By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Secret #3: Connections, connections, connections.
In real estate just three things matter: location, location, location. A similar principle applies in PR. Political, corporate, and media elites are often intertwined. Once you learn how to exploit these connections, you'll never lack for work. As usual, Tunheim sets the standard, tapping former Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey to do battle with his successor. (In a virtuoso display of timing, Humphrey is put on the Tunheim payroll on March 19, 2001, less than a week before the agency lands its contract with Allina.) Tunheim's inside knowledge of the workings of the attorney general's office extends to namesake founder and CEO Kathryn Tunheim, whose husband, U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim, once served as Humphrey's right-hand man. Tunheim also partners up with some other insiders to help rescue Allina's image: Former Humphrey press secretary Joe Loveland, an independent consultant, and Lee Sheehy, a former Humphrey deputy who now serves as general counsel to Public Radio International, both become part of the crisis-management team.
Secret #4: Pay attention to proper KARE and feeding of the media.
As a PR professional, you must work closely with reporters. But always remember to keep your friends close--and your enemies even closer. With a history of reporting the Allina scandal more aggressively than other Twin Cities televisions stations, KARE-TV (Channel 11) becomes a top priority for Tunheim's "friendly" story pitches. The importance of matching the right story to the right reporter can't be underestimated. Got a story about parish nurses? KARE anchor Diana Pierce is the perfect fit, given her "deep religious convictions." And while you've got Pierce on the phone, why not have her transfer you to Dave Clutter--the station's "traffic guy" and an afternoon-drive-time host on Christian radio station KTIS-FM (98.5). Everyone at KARE is a candidate, from the cherubic reporters on KARE's teen-targeted show Whatever to the "KARE Basket" segment on their Sunrise program. A subsequent week-by-week plan boasts a carefully constructed sequence of positive stories about Allina. To impress the client further (remember Secret #1), make sure to demonstrate your familiarity with the local media's inner workings. Slip it in casually, as Tunheim does in the memo that notes a "history of friction" between KARE's news director and general manager. While KARE gets special attention, Tunheim is careful not to neglect other media professionals: "Give [Star Tribune editor] Dave Shaffer an investigative story of his own; Engage Pat Kessler at WCCO-TV somehow."
Secret #5: When you're getting paid by the hour, keep the meter running.
When you find a client willing to pay your "professional services" rate of $10,000 a month, don't be the one to let go. Make the love last. In its media-vulnerability assessment (see Secret #2), Tunheim lays out the groundwork for a long and lucrative relationship with Allina, warning that the federal investigation of Allina's billing practices could last until 2004. Jim DeMay, a crisis-management consultant hired by Allina, also deftly positions himself for an extended ride: "We recommend taking advantage of the first 60 days to develop a more comprehensive campaign beyond the targeted constituency groups and beyond the anticipated July 1, 2001 release of the report from the office of the Attorney General."
Secret #6: No advice is too obvious.
Just because you're a crisis-management "expert," don't fall into the trap of ignoring the obvious. Tunheim's bold suggestions include: "Strengthen belief that Allina is a good corporate citizen....Refute inaccuracies that may surface in the Hatch report....Respond to media inquiries with messages that test as believable." The firm also urges Allina to "show humility," to aggressively dispute Hatch's charges of financial impropriety, and to apologize to the people of Minnesota for "the perception that the organization was loose with its customers' money." In his proposal for a $53,000 contract with Allina, consultant DeMay offers similar, billable advice: "Allina is a good corporate citizen. Allina is involved in your local community. Allina is not a big blue building in Minnetonka."
Secret #7: Take simple sentiments and make them complex.
President Dwight Eisenhower once famously remarked to an aide before a press conference, "Don't worry, Jim. If that question comes up, I'll just confuse them." In the world of crisis management, convoluted speech can also be helpful in attracting and retaining clients. In an April 5 memo, Kathryn Tunheim is hoping to convey the following message: "Because of the AG's investigation, Allina needs to clean up its image." She does so with the following, virtuoso display: "The overarching question I would use to move into this mindset is the following: when this is over, what needs to be perceived as true? I've highlighted a couple words here for emphasis, and for clarification. 'this,' of course refers to the situation triggered by the actions of the Attorney General, and the sequence of events that he, and we, have undertaken since his initial trigger. 'Perceived' is important to note because we are interested in trying to take responsibility not only for our business decisions, but for our reputation." Simply dazzling.
Secret #8: Everyone loves a tough guy.
By the time clients get around to actually hiring a crisis-management expert, they are usually a little skittish. After all, they are presumably in the midst of a crisis. One reliable tactic is to strike a take-no-prisoners posture. In a work proposal penned by DeMay on May 4, the veteran political operative vows to "lead a war room effort for the first sixty days of the project." He promises--with just the appropriate dash of confidence-inspiring swagger--to be at Allina HQ "all day, every day." He also suggests a strategy of "casting doubt on those who unfairly attack Allina." As part of the proposed budget, DeMay even recommends $4,500 be set aside for "opposition research." An April 18 Tunheim memo looks to "identify Hatch foes and use to Allina benefit." The same memo contemplates taking anti-Hatch stories not only to Minnesota Public Radio (where Skip Humphrey puts in at least two calls to staff reporter Patty Marsicano) but also to "National Media." Remember, though: the tough-guy act is strictly for the benefit of the client. Tunheim knows this, and--like the pros they are--urge Allina to publicly emphasize that it has "gone to great lengths to cooperate with the attorney general."