What is a Crisis?
A Period of Possible or Real Damage to a
Municipality, Company, Business, or Brand
Crises Are Triggered by a Sudden Event or a Long-
The Crisis May Affect Financial Stability, Reputation
or the Ability to Conduct Business
A Crisis May be Caused by
External Criminal Elements-Bombs, Computer
Hacking, Kidnapping, Terrorism
Employee Acts - Intentional or Unintentional -
Sabotage; Accidents; Sexual or Racial Discrimination
or Harassment; Violence; Violations of Law or
A Crisis May be Caused by
Legal or Other Government Action - Investigations,
Regulations, Law Enforcement
Market or Financial Actions - Including Stock Market
Special Interest Group Opposition - Protests,
Sudden Management Changes
Bad Things Can Happen
to Good Municipalities:
Dateline NBC, 20/20, 60 Minutes
Activities by Elected Officials and/or employees
Why Practice Smart
Smart Crisis Management, Along With a Good Legal
Strategy, Is Far Simpler Than Rebuilding a Damaged
Bad News Travels Fast
Media Thrive on Bad News
Preserve City Reputation
You Have a Crisis When …
You See It
Or You Hear About It From
Other Government Officials
Law Enforcement Officials
Internet Sites and Chat Rooms
How do City Attorneys fit in?
Attorneys are always the first people City officials
calls when a crisis occurs.
A strong legal strategy is important and may
influence many other key decisions regarding the
crisis management strategy.
Lawyers are often the cooler heads, realizing that a
crisis management strategy may be necessary.
How Can I Tell a
Crisis from an Issue?
An issue is a controversy, generally characterized by:
Early warnings through any number of sources –
e.g., activist groups, legal claims, government
investigations, research announcements, etc.
Sufficient time to develop strategies and steps
which may solve the problem before it escalates to
No immediate harm or disruption to city business
How Can I Tell a
Crisis from an Issue?
A crisis is generally characterized by:
Imminent threat to ”business as usual”
Imminent threat to the municipality's reputation
Media attention – either immediate or potential
Possible harm to individuals or property
Manageable - Limited Impact, Limited Public
Disclosure. The Fire Is Out, Minimal Damage.
Smoldering - No Widespread Immediate Impact,
but Must Be Monitored. The Fire Is Out, but We Do
Not Know the Cause.
Limited - Some City Impact, Confined to one City
Operation, Investigation Underway.
Full-blown - The Fire Is Out but the Key City Facility
or Operation Is Disabled; Allegations of Criminality,
Threat to Public Safety or Aggressive Opposition to
City Position. Could Have Financial Impact,
Filing of Serious Criminal or Civil Charges and/or
Can We Predict a Crisis?
Yes and No
No - Accidents Will Happen
Yes - A Crisis Is More Likely If We:
Do Not Push for Perfection
Do Not Listen
Violate Laws and City Policies
Why Worry? Who Cares?
High Profile Municipalities Are More
Susceptible to Some Crises
Bad Things Do Happen to Good Cities
What We Know
Cities Which, When Appropriate, Openly and
Quickly Share the Facts With the Public, Fare
Better Than Those That Do Not
Cities Which Accept Blame When They Are at
Fault Fare Better Than Those Who Deny or Are
Quick to Blame Others
Cities Which Show They Care About Their
Residents Fare Better Than Those Who Don’t
The Key Messages That Work:
Explanation of Actions
TYLENOL TAMPERING: We Care, We Act
PEPSI NEEDLES: TV Cameras Reveal the Hoax; B-Roll
BIC LIGHTERS AND KIDS: Creating the Childproof
Lighter/Teaching Fire Safety
EXXON VALDEZ: Where Was the Leadership?
UNION CARBIDE BHOPAL AND WEST VIRGINIA:
What? Is There a Problem?
INTEL DEFECTIVE CHIP: Just 1 in a Million Chance
You Will Lose All Data
FORD/FIRESTONE: Whose fault is it anyway?
Anticipation and Prevention
Focus on Goals
Solve the Problem
Prevent Panic/Reduce Tension
Control Flow of Information/Control Rumors
Good Plans and Intentions
Can Be Stalled or Killed by
Lack of involvement of counsel and public relations
Endless meetings and conference calls
Poorly defined -- or nonexistent -- goals
In a Crisis, Long Term
Reputation Will Be Affected By
The Municipality’s Goodwill Reserve
Employees Media and The Public
Does it affect my work? Who
Does it affect my job? What
Does it affect my health or When
What can I say to my family? How
Above all People Need:
Information And Assurances in Dealing with
To Know They Work Or Live in a Reliable, Safe City
To Know That Safety Comes First
What you say
Must be true
Must ring true to you
Must convince and enlighten your constituents
It is Important to be Careful
on How You Comment on:
Pending Litigation Security Issues
Rumors of Potential Changes Travel Plans of Senior
in personnel Government officials
Rumors of Layoffs Suppliers or Vendors
Geopolitical Events/ Foreign Speculation or Prediction
What is Litigation
• Communicating complex litigation issues so that
they are understandable, tangible and compelling to
targeted laymen audiences.
• Formulating litigation communications strategy
before filing, previewing potential outcomes to key
audiences, thereby shaping an environment
favorable to the client.
• Preparing post-verdict communications strategies
to publicize favorable verdicts, diminish unfavorable
verdicts and present clients and their attorneys in
the best possible light.
The Court of Public Opinion
Public relations during litigation Even if you win a case, there is no
should be handled with the same guarantee that the media and/or
seriousness and care as any other the public will perceive it as a win.
aspect of a case. On the flip side, even if you lose a
Increasingly, the issues case, there was ways to make sure
underpinning legal battles are the verdict does not affect the
debated – and decided – in the larger public opinion of the city or
court of public opinion long before elected officials.
attorneys see the inside of a
Three Questions You Should
Ask About Your Cases
1) Will/can this case attract public attention?
2) Can public opinion be shaped to benefit the City?
3) How can I manage public opinion to benefit
Prior to filing litigation or when litigation is
Allows the city and attorneys to manage the issue
and shape the media’s perception.
Catches the other side unaware and puts them on
Sometimes you need to manage media relations
after the city is sued or word leaks that they may be
Sometimes, communications are most important
after a verdict is reached in order to minimize the
extent of the damages.
Basics of Litigation
Should be drafted by a public relations professional
with input from counsel.
Should explain the facts and the city’s position in
terms understandable to laypersons so reporters
can convey this information accurately
Should have at least two “quotable quotes” and
may provide a photograph to heighten reader and
Must present a compelling reason for media to
. cover litigation.
May force early settlement to avoid negative
Get Community leaders and residents either in
support of your issue or against the other side
Helpful in swaying the media and providing
sound bites that come from others
Often, a good compelling story isn’t enough.
Knowing what each media needs/wants is almost
as important as what the story will be.
Television news requires more soundbites,
May help influence decision makers and the media.
Can push settlement.
By working with other governmental officials, you
may be able to have hearings, press conferences or
legislation that supports the general tenets of your
May force settlement by making a lose-lose
situation for other side.
A lawsuit was filed against a police department
from a female officer stating that the police
department has allowed supervisory personnel to
engage in blatantly illegal sexual harassment and
The client was repeatedly subjected to improper
comments about her clothing and body and that
one supervisor named in the lawsuit suggested the
client could trade time off for sexual favors. That
same supervisor would look directly into the client’s
chest while speaking to her.
We released a news release stating the facts set
forth in the complaint, detailing these actions of the
department and the supervising officer.
The news release was picked up by the Los Angeles
Times, the Pasadena Star-News and other media
outlets, resulting in numerous positive news stories
which echoed the news release.
Following the news stories, people called the
reporters who had written the articles based on the
news release and stated that the co-defendant (the
supervising officer) had been previously convicted
of soliciting a prostitute and later had his record
A news story the following day laid out these new
facts, further helping to spread the story and
influence the actions of both the plaintiff and the
Numerous police officers filed a lawsuit claiming
years of race and gender-based harassment,
discrimination and retaliation. The police
department immediately placed a gag order on all
of the plaintiffs.
Working with the police officers’ legal team, a
communications theme was created and news
articles were successfully placed in all local papers
and received lengthy television coverage of the
In addition, there was press coverage of the gag
order itself, which succeeded in framing public
opinion upon filing of the lawsuit and putting the
police department on the defensive in responding
to both the complaint and the attendant media
coverage of the allegations.
Full Media Campaign (For a City)
Two people died and 12 others City officials immediately
were injured when a runaway car expressed outraged that
numerous demands to the state
carrier slammed into a bookstore to immediately address the
and coffeehouse. Six months prior significant safety issues of out of
to the accident, the driver of control trucks ignored and
another truck carrying 70,000 offered her sympathies to the
family and friends of the two
pounds of onions lost control near people killed in the collision.
the same spot, but injuries were Our challenge was to
not so devastating. City immediately set out the facts
immediately engaged in crisis and get the state to address the
communications to make sure the issues the city had previously
public had the facts.
We provided key reporters and editors with factual
information showing that the state had been put on
notice and that warnings were ignored.
Provided reporters with a timeline and key
We made city officials available to reporters, quickly
organized a news conference with local and state
The City did not operate on a 9-5 clock - when
reporters called the state for comment - there was
no immediate response to messages left after the
close of business hours .
How would you respond to an employee union labor
negotiation complaint when they take their position
to the media What should your response be to a call
How to respond to the media when a City employee
has committed a serious crime (You receive a call
that an employee was involved in a (1) murder (2)
charged with embezzlement (3) accused of
pedophilia. What should your response be to a call
How to control the media when you have an ongoing
or reoccurring issue Every time the weather predicts
rain, the media shows up requesting information on
what your City is doing to prepare. What steps
would you take to help the media with frequent and
How to present a financial crisis of the City What
would you say to the media so they don’t paint the
City leaders as incompetent or having poor
oversight?. What is your response to a call for