This issue of Communication Command contains an interview about crisis communication and emergency telephone service as well as a recently published case study. We hope you will enjoy reading our e-Newsletter.

July 2014
World Conference
In June, C4CS® Senior Partner Dianne Chase attended IABC's World Conference in Toronto and took part in the Council of Regions meetings. Dianne recently completed her term as Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators' Southern Region and recounted her year at the helm of IABC's largest region in a newsletter that can be viewed via this link.

Risk Communication Workshop
C4CS® Managing Partner Oliver S. Schmidt has accepted an invitation to conduct a workshop on Risk Communication at the 2014 Emergency Preparedness & Hazmat Response Conference. The four hour workshop will happen on October 26, 2014. Please click here to acces the conference website.

TV Interview with C4CS® Senior Partner
C4CS® Senior Partner Dianne Chase was interviewed about the former City of Charlotte Mayor's public statement following his recent indictment. Please click here to visit Time Warner Cable News Charlotte's website and watch the clip.

Our next e-Learning course on 'Harnessing the Power of Social Media in Crisis Management' will be conducted August 4 through August 15, 2014. Congratulations to those who completed the course work and obtained a Certificate in Social Media Crisis Management Planning accredited by ICOR. The course brochure can be downloaded via this link.
If you have questions concerning our e-Learning course, please contact us at

Communication Command e-Newsletter
Please click here if you would like to access past issues of our e-Newsletter.

Five Questions about Crisis Communication and Emergency Telephone Service  

Laurie Leonard is President of Suite 1000, a Charlotte, NC based company that provides 24/7 call center services for crisis communications, customer service, and marketing support.

Laurie Leonard

How does the emergency telephone service your company provides work during a crisis?

SUITE 1000 works with its clients to design processes for handling communications in the event of a crisis. Because every company and crisis situation is different, we offer a broad array of services that includes the following.
  • Communication Hotlines: Clients can forward existing telephone numbers to us or we can provide new numbers. These numbers can be used to report incidents on a 24/7 basis, trigger notification processes to designated company managers, facilitate communications between specific employees, and provide situation updates.
  • Notifications: In case of an emergency, notification can be made using different communication devices including cell phone, e-mail, text messaging, fax, etc. Dispatching can be done by type of call, location, type of emergency, etc. Some of our clients also require that their employees acknowledge the receipt of a notification and the documentation of the acknowledgement.
  • Media Calls: Our clients can establish specific instructions for how calls from the media will be handled. They can also set up a Media Hotline, post the corresponding number publicly, and if desired use the line as the single point of contact for the media to request crisis related updates, etc.

Can you customize the emergency telephone services depending on the needs of the client?

All of our services are customizable. SUITE 1000 follows a Program Design Process that helps our clients make good decisions about the communication steps they want us to follow. We always start with a complimentary consultation.
Our clients do not have to be experts concerning phone systems, communication devices and call handling techniques. We have more than 25 years of experience helping clients and regard it as our job to translate their needs into an effective process that fits their budget.
Cost containment is a big part of the consulting provided to clients. In addition to advising them on the most cost effective way to design their account, we also coordinate with management and vendors who will be included in the overall crisis management.
For example, we worked with a client and the external law firm on messages that minimized the number of inbound calls and created automated information lines that reduced the amount of required “live” time for the account. In short, smart planning produced significant cost savings.

Which features are most sought after by companies that request help concerning crisis notification?

The most sought after features are the ability to respond 24-hours a day, 365 days a year and decision trees which ensure that appropriate questions are asked when a crisis is reported and that also trigger situation specific notifications.

If an industrial accident occurred, how the situation should be handled could depend on a number of factors and related information such as the description of the incident, knowing if anyone was injured or killed, if a chemical spill occurred, and if so, if material leaked into a waterway, if emergency response services and civil authorities have been alerted, etc. How notifications are made and who should be notified may also depend on the time of day or the day of the week. If it is after business hours or during a weekend, different modes of communication may be necessary because company executives are not in the office. Bottom line: many questions have to be answered so we can appropriately design our cient specific services.

What crisis situations have you and your colleagues assisted client companies with?

Examples of the types of crisis situations we have helped our clients with include:
  • Chemical Releases
  • Industrial Accidents
  • Product Recalls
  • Security Breaches
  • Transportation Accidents
Virtually any type of company can, unfortunately, find itself dealing with a crisis. It can be a situation that affects a single individual, for instance a retail employee traumatized in a hold-up, or an incident involving an entire community such as a hurricane.
We have worked with a wide range of companies in such industries as environmental cleanup, higher education, manufacturing, retail, transportation, etc.

Can you describe how Suite 1000 helped a client with a data breach crisis?

Data breaches have been in the news a lot lately and are on the rise. There are strict legal guidelines that require timely notifications to stakeholders that may have been affected. Following these guidelines is very important.
We recently worked with a university that had to notify anyone who had applied to the school through its website about a potential data breach during a specific window of time. We coordinated our activities with the board members, the executive team, PR, and legal counsel. It was very important that a consistent and legally correct message was communicated to the public. 
Initial notification was made via regular mail. The letter included a clear explanation of the situation, how recipients could determine if they had been affected by the data breach, specific step-by-step instructions on how to apply for credit monitoring, and a hotline number for additional questions. A toll free telephone hotline provided recorded information and the option to speak with someone if more information was needed. In addition, a customized process ensured that all calls from the media were directed to the media director. I am happy to report that the university was pleased with the services we provided.

Expect The Unexpected - And Plan Accordingly

C4CS® contributed this article to the July e-Newsletter of the Pittsburgh Regional Business Coalition for Homeland Security (PRBCHS). Please click here to access the full article on PRBCHS' website.

The first warning was an e-mail from a regional sales rep alerting management at headquarters that a reporter from a TV station in another state had visited a customer facility where the company’s equipment was in use. The reporter, the sales representative warned, had asked about rumors of a product malfunction that allegedly resulted in a near-fatal incident.

So began an adventure in crisis and reputation management that, within weeks, would impact the manufacturer across North America. While professional prudence dictates that we not identify the company, the real-life story serves as a reminder of how important it is to be prepared for the worst.

To be sure, virtually any organization could face a crisis at just about any time. A truck could overturn, spilling toxic material. A product could be found to be defective, resulting in a recall effort. Faulty software could cause financial havoc. A fire, perhaps resulting from a natural disaster, could destroy a plant or distribution center. An executive could get caught embezzling. An employee could go berserk. The list is endless.

In the case of our client, management had the smarts to recognize the potential seriousness of its challenge. There was no thought of ignoring the sales representative’s warning, nor, when it came time to answer queries from the media, of stonewalling behind a curtain of “no comment.”

Management’s first step was to form a crisis response team of key executives so that the impacted functional areas within the company – Sales, R&D, Marketing, Legal, Corporate Communication, and others – could act in lockstep. The crisis response team, in turn, quickly set about to investigate what prompted the reporter’s interest and to gauge just how pervasive the alleged product issue might be. Dispassionately dealing with unvarnished facts, no matter how unpleasant, is always crucial to preventing a bad situation from snowballing into a devastating one.

The company also sought assistance from a firm with particular expertise in strategic communication and crisis management. As such, we helped management prepare for various scenarios that might unfold, with an eye to reaching and influencing all of the company’s stakeholders – customers, employees, general and trade media, professional groups, and others – with consistent and targeted messaging.

Within hours of being asked to help, we conducted a situational assessment, assisted in determining business and communication objectives, and performed an audit of internal and external communications channels and tools.

Many questions had to be answered. Who manages the company Web site and how rapidly could new content be added – even at midnight? Where and how is customer data stored and how readily could we generate a list of customers who might also be impacted? How effective is e-mail for reaching specific stakeholders? Which key customer accounts needed additional attention? Who controlled the company’s social media presence? Was automated Internet and media monitoring already in place? Had members of the sales team been approached by concerned customers or media representatives? Who had been designated as official spokespersons and what additional training did these managers need prior to answering questions from reporters? How do we streamline the approvals process?

With our assistance, the client proactively contacted the TV reporter, asking her for the opportunity to be a part of her reporting. While she and her newsroom editors were gracious and professional, it was clear that the station thought it had a riveting story that would keep viewers intrigued. They did not divulge many details about the story they were pursuing. Television news, after all, has to be dramatic to compel an audience to stick around.

Nor would the station say precisely when it expected to air the story, but promised to let us know beforehand. As it turned out, they did not keep their promise.

Separately, we found out that the TV reporter had contacted customers in other cities across North America. Even before any story was broadcast, industry buzz was spreading.

We knew we could not just wait to see how negative the TV station’s news report might be. We hence developed multiple crisis scenarios and a step-by-step game plan to guide us, both in the immediate aftermath of a damaging news report and over the longer haul. We prepared a strong first draft of a rebuttal news release, along with a CEO letter. We designed and generated special pages on the company Web site to be our platform for all subsequent communications. These pages functioned as a “Dark Site” that did not go live until the news report had aired. And working with a local video house, we wrote, taped, and edited a video presentation for our “Dark Site,” featuring a line manager with day-to-day safety responsibilities, to personalize the company’s commitment to product integrity and its culture of openness and transparency.

When the TV story aired a few days later, we were prepared. The dedicated Web content went live. The news release and the CEO letter went out. An e-mail blast was commenced. Personal calls were made to key accounts. Trade media and industry leaders were contacted. Employees were kept informed and provided important input.

In the days and weeks that followed, we conducted extensive message development and provided media training specifically geared toward preparing designated spokespersons for taped TV interview opportunities and a news conference that included a product demonstration for reporters in a focus market. We regularly communicated with the sales force and other key employees and added to the content on the Web site, including a technical briefing document and a summary of government research favorable to our side of the story. In an effort to provide total transparency, we later also included links to various TV and print reports that had by then appeared in markets across North America and alerted stakeholders to favorable findings published by regulatory authorities.

Was it overkill? Not at all. Because, as we all know, in this age of Google and ubiquitous online connectivity via social media, a TV report broadcast in a single market could go viral and be seen by any number of stakeholders within minutes. And we also know that a damaging accusation, even a false one, can take on its own life if not countered urgently.

Although the story spread to other cities, in most cases our stakeholder messages were included, and a number of TV and newspaper reports featured content from our specially prepared Web pages. While we did not kill the story outright – that is often an unrealistic, and sometimes counterproductive, expectation on the part of management – we did succeed in making sure that the client’s stakeholders knew immediately that the company would not be passive in defending itself.

Indeed, that realization by stakeholders has probably had life-or-death consequences for the company. As part of our follow up, we worked with our client on attitudinal research. To paraphrase a common response from a senior manager at one of our client’s customers, “When we first learned about this, I was worried. But then I saw how forceful and fast you were in getting on top of this, and that gave us the confidence to stick with you.”

Several months later, a report that resulted from an investigation conducted by regulatory authorities clearly stated that our client was at no fault. That news was picked up by traditional as well as social media across the board, and the client saw its name recognition shoot up as a result.

The bottom line: Bad things can happen to good companies. Management therefore must expect the unexpected – and plan accordingly.

Lessons Learned: A Checklist

A crisis or disaster can hit virtually any company, any time. If one were to strike yours today, would you be prepared? Review this checklist to assess your company’s crisis communication readiness. And if you find yourself not adequately prepared, don’t get scared. Instead put the following in place well before a crisis hits.

  1. Crisis Definition
  2. Crisis Response Triggers
  3. Crisis Communication Readiness Assessment
  4. Crisis Notification Procedures & Tools
  5. Crisis Scenario Development
  6. Crisis Communication Plan (including Social Media Component)
  7. Crisis Control Centers & Media Briefing Locations
  8. Crisis Response Teams (local, regional, HQ)
  9. Crisis Response Log & Media Contact Log
  10. Designated Primary & Backup Spokespersons
  11. Media Policies (social and traditional media) & One-Voice Policy
  12. Internet & Media Monitoring (social & traditional media)
  13. Tested Crisis Communication Channels & Tools
  14. Recurring On-Camera Media Training
  15. Recurring Scenario-Based Crisis Communication Training

Read more here:

If you have any questions concerning this article, please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Food For Thought

“Close scrutiny will show that most crisis
situations are opportunities to either
advance, or stay where you are."

Maxwell Maltz

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Leaders in Strategic Communication
and Crisis Management