The crunch-time counselors

John N. Frank profiles 22 people who should be on the speed dial in a crisis

John N. Frank profiles 22 people who should be on the speed dial in a crisis

For a list of honorable mentions, click here.

For a list of the experts' experts, click here.

Chris Atkins

Managing director

Global corporate practice,

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, New York

Years in crisis work: 20

Crisis Assignments: The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) - the departure of chair-man and CEO Dick Grasso; the NYSE's response to 9/11; FedEx Flight 14 crash at Newark Airport; Lloyds of London US members' settlement

Philosophy: "Few companies go out of business due to a crisis, but adept handling of the crisis can have a dramatic impact on the pace of recovery."

Atkins counseled NYSE interim CEO John Reed in the difficult period after Grasso left the exchange. He wrote numerous op-ed pieces helping the exchange defend a key rule that was under attack by competitors.

Ketchum SVP Tom Barritt, who has worked with Atkins at two different firms, says of him, "His greatest influence on me has been his superior client- counseling skills. He knows exactly how to cut to the chase."

Rhonda Barnat

Managing director

Abernathy MacGregor Group, New York

Years in crisis work: 20-plus

Crisis Assignments: The StarLink Corn crisis in 2000; a tech crisis involving horse racing's Breeders' Cup; a major financial institution accused of money laundering

Philosophy: "We believe in small teams that are empowered to do the right thing." Barnat helped form small teams for the client that produced StarLink, a genetically modified corn, when a crisis erupted in 2000 after StarLink - which had not been approved for human consumption - was found in taco shells. She served as the company's sole spokesperson on the issue, handling all press calls. The crisis also involved communicating with a 17-state attorneys-general coalition.

Tom Barritt

SVP, global director, issues and crisis network

Ketchum, New York

Years in crisis work: 20

Crisis assignments: Recall of Bridgestone/ Firestone tires; Mott's USA on Alar and the crisis it produced for the apple industry; a shooting at a Wendy's in Queens, NY, in May 2000

Philosophy: "The consumer is the key audience."

In his two decades of handling crises, Barritt has seen the explosion of media coverage for such events and knows that companies can become lost trying to respond to all of the media calls they get.

"Consumers still need to be addressed," he says, adding that's as true in a b-to-b situation where the consumers are a company's business clients as it is for a consumer-goods maker. "We work to keep the temperature low," Barritt says. "If the pot boils over for a client, we aren't doing our job."

Jonathan Bernstein


Bernstein Crisis Management, Monrovia, CA

Years in crisis work: 22

Crisis assignments: Developer Del Webb from 1989 to 2001 - developed national crisis plan and did nationwide training for all spokespeople; Quarles & Brady Streich Lang, the Phoenix-based office of law firm Quarles & Brady, which still retains Bernstein to work with its clients in crisis situations

Philosophy: Crisis response has to be prompt, compassionate, honest, informative, and interactive, Bernstein says.

"I also strongly believe that all employees are crisis managers and PR representatives for an organization," he adds, "whether you want them to be or not."

Bernstein specializes in crisis preparedness and prevention. He has been a leader in helping new PR practitioners learn about crisis communications. He began an e-mail newsletter on crisis management in February 2000, which is targeted to PR people with less than 10 years' experience. He also runs teleseminars for young PR pros, charging $95 to keep the session affordable for those just starting out in the profession.

Andrew Brimmer


Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, New York

Years in crisis work: 17

Crisis assignments: He continues to work with HealthSouth as it deals with a major accounting fraud by former members of management; Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing of America in 1997-1998 as it settled a sexual-harassment action

Philosophy: "A client may not be able to ward off the event, but one can help affect the context within which the news will be announced, understood, judged, and memorialized. In a crisis, the context is king."

Brimmer spent four months on-site at HealthSouth, handling thousands of media calls and developing internal communications for 42,000 employees, among other extensive duties.

Karen Doyne

Managing director, crisis and issues management

Burson-Marsteller, Washington, DC

Years in crisis work: 20

Crisis assignments: Silicone breast implants for Dow Chemical; Fen-Phen diet-drug crisis for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals; Agent Orange/dioxin allegations for Dow Chemical; Asbestos litigation for Union Carbide

Philosophy: "One of the most common mistakes companies in crisis make is to declare the situation resolved too early," Doyne contends. "Prematurely restoring 'business as usual' just because the issue is off the front page can backfire."

Doyne advises that the value of outside counsel is to be objective in helping a company make the transition from crisis response to crisis recovery. While at Ketchum, Doyne put together a team to work with Bridgestone/Firestone during its tire problems with Ford, handling hundreds of calls that were pouring into Firestone's media center.

Scott Farrell

EVP, deputy managing director

Golin Harris, Chicago

Years in crisis work: 19

Crisis assignments: A major labor dispute at Hormel Foods; sexual harassment suit at Dial Corporation; the Audit Bureau of Circulations after two members misreported circulation

Philosophy: "Dealing with a crisis is inevitable in this business," says Farrell. "Every professional will be faced with the challenge over the course of a career. So the question isn't 'Will it happen?' Rather, it's 'Are we prepared to handle it when it happens and how will we respond?'"

Farrell follows what he calls the six Rs of crisis management: rapid response, responsibility, regret, resolution, restitution, and reform. People will forgive corporate mistakes if they see that changes have been implemented to prevent reoccurrences, Farrell contends.

At Dial, Farrell helped turn negative media reporting around to balanced coverage.

Michael Fineman


Fineman PR, San Francisco

Years in crisis work: 20-plus

Crisis assignments: Odwalla juice E.coli-related recall in 1996; several manufacturers of packaged salads in 1997 when media charges surfaced regarding bacteria counts in its products; Foster Farms, a major poultry producer on the West Coast, when a disease outbreak threatened production in 2003

Philosophy: "There is no one approach to every crisis situation," Fineman says. Companies need to gain consumer trust before a crisis hits, and "if bad news hits, you need to get it out as soon as possible.

"Do not clam up, do not lie, do not obfuscate," he adds.

Fineman is widely known as an expert in consumer goods/food-related crisis work.

Richard Hyde

EVP, US director of crisis communications

Hill & Knowlton, New York

Years in crisis work: 25

Crisis assignments: Gatorade product contamination; the crash of Swissair flight 111; Three Mile Island nuclear accident; Union Carbide, Bhopal, India

Philosophy: "Be certain to demonstrate care and empathy by what you do and say," Hyde stresses. "Your communication channels, especially the spokesperson, ultimately determine your success when communicating during a crisis."

Hyde's list of crisis work includes some of the major events of the past quarter century, putting him in the pantheon of major crisis experts.

On one crisis assignment involving an international sporting organization, Hyde oversaw a team of 50, running three press conferences a day with translations into other languages for a press corps of 500 reporters covering the story.

Kent Jarrell

SVP, director of litigation communications

APCO Worldwide, Washington, DC

Years in crisis work: 8

Crisis assignments: Wal-Mart reputation and litigation communication management; WorldCom; class action lawsuits involving Cooper Tire

Philosophy: Jarrell was on the ground at WorldCom from the moment the company announced a $3.8 billion accounting error through the acceptance of its bankruptcy petition by a federal judge. He also represented WorldCom's creditors during the bankruptcy.

"You can't permanently spin your way out of a litigation crisis," Jarrell says. "Companies have to remember that winning in court doesn't always mean winning in the court of public opinion as well."

Larry Kamer

SVP, director issues and crisis management, MS&L, San Francisco

Years in crisis work: 25

Crisis assignments: Nike from 1998-2003; Jack in the Box E.coli contamination; Chevron gender discrimination claim; Port of Oakland, implementing post-9/11 crisis protocols

Philosophy: "[My main goal is] to help clients emerge as better-managed organizations with stronger ties to stakeholders," notes Kamer. "Crises are about values, about what kind of people these are. It is a question of what you really stand for as an organization."

Says Michael Fineman of Kamer, "He easily gets the confidence of his clients because he knows his stuff."

William Keegan

SVP, deputy GM, director, US crisis and issues management practice

Edelman, Chicago

Years in crisis work: 15-plus

Crisis assignments: In 1999, he worked with CNA Insurance when a large pane of glass fell from its headquarters and killed a Chicago woman; Pilgrim's Pride in 2002 during a listeriosis outbreak in the Northeast; energy company NiSource in 2001-2002 when allegations emerged that it had illegally traded with Enron

Philosophy: "It comes down to the golden hours, the first 48 hours [of a crisis]," Keegan says of his approach to crisis management. "If you have not done it right in the first 48 hours, chances are you won't moving forward."

Keegan believes in positioning senior management front and center in a crisis. "Visibility cannot be delegated," he says.

Gershon Kekst

President, Kekst & Company, New York

Years in crisis work: 35

Crisis assignments (for firm): Bayer on issues related to anti-anthrax drug Cipro; Kmart for bankruptcy PR; the early days of the Enron crisis; Fred Alger Management, a financial management company, in 2003 during the mutual-fund crisis

Philosophy: "When facing a crisis, a company and its advisors should always strive to view their situation through the eyes of the affected constituent groups; consider the meaning of the crisis from the perspective of their interests, not necessarily yours," Kekst says. "Tell them the whole truth as you know or understand it, stick to the facts and avoid unnecessary speculation, and always respond in a timely manner - as best you can - to their questions or concerns."

Discussing the role Kekst also plays in the M&A field, Tom Martin, president of the Arthur Page Society and SVP of corporate communications at ITT Industries, says, "I certainly would put that firm on a short list of agencies that are well-regarded in every takeover battle." Adds a competitor of Kekst's, "They take a very careful and considered approach to crises."

Jim Lukaszewski

Chairman and president

The Lukaszewski Group, White Plains, NY

Years in crisis work: 26

Crisis assignments: Has worked on mutual- fund scandals, global ethics and integrity issues, and major product failures

Philosophy: "The secret to managing the media is to manage yourself and your situation properly from the start," Lukaszewski says.

Widely known in the crisis world, Lukaszewski has written and spoken extensively on crisis topics.

"There are very few people who will leave behind the body of knowledge he has," says fellow crisis expert Larry Kamer. "From a pure education standpoint, there is really no one who does more than Jim."

Peter Morrissey

President & CEO

Morrissey & Co., Boston

Years in crisis work: 25

Crisis assignments: Tylenol tampering in 1982; worked with W.R.Grace on environmental crisis cases in the early 1980s; counseled a major Catholic organization in 2002 during sexual-abuse allegations against priests

Philosophy: "It sounds glib, but showing clients how to do the right thing is the best approach to handling a crisis in the long term," points out Morrissey.

Morrissey's work with Tylenol makes him one of the godfathers of modern crisis communications. Even today, crisis communicators refer to that 22-year-old case as the textbook example of dealing with a crisis situation involving a product.

Mike Paul


MGP & Associates PR, New York

Years in crisis work: 15-plus

Crisis assignments: A major airline during labor and potential bankruptcy crisis; a global financial company during financial-reporting scandals; a national political figure during a crisis involving fathering a child out of wedlock.

Philosophy: "Humility, truth, transparency, and accountability are all important tools for rebuilding the reputation of a public organization or public individual," says Paul.

Paul earned his stripes in the rough-and-tumble world of New York City politics and has been a fixture on the Big Apple communications scene for years.

Hollis Rafkin-Sax

Vice chairman

Financial Dynamics, New York

Years in crisis work: 20-plus

Crisis assignments: Cantor Fitzgerald after 9/11 attacks; WorldCom; HealthSouth; energy firm Aquila after the collapse of Enron

Philosophy: "Crisis situations need to be addressed in a holistic manner as audiences overlap and messages flow from one constituency to the next in real time and in the public domain," says Rafkin-Sax.

Financial Dynamics hired Rafkin-Sax away from Edelman last year, which many industry professionals called a coup.

Howard Rubenstein

President, Rubenstein Associates, New York

Years in crisis work: 45

Crisis assignments: Kathie Lee Gifford during allegations about sweat-shop production of her clothing line; Silverstein Properties, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center, after 9/11

Philosophy: "I never jump to a conclusion until I've heard all of the facts of the case," says Rubenstein. "Being a good listener is one of the keys to being an effective crisis counselor."

Rubenstein is a grandmaster in the world of crisis PR. "No matter where you are in the US, on a regular basis, Howard is involved in a crisis," comments Sam Singer, a San Francisco crisis expert. "He handles it all with aplomb and class."

Over the past three years, Rubenstein has handled all communications and media relations work for Silverstein Properties in connection with the WTC destruction. On another recent assignment, he worked with a prestigious private school whose executive head was arrested for pornography, counseling the school, forming a crisis team, and arranging meetings with staff and students while also communicating with parents.

George Sard

Chairman & CEO

Citigate Sard Verbinnen, New York

Years in crisis work: 24

Crisis assignments: He worked with Martha Stewart with her criminal defense efforts; Hewlett-Packard during the Compaq acquisition; Nortel as it deals with an accounting scandal

Philosophy: "It is essential to work with the client and their legal advisors to honestly assess what they know and don't know," says Sard.

The Arthur Page Society's Tom Martin puts Sard's firm on a short list of boutique agencies known for their top-flight crisis expertise.

Sam Singer


Singer Associates, San Francisco

Years in crisis work: 20

Crisis assignments: Jack in the Box Restaurants; defense team of investment banker Frank Quattrone; the break-up of the DeBartolo Corporation; sale of the San Francisco Chronicle to the Hearst Corporation

Philosophy: Singer feels the essence of good crisis communications involves being clear, concise, and direct. "That's what will make the difference between it being catastrophic in a corporate-reputation sense or just a black eye," he says.

On the corporate side, Singer cites Dave Samson, GM of public affairs at ChevronTexaco, as one of the best corporate communicators in the business.

Michael Sitrick

Chairman and CEO

Sitrick & Co., Los Angeles

Years in crisis work: 30

Crisis assignments: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Chapter 11 filings of both Global Crossing and Conseco

Philosophy: "You must make sure that what you do augments and does not complicate or foul up legal and other strategies," stresses Sitrick. "You also need to recognize that if you don't tell your side of the story, you can't complain that it wasn't told."

Sitrick is the crisis communicator to the stars. His agency has worked for such notables as the voice actors on The Simpsons and more recently wrestling superstar Steve Austin.

Sitrick himself emerged as the voice of Premier Radio Network after conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh admitted to being addicted to painkillers. He also made headlines in 1999 with a pre-emptive strike against ABC's 20/20 for client Metabolife International.

Larry Smith


Institute for Crisis Management, Louisville, KY

Years in crisis work: 10

Crisis assignments: He worked on workplace violence issues at Edgewater Technology in December 2000. His other clients require confidentiality

Philosophy: "In a crisis, people are going to talk about your organization," says Smith. "They can talk about the rumors, speculation, and your adversary's point of view, or they can talk about the facts. Without the facts, your audiences will almost always think the worst. Most of the time, the truth is not nearly as bad."

A former press secretary for Dan Quayle when he was a US senator, Smith brings extensive experience as a newsman to his crisis work. He joined the institute in the mid 1990s and bought it in late 1999.

Edelman's Bill Keegan has taken a crisis management course from Smith and says, "He brings an astute perspective of the media." Keegan credits Smith for teaching him how to break a crisis assignment down into manageable parts.

Crisis at work: H&K and WorldCom

When Hill & Knowlton began working with WorldCom in late 2002, there was no doubt what needed to be done.

"The objective was very clear - to help MCI [the name WorldCom now goes by] emerge from bankruptcy," recalls Vince Hulbert, SVP in H&K's corporate financial technology practice in New York.

WorldCom, once a telecom darling, was involved in one of the most noted business crises of the tech industry's collapse. Its hard-charging chairman Bernard Ebbers had resigned under fire in April 2002. By June, the CFO had been fired after the discovery of $3.8 billion in accounting irregularities. By July, the company was in bankruptcy reorganization. In August, yet another $3.3 billion in accounting problems had been uncovered - the total would climb to $9 billion - and many were wondering if the once major long-distance company could survive at all.

When new chairman and CEO Michael Capellas took over in November 2002, H&K followed with a 15-person team on-site at WorldCom and approximately 50 people around its network of offices working with WorldCom's internal communications staff.

"We had to communicate to key audiences that the company was indeed going to survive," recalls Hulbert.

The WorldCom/H&K team targeted key audiences - customers, employees, creditors, the media, regulators, and analysts - to reach with their messaging. Capellas announced a 100-day effort in January 2003 to put together a bankruptcy reorganization plan for the company. Goals of the period were shared with key audiences on the company's website. Capellas opted for a low-key approach with the media during those 100 days, not wanting to over-promise or create any false expectations, Hulbert recalls.

H&K and WorldCom communications people spent that time crafting messages for when the reorganization plan would be announced in April and talking to employees.

In an 18-month period beginning that January, Capellas did seven worldwide employee webcasts and eight conference calls with senior managers. The company held 25 all-employee town-hall meetings and sent out 26 employee e-mails, keeping staffers up to date on reorganization efforts. Quarterly two-day meetings were held with the CEO and 80 top company executives, Hulbert says.

When a reorganization plan was made public on April 15, 2003, the company also announced that it would change its name to MCI. The old WorldCom had bought MCI prior to its accounting problems and the MCI name still carried brand equity in the telecom market.

Communications efforts focused on moving the company's image forward. Customer communications - through trade publications, the business press, and various industry presentations - focused on the company's products and services and the reliability of WorldCom's network, Hulbert says.

Another front H&K manned was investor relations, becoming the IR hotline for MCI, Hulbert notes.

MCI emerged from bankruptcy this April and has been relisted by Nasdaq. The company had 300 major global accounts when H&K came on board and has been able to keep all of them through a particularly tumultuous period.

Hulbert credits this achievement to CEO Capellas for creating a perception that the company was moving quickly and to an effective crisis communications strategy that reached key stakeholders with the message that MCI was coming back.

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