringe & Mainstream

“I aimed at the public’s heart, and … hit it in the stomach.”    ~ Upton Sinclair, American socialist and novelist Sinclair was disappointed at the public’s reaction to his 1904 novel The Jungle, about Chicago’s meatpacking yards. Instead of being alarmed by the deplorable conditions of the workers, the public fixated on the way…

Fear is powerful emotion.
Use it well, and you win.

Politicizing Ebola

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Ebola is the just latest. Watch the politicians. Both parties are guilty of making missteps, of pointing fingers (rather than seeking solutions), and of doing too little (to calm the public) or too much (to feed hysteria). The political commentariat dismissed this trend as understandable because of…

No rule book in Crisis PR.
Trust gut. Make no errors.

Be Careful What You Ask

Always a good rule. For everyone. Comparable to the caveat that a lawyer never ask a witness a question unless he already knows the answer. That was reinforced recently after Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In challenging the ruling, Idaho in effect dared the U.S.…

Don't let it get personalOr you lose sight of goal.

Think You’re Ready? Think Again.

“Nothing rattles me,” the young executive routinely assures colleagues. Makes sense. That’s her job. She is the voice of calm and reason in the midst of the storm, and that lets her find solutions to clients’ problems. Then the unexpected happened, and she lost it. She’d just bought a new car 10 days earlier, and…

Life with digital tether
is blessing and curse.

Untethered & Angst-Ridden

Some professionals are tethered to their work 24/7. Doctors. Lawyers. Executives and business owners. Crisis PR people. Problems don’t take time off. You don’t get to, either. When clients or customers want you, they want you now. Ten minutes ago would be even better. You wear a phone glued to your hip all day and…

Uncover the essence.
Then you can solve it.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick-Maker

If problems didn’t exist, there’d be less need for lawyers, psychiatrists and other professions that fix them. Crisis PR people are in that category. They’re equal parts problem-solver, hand-holder, confessor and consigliere. Unlike spiritual leaders who want to guide their flock back to righteousness, the overarching goal for Crisis PR is to understand the dynamics,…

Get out in front of a crisis.
Or other side controls story.

Too Little. Too Late.

When is “at all cost” too high a cost? The NFL is finding out. So are other sports. Once upon a time, it was considered proper to protect the brand first and foremost, from turning a blind eye to being dismissive of accusers to giving slaps on the wrist. The Game was all that mattered,…

Job #1 in Crisis PR -Separate fiction from fact

Fiction & Fact

We’re all better for having read, seen or told fiction. Whatever can be imagined, can be. Think Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling. Not so in the world of Crisis & Reputation Management. Facts are facts. You can’t ignore them. You can polish, redefine or interpret differently. To use the vernacular, you can spin.…

When we do our job well,it is the best of times.

Best and Worst

The desire to edit another person’s words is almost irresistible. Not always for the better. Consider the publishing-house editor in charge of A Tale of Two Cities who suggested Charles Dickens shorten his initial wording to “It was the best and worst of times.” Dickens refused and his original language is now one of the…

When we do our job well,
it is the best of times.


Routine has a bad reputation. Deservedly. It conjures images of people slogging through their jobs and lives. The only goal is to get to the end so they can do it again the next day. But there’s a flip side, too often overlooked. It lets people organize the “routine” in their lives so they can…

How much your time worth?
Depends on perceived value.

Eye of the Beholder

A professor posed a riddle to his MBA students: A new device significantly shortens the time needed to complete a manufacturing process. How much is it worth? Most students dutifully crunched the usual numbers. Cost of materials. Cost of labor and overhead. Add in a fair profit. Voilà? Not even close. One student took a…

As privacy erodes, potential threats to your reputation multiply.

Demographics & Big Data

Demographics will define the future. Big Data is the future. The first concept is undisputed. The second depends on who you talk to. The biggest demographic is the one most talked about — the gray generation, Boomers born after World War II and now on the cusp of retirement. They built the economies of today’s…

Watching media contortions
-- a sport for ex-journalists

Top to Bottom

News media has always been stratified: Cream of the crop. Bottom of the barrel. Big in-between. Today there’s less cream, much more bottom and in-between. In part because of more voices with more megaphones. Read it online? On Twitter? Must be true, right? Consider actor George Clooney’s recent battle with London’s Daily Mail over allegations…

Give up a private life.Gain a dependable client.

Like a Baby

Parents of newborns share a gloriously painful experience with Crisis PR people: Exhaustion. Neither are masters of their daily lives. They rest when they find the time. For new parents, the experience is measured in weeks. For Crisis PR, it’s a relentless way of life. Thankfully, the two rarely occur simultaneously. New parents are usually…

Don't fall victim to foot-in-mouth disease.Think before you open your mouth.

Open Mics & Disengaged Minds

Foot-in-mouth disease has damaged many careers and ended others. Its history is long, colorful and likely to continue. Most of the time, it has a close correlation to carelessness and insensitivity. Sometimes it’s not even a gaffe at all, but a carefully rehearsed message. Let’s take a closer look. Cause and effect will become more…

Tools reflect technology.But essence is forever.

Tools & Essence

There’s nothing special about it. Just another nondescript suburban parking garage in Rosslyn, Va. Lots of concrete and shadowy corners. It’s where “Deep Throat” met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and guided him through the Watergate scandal that toppled President Nixon in 1974 and redefined an industry for a new generation of journalists. Besides…

Pick your fights carefully.Preferably ones you'll win.

Noise & Substance

Opinions, they say, are like assholes. Everybody has one. Doesn’t make them right. But people are seldom eager to back down. Sometimes it’s pride (no one wants to admit they’re wrong). Other times, it’s deeply-held  beliefs (no one will ever yield on those). There’s nothing new about having opinions, although the ability to express them…

First, define your audience.Convince them and you win.

Savage Magic

The British magazine The Economist is fond of phrases like “the savage magic of capitalism.” It’s also fond of describing itself as “Liberal” — in a Classical 18th century sense that is vastly more conservative than the 20th century version, let alone the 21st. Perceptions of what is real and right depend on where you’re…

Don't like the media question?
Answer the one you want.

Pandora’s Jar*

After all the evil had escaped, the legend goes, all that remained in the jar was hope — and mankind has never stopped hoping. Without hope, there is only emptiness and lack of direction. No purpose. Passed over for a promotion you know you deserved? Did you simply hope your boss would notice your brilliance…

Chief lesson for clients:Once burned. Twice shy.

Give a Fish, Teach to Fish

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” It’s one of those proverbs everyone’s heard — and used. It’s more true in some professions than others. That fact was brought home recently during a discussion of how much business comes from repeat clients.…

Society acts on expectation.Your job is to manage them.
Photo courtesy of

Not-So-Great Expectations

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”   ~ Alexander Pope, 18th century British poet Tell that to the stock market. It hasn’t run on fundamentals in years. If it ever did. It runs on rumors, hunches and mass psychology. Fall short of expectations, and stocks are pummeled. Exceed them,…

You can't unring a bell.
 You can affect outcome.

Photo courtesy of

Que Sera, Sera

Doris Day was wrong. A lot of people approach life that way, but it’s ultimately defeatist. They feel hopelessly trapped and surrender to fate. Or you fight back. Do whatever you need to right a situation gone wrong. The more cleverly you rally your defenses and project a strong offense, the more likely you are…


“So, what do you do?”

“When you’re fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher.” ~ Frank Underwood in House of Cards “We’re fixers. We’re crisis managers. It’s not about solving a crime. It’s not about justice. It’s about our client.”  ~ Harrison in Scandal Put those two popular TV shows together, take out just some of the exaggeration, and…

After the fall comesthe steep climb back.

Photo courtesy of

10 Feet Tall & Bulletproof

True for children of all ages. Just ask ‘em. For better or worse, they haven’t learned limitations and caution. The older we get, the more wary most of us become. We’ve been singed and aren’t eager to repeat it. Besides, we’ve accumulated more and hence have more to lose. It’s the difference between big risk…

Beating media at own game
is no game for amateurs.
Photo courtesy of


You hear it every day. If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have been so careless. I wouldn’t have gotten in this spot in the first place. That’s wishful thinking. You don’t have your druthers. What’s done is done. Hand-wringing is a waste of time and emotion. The only pertinent question is, How are you…

Life is constantly shifting.Success needs vision & skill.
Photo courtesy of

Size Matters. So Does Foresight.

FedEx made it clear this week, and UPS is expected to follow suit: Size matters. Delivery costs will be based on bulkiness, not just weight. Prices will rise for one-third of all packages. The decision sent tremors through the e-commerce industry. Suddenly it will be costlier to send everyday items that have become staples for…

Q: What is your best strategy?A: What sells to media/public.
Photo courtesy of

Fast Is Good

Fast-acting isn’t beneficial only for Alka-Seltzer, Advil and diet plans. It’s also a basic rule for Crisis & Reputation Management. Nip the issue in the bud quickly, or you’re in for a long and painful slog in the pitiless glare of the media and public. It also lets you short-circuit potentially detrimental speculation. But timing…

Beware of playing Blame Game.It can come back and bite you.
Photo courtesy of

Blame Game, Again

Blame is a subject we all deal with frequently. We hate taking responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault — the airline that gets your seat wrong, the server who brings you a different meal than you think you ordered, the insurer’s computer that gets your coverage confused. On a larger scale, GM and Toyota for…

When cleaning house, the axe
falls fast and without favor.

Photo courtesy of

Last to Know. First to Go.

Historically, this one-liner was applied to basic PR people —  those who do marketing or general communications. They are routinely kept outside the inner circle. It’s a matter of need to know, and they don’t. What’s more, they’re considered expendable. But it pre-dates the rise of Crisis & Reputation Management — the realization that sensitive…

How to control media herd?Turn around the lead steer.
Photo courtesy of


You’re inundated by it every day. A flood of words, empty of meaning but designed to arouse emotions. Think talking heads on TV and radio. Institutionalized shoutfests that make no pretense of trying to inform. Or politicians. How many words can they use without actually saying anything? Or the chatter you hear in a patio…


10,000 Hours

Definition of an expert? “‘X’ is the unknown quantity. A spurt is a drip under pressure. Therefore, an expert is an unknown drip under pressure.” This bit of wisdom was shared with fresh-faced students by a friendly, world-wise college custodian, and it had the intended effect of deflating their tender egos. In his book Outliers,…

Best time for damage control?
Remember early bird and worm.

Photi courtesy of

Goose, Gander & Ox

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But it depends on whose ox is being gored. Contradictory concepts, yet we use them every day. Just select the one that’s most fitting at the moment. Is outrageous behavior by celebrities acceptable, if the same would land you in jail? Are sexual indiscretions by…