By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
As part of the growing but invisible elite who "manage" the public's perception of major corporations, celebrities, and even billion-dollar, nonprofit organizations, your options are virtually limitless. And if it's excitement you crave, consider a future in public relations' most thrilling and fastest-growing specialty--the discipline of crisis management.
As a crisis-management expert, you will work behind the scenes to shape the day's news cycle, pitching stories, meeting with editorial boards, even ghostwriting opinion pieces for major newspapers. And if you have a taste for intrigue, you can branch out into opposition research--where you cull from the background and history of a client's adversary to find that perfect vulnerability.
Best of all, as a crisis-management expert you can realize the dream of financial independence by earning up to $450 an hour! That's what the top talent at the Bloomington-based GCI Tunheim, a subsidiary of the prestigious international PR giant GCI Group, raked in after "spinning" the headlines for Allina Health System during the spring and summer of 2001.
At the time, Allina was in dire need of a crisis-management team. Under investigation by both Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch and the federal Office of the Inspector General, the health giant was facing a raft of wide-ranging allegations, including claims that it had abused its "nonprofit" status by spending too much money on corporate perks. Without proper "context" and "story conditioning," a gullible public might have gotten the wrong idea about those $52,000 golf retreats and $10,000-a-week consulting retainers that are essential to curbing the cost of medical care.
To some people, hiring one set of consultants to address criticism about the hiring of other consultants might seem, well, just plain silly. But in today's PR-driven corporate climate, it is business as usual! In 1999 alone, the total billings of the nation's top 100 PR firms increased 28.4 percent over the previous year to an amazing $2.2 billion, making it among the three fastest growing sectors in the American economy.
In fact, public-relations professionals are involved in 35 to 75 percent of the stories you read and watch. One study, completed in the mid-Eighties and cited in the Columbia Journalism Review, found that 45 percent of the stories in sampled newspapers "either came verbatim from PR releases or with perfunctory additional reporting." Given the "news" media's dependence on PR, you can see why Allina was willing to pay more than $306,000 for four months of service from a team of crisis-management professionals.
We know what you're thinking: "This all sounds great. But how can I learn the secrets of the professionals? I don't know the first thing about crisis management." Well, friend, wonder no more. Tunheim's techniques are now yours to learn, and benefit from. As part of an agreement with Attorney General Hatch, Allina has turned over hundreds of top-secret documents outlining the strategies employed by Tunheim and other Twin Cities' PR professionals--including independent political consultants Jim DeMay and Joe Loveland--who worked for the healthcare company. Stamped "trade secret" and "attorney client privileged," these documents outline the tactics employed by top professionals in a real-world crisis. So here, for the first time, are the 13 secrets of crisis management--the key to your future!
Secret #1: Convince the client they need YOU. Speak their language.
Let's face it. In today's buzzword-laden business environment, if you can't talk the talk, you'll never get the chance to walk the walk. First, show the client you are their kind of people. Tunheim's mastery of corporate jargon is displayed on the home page of its Web site (www.gcitunheim.com), where a series of words and phrases scroll across the screen in seductive slow motion: collective best, frictionless, can do, impactful, deep bench, available. Tunheim's declaration of corporate identity, just a few clicks away, is a tour de force: "We are professionals who deliver big marketplace impact for client partners with strategic marketing conceived by top flight senior talent." Who could resist? As it turns out, not even Allina, even though the conglomerate lists 22 full-time communications specialists on its staff directory.
Secret #2: Prey on the client's fear.
Franklin Roosevelt famously remarked, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." But in the crisis-management game, the only thing a PR professional has to fear is a lack of fear. It is the juice that drives the client to you in the first place, the emotion that sustains the most lasting and lucrative client/provider relationships. A "Media Vulnerability Assessment" completed by Tunheim in May 2001 provides a textbook example. Presented as an easy-to-read chart, the document lists 17 potential PR disasters looming in Allina's near future. At the time, Allina had taken some hits in the press for its "executive compensation packages," and there had been reports of a federal investigation of the healthcare company's billing practices. But as Hatch pressed on with his audit of the company's expenditures, Tunheim wisely made the case that things could get much, much worse. In one scenario, Tunheim raises the specter that Twin Cities media will soon be engaging in stakeouts of Allina executives "ala 'Roger & Me'"-- a reference to guerrilla filmmaker Michael Moore's legendary on-camera stalking of General Motors CEO Roger Smith. And just in case that "very high to definite" prospect doesn't equate to more billable hours for their crisis consultants, Tunheim assembles a laundry list of other potential embarrassments: on-camera ambushes of doctors "driving luxury cars." News reports excoriating Allina for refusing to hospitalize accused quadruple murderer Larry Dame on the eve of his alleged crime. Even the possibility that Allina might be fined for defrauding the federal government and that reporters would actually publish the details. Cleverly striking a more relaxed note, Tunheim rates the final example as only a "medium risk," on the grounds that "complexity of finances" might diminish media interest.