Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let’s Keep Gitmo Going

Actually, if you think about it, Gitmo is being underutilized. It’s true that all of those dangerous terrorist types are being held there for the time being and the prison itself has become a political football, but the fact is that Guantanamo is a state-of-the-art facility and we have additional uses for it. There are others who need to be warehoused there.

Let’s use Gitmo as a place to put spammers, hackers, and bad bankers. Bernie Madoff and all of his playmates who defrauded us could be put there. It could become a special prison for those who cause mass misery, fear, or destruction.

Who knows, perhaps Cuba and the U.S. could work out a cooperative arrangement to turn the prison into a famous tourist destination. Marriott could put up a Courtyard or Residence Inn and the U.S. Postal Service could install a special letter cancelling facility. Maybe an adroit entrepreneur could build a casino there to help attract traffic and offset some of the costs of the prison.

We need Gitmo. It ought to stay an active facility for these special kinds of trouble makers and societal miscreants.

Nominate your favorite candidate to occupy the new Gitmo.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Crisis Management Questions: Working With Attorneys (Part 2)

Some things to think about:
  1. Only one in every 100 cases (civil or criminal) ever gets to trial. That means the odds are very high that a case will be settled, arbitrated, or dropped. Failure to communicate until the attorneys discover that the case is not going to trial can cause serious customer, employee, victim, and senior management problems.
  2. In the new world of the citizen journalist, which virtually nowadays includes employees, friends, and self-appointed bloviators and commentators of afflicted companies and organizations, someone is always willing to tell your story when you hesitate to tell it yourself.
  3. Techniques such as crisis Web sites can be very effective in managing much of this extraneous information and activity, ultimately mitigating and often scripting outside chatter.
  4. If there’s a question, take it to the boss. Lawyers are staff advisors just like communicators. The ultimate decision is made by the boss. If the boss allows the attorneys to turn you down, then move on to other serious issues. Make your case to the boss sensibly, based on what you know is going to happen and what you know needs to be done. Once the boss makes the decision, you need to move ahead on that decision until the next opportunity to challenge it or amend it arises. Avoid taking these decisions personally. Be professional.
  5. A trend in legal practice, occurring for some time, involves the addition of lawyers who were formerly communicators to legal teams to preserve the privilege against the vulnerabilities communications can create for litigation. However, from what I’ve seen thus far, there are two problems. First, one is either a lawyer or a communicator. It’s impossible to be both at the same time. Second, I have yet to meet a lawyer-communicator who really worked for the client as much as they worked as a communicator seeking acceptance from fellow attorneys. The vast majority of communications work is not protectable anyway. Having a lawyer-communicator on the legal team involved in non-protectable activities, threatens the privilege for other legal matters, concepts, or ideas that could be protected. I think plaintiffs attorneys, and prosecutors, know this, too.
  6. Lawyers need retraining in external communication skills because they learn a combative vocabulary and verbal style that flows through into all their communications. The real benefit of sensitive, compassionate, positive thinking communication inside and outside is often lost through imposing a “legalistic” style. Generally, a very different vocabulary and strategy is required for public communication. The aggressive, adversarial, negative approaches used in courtrooms create the exact opposite impressions in the Court of Public Opinion. Frankly, I don’t believe the combative and negative approaches work in the courtroom either, but that’s an argument for another day.

There are specific instructions I give clients about working with attorneys. It is currently in revision, but look here for news of this interesting document once it’s ready for distribution.

If you need this document sooner rather than later, contact me directly at jel@e911.com.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

One of America’s Top 10 Crisis Management Problems

American-based Terrorist Training Camps: U.S. Prisons

The Bronx synagogue/Stewart airbase attackers, whose operation was foiled in its execution, are Americans who have gone through the U.S. prison system.

America currently houses two million men and women in prisons across the land. This is an average of 50,000 prisoners per state. Judging by what we know of the terrorist “cell” broken up in the last couple days in New York, three things become quite apparent (based on the histories of those captured). They are products of the American prison system. This system produces three things:

  • Converts to Islam (the fastest growing religion in America and in American prisons)
  • Hatred of America
  • Criminals with more criminal experience

By the end of this year, 900,000 prisoners will be released back into American society to be replaced by an equivalent or larger number going in for training, indoctrination, and heightened criminal motivation.

Who’s talking about this issue? Shouldn’t someone be talking about this issue?

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Crisis Questions: Working With Attorneys (Part 1)

Among the most frequent questions I get concern crisis management and legal situations that require working with attorneys. Here’s one example:

What is the best way to handle a crisis when you’re involved in impending litigation? That is, you’re not allowed to speak to the press and they’re writing negative articles about your company, because the other company involved is being interviewed and they talk. I’m actually being told to say, “No comment.”

Answer:

First, tell the boss he or she may need to hire better attorneys. Today’s defense lawyers must know how to operate in an environment of openness and almost constant chatter. The bigger profile a case has, the more people are communicating (especially insiders), and the more quickly one’s reputation and, perhaps, one’s career is defined by silence. Silence is the most toxic strategy in communications. Things happening outside the courtroom can affect what goes on in the courtroom. This is one of the reasons attorneys want so much control. Increasingly, though, these external communications and situational factors must be managed as well. Failure to respond or inform creates a perception of guilt. In this era where, increasingly, everyone is connected, many are journalizing. Failure to speak can be a very toxic strategy indeed.

Second, my attitude with all non practitioners, including lawyers, is that one of my most important responsibilities is to transfer what I know about how communications works in these special circumstances to those who have key roles to play in the scenario. I am teaching constantly. And, of course, the lawyers play an extraordinarily crucial role. What I’m saying is, ditch the attitude. Instead, gain some significant altitude. Look at the value you bring to the entire transaction and all the players, and work to make it work. Attorneys are used to being in control of everything in litigation. It’s pretty hard to challenge that. You have to be pretty good, pretty smart, and ready with some really useful, helpful, new information and approaches to have significant impact.

My goal is that everyone, especially attorneys, learn from what I recommend and talk about. During a recent meeting discussing a complex Web site for a defendant client, as the discussion ended, the lead attorney looked up and somewhat surprised said, “I think I have my opening argument ready now.” My response was, “Before we’re done you’ll have your closing argument, as well.” Arrogance? No, I knew I would help him; and so can you.

More later . . . .

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Bad Advice: Even a Dying Newspaper Can Throw a Knock-Out Punch When Threatened

When the New Jersey Hackensack University Medical Center learned that a very negative story was going to run in their local paper (The Bergen Record), just before the article appeared the hospital contacted the newspaper and told them that if the story ran the paper could no longer be sold at the hospital gift shop or in newspaper boxes; subscriptions would be ended; the hospital’s ads were to be removed from the media group’s Web site; and the advertising contract canceled.

Even a nine-year old can figure out how this story ends.

The article appeared, including commentary on the hospital’s preemptive actions and by noon, the newspaper was receiving apology phone calls from the hospital’s Board of Directors. Seems these stalwart gentlemen from the community accustomed to entertaining suck ups, naïvely believed that at most, the newspaper would knuckle under and, at the very least, would keep their names out of the paper. There was neither sucking nor anonymity.

Bad thinking. Dumb advice. Self-inflicted crisis creation, rather than crisis management. Predictable bad result.

Ironically, the daughter of the North Jersey media group’s chairman, Malcolm Borg (they own The Record), serves on the hospital’s Board. According to an account in The New York Times she had recused herself from most decisions having to do with newspaper.

In more than three decades of practice, every time I have seen this tactic tried, it blew up in the faces of the perpetrators, triggered longer-term damage and sanctions, and forced significant management change at the top of the organization. Reminds me of the story of the kid holding up the dairy store. He had a gun, he pulled the trigger, nothing happened. He looked down the barrel and pulled the trigger again. This time the weapon took his head off. The clock is ticking on whose head will role for this gaffe.

If you’d like more details, see The New York Times, May 4, 2009, “A battle with a New Jersey Newspaper Backfires.”

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