Don't buy this book for your PR department. Buy it for your attorneys.
Levick bridges the gap between the need for an organization to speak publicly during a crisis and its legal department's desire to keep the corporate yap locked tight. An attorney himself, Levick understands perception trumps fact, and that at crisis time the real battle won't happen in a court of law; it's already happening in the court of public opinion.
Filled with insights and strategies for short-circuiting a media assault from newspapers still in print to online bloggers, "Stop the Presses" is a must-read for those who think they know crisis communications.
Levick also explains the critical need for advance preparation, on-going media awareness and outside legal and communications counsel in a crisis, three steps lacking in too many organizations.
Richard S. Levick and Larry Smith have delivered the definitive book, at least for now, on crisis communications and litigation PR. (Brief disclosure: I have met and chatted with both of them, but this review is, I hope, unaffected by any personal contacts.)
Levick and Smith don't hold back in describing some disastrous public relations gaffes by major companies, and they also give credit to corporations that understood how important the "court of public opinion" can be. These authors also know how to write: the book is free from marketing and PR jargon, and is easy and even fun to read. As a media relations professional and former reporter and editor, I have put this book on my desk next to my computer.
The authors also recognize the importance of blogs - both as tools that a company or law firm's opponents can use and as tools that are well suited to defense as well.
The recommended use of "message points," though hardly original with Levick and Smith, reaches a high plateau here. Their recommendations for pharmaceutical companies, antitrust defendants, even asbestos makers, are not merely plausible but convincing.
Sometimes a firm needs to stand tough and fight the battle in the media. Sometimes it needs to stand down. Levick and Smith help explain the difference.
This would be a five-star review except that the authors' constant use of brief stories -- in a different and jarring typeface -- as sidebars in the text is off-putting and even a bit amateurish. Sometimes, it's even hard to follow. The fact that they must put "continued" lines into their book ("See page 147") should have been a tip-off that the typography here is not ideal.
STOP THE PRESSES: The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk ReferenceThat with all that's written about crisis management a new book could so far surpass them all is remarkable, but for the fact that the authors far surpass their peers in public and investor relations. We live in a new world of communications, with traditional methods rapidly being eclipsed by new media, new attitudes, new practices, much of it complex., all of it brilliantly described in Stop The Presses. We live now, as well, in a world in which the traditional aloofness and professional demean of lawyers is radically changing , at the behest of a new generation and a new breed of lawyers who begin to understand the ways of the public world, and the need to communicate to the public, particularly in crisis. This book, more than any other I've seen or see in my role as editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing, chronicles, advises, educates - all of which needs to be done more and more every day. Typical of its up to the minute advice is one of the best discussions of blogs and their new role in communication I've ever seen. Their understanding of strategy, in a complex world, is outstanding. For lawyers, for marketers, for public and investor relations specialists, this book should be on every one of their desks. I guarantee it will be used and cherished.
The authors deliver a comprehensive "how-to" guide on reputation and crisis management. They are definitely advocates who write in terms of us vs. them. In their world, (usually) well-meaning corporations are beset on all sides by adversaries who will use any technique, fair or foul, to undermine their business. This book, the Second Edition, includes more discussion of issues related to Web media, advocacy blogs in particular. The authors seem particularly concerned about the growing and often diabolical influence of bloggers, who are indeed reaching larger and more motivated audiences just as print media readership continues its steep decline. This passage sums up the book's attitude toward bloggers -
"Because the E.coli crisis was not the first such event, and nor will it be the last, the industry was facing adversaries even before the revelations of contamination were made. Special interest groups and self-appointed watchdogs were lying in wait. Their lair is the blogosphere." (p 113)
The book is important reading for three audiences.
1. Corporate leaders who must know all the angles when it comes to defending their company when crisis strikes. Levick and Smith are clearly experienced. They've seen things spin out of control every which way, and their many case studies and examples teach valuable lessons.
2. Corporate attorneys involved in crisis litigation. This is way outside my area of expertise, but the book contains fairly detailed advice geared specifically to attorneys.
A couple side notes ... The book is quite readable on the whole, although the style bounces around between conversational and formal. I found the many, many "sidebar" digressions - some of which were several pages long - to be highly distracting, as they were inserted in the middle of the rather complex narrative. When will publishers stop trying to turn printed material into Web pages? It doesn't work.
(Disclosure - A publicist from Mr. Levick's office gave me a free copy of the book and encouraged me to review it here. No suggestions were made about what kind of review to give it.)
I liked this book very much. I think it does a wonderful job explaining the minefield a PR professional, marketing executive, investor relations guru, and in-house legal counsel face when trying to have their company viewed positively by the public, their investors, and the media, so the company stock prices are not volatile or go down. Of course, these professionals also do what they do so they can continue to have their jobs. A company with a declining reputation usually unloads its poor performing executives. This book has 14 somewhat short chapters and three appendices:
1. The life cycle of a brand 2. What's at stake? Here's a quick answer ... Maybe everything 3. The quintessential crisis team: Two approaches 4. The crisis plan: From action points to talking points, and back to action 5. Handling the print interview 6. How to survive the broadcast media pit bulls 7. Secret weapons, open war: Optimize Internet strategies as a litigation tool 8. A whole new ballgame: How blogs have taken crisis communications to the next and unprecedented level 9. Food, drugs, and money: Communications in an age of heightened regulatory prosecutorial activity 10. The family jewels: Media strategies in product liability crises 11. Special agendas ... Gearing press relations to specific crisis areas 12. Another crucial complication ... How cultural differences affect media management across borders 13. Law firms in trouble: Unique media strategies for a unique market 14. The immense significance of offense in crisis communications today
A1. Litigation planning guide A2. A crisis management primer for in-house counsel A3. Crisis scenarios
While I was reading this book I kept thinking about the documents I reviewed last year in two very large securities fraud class action cases I worked on as a discovery specialist. The larger one settled for $3 billion. In one matter the defendant company executive team was preoccupied about public relations and investor relations and how they could manipulate the financial figures so the stock price would not fluctuate or so it would go up up and up. They used public relations and investor relations to manipulate the company's stock price. This was before, during, and after the crisis at the company hit the fan. The second matter I worked on was not nearly as corrupt in how the company used public relations and investor relations to manipulate their financial numbers and crises. But it was easy to see how fine the line was between using public relations and investor relations for good and honest purposes, and using such tactics and techniques for bad and corrupt purposes.
The instant book explains how to use public relations and investor relations to protect an honest and well-run company's brand, goodwill, or stock price. It seems to cover all the angles, at least it identifies them and gives them coverage. I would have liked the book better if it had developed chapters 7 and 8 some more since I felt like there was a lot more that could have been said about PR as it relates to the Internet and the blogoshere. The book's pages are kind of small and it's not really a long book. The conclusion following Chapter 14 is only about a page long and ends on page 202. Having said this, the book easily could have covered more about online communication techniques and been a reasonably sized tome and sold for the same price.
I would have liked the book better if it had included a chapter or two on how companies need to avoid using the tactics and techniques described in this book for bad or corrupt purposes. It almost seems to me to be irresponsible to write a book like the instant one without including such content. Crisis can exist at a company because of external forces or internal forces. PR can be used as a defensive tool to keep "unfair attackers" or external forces at bay so the company can continue to be successful. But PR can be used as an offensive tool to misrepresent the company that has internal crises so it is illegitimately successful. And this latter fact seems to be ignored and not addressed in this book. 4.5 stars!
In today's media-rich world, where everyone's looking for the next "scoop", you can NOT afford to be without this book... STOP THE PRESSES: The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference (2nd Edition) by Richard S. Levick, Esq. and Larry Smith. This is the go-to book when your organization is under siege from reporters, bloggers, and scandal-hungry media outlets. Actually, it's the go-to book *before* you get in that situation...
Contents: Bullet-Proofing Your Brand; Things Change, Things Stay the Same; The Life Cycle of a Brand; What's At Stake? Here's the Quick Answer... Maybe Everything; The Quintessential Crisis Team - Two Approaches; The Crisis Plan - From Action Points to Talking Points - and Back to Action; Handling the Print Interview; How to Survive the Broadcast Media Pit Bulls; Secret Weapons, Open War - Optimized Internet Strategies as a Litigation Tool; A Whole New Ballgame - How Blogs Have Taken Crisis Communications to the Next and Unprecedented Level; Food, Drugs, and Money - Communications in an Age of Heightened Regulatory Prosecutorial Activity; The Family Jewels - Media Strategies in Product Liability Crises; Special Agendas... Gearing Press Relations to Specific Crisis Areas; Another Crucial Complication... How Cultural Differences Affect Media Management Across Borders; Law Firms in Trouble - Unique Media Strategies for a Unique Market; The Immense Significance of Offense in Crisis Communication Today; Conclusion... Sort Of; Appendix A - Litigation Planning Guide; Appendix B - A Crisis Management Primer for In-House Counsel; Appendix C - Crisis Scenarios
Despite the rather formal sounding title, STOP THE PRESSES is concise, compact, and incredibly readable. Levick and Smith do an excellent job in examining how organizations can be targeted by media following up bad news, product recalls, scandal, or any other nasty thing that will make headlines. It used to be that you could get away with a "no comment" and control the two or three media outlets that mattered. Now "no comment" is seen as stonewalling, and media is far more than the newspaper and the 5 pm news. Blogs, websites, and 24 hour news stations can take a story, break it in hours (if not minutes), and put you in a position where you better have a plan in place before the public opinion is permanently set against you.
The book starts out with making sure you get your message and image out in the media before a crisis hits. You want to be seen as a reputable, responsible organization with a consistent story. That gives you good will and a chance if and when things take a turn for the worse. A prime example would be Southwest Airlines recently being exposed as flying planes that were past their inspection dates. While they will take a hit for that, their public image prior to the report gives them a bit of room to respond. The authors then transition into how to build a team that will respond to any crisis, knows what to do when the news breaks, and has a firm grasp of the message that should be used in any media forum.
As I'm a blogger, I was most interested in how they viewed blogs in this situation. As with the rest of the book, I felt they were dead-on. Blogs can't be ignored, companies should have their blogging voice established well before a crisis hits, and at the very least you need to be monitoring the blogosphere to see what's being said about your organization. Often a news story that would be overlooked has been fanned by bloggers into a full-blown lead feature. As examples, look at Dan Rather's "authentic" memos as well as Senator Trent Lott's resignation over insensitive remarks over race. Ignoring bloggers is something to do at your own risk and peril.
There is even more information in these pages that corporate communication staff should know and fully understand. If I were running the PR department of *any* company or organization, I would require this book to be on everyone's desk in my department, and we'd use it as a planning tool for that day when the media turns on you. And it *will* happen...
After having devoured this book, I can highly recommend reading it.
It is easy to read and offers lots of very practical advice on how to master or even prevent crisis. Richard and Larry have apparently broad experience in helping troubled companies in times of difficulties; and they share their knowledge with a good portion of humor, many real world references and examples, and very helpful appendixes.
Their emphasis on "prevention" made it clear to me how important it is for nearly every company's "survival" to anticipate the potential for crisis and to set up early the required structures. I liked in particular the reminder - or wake up call for many of us - on how important it is to become part of the blog community.
This book should be bed side lecture for everybody who manages communication on behalf of any size and type of company, in particular outside counsel, members of legal and PR departments. It is a great 1x1 on crisis management but also offers lots of depth.
I immediately thought of British Airways' management who should have read this book before opening Heathrow's new terminal and entering into disaster. They would most probably be better off today!
If Roger had read Levick and Smith's "bible" on crisis management, I truly do not believe he would be facing an FBI investigation today or the destruction of his "brand" name. The Clemens case is proof positive that even the highest paid lawyers in the world do not necessarily have the skills to get out ahead of the crisis curve. Firms like Levick would have had a "ambush prevention" strategy in place for Clemens before the Mitchell report even hit the street and they would have anticipated how to deal with whatever his former trainer said--before he said it. Roger should still read this book--it is never too late to counter attack. And it goes without saying that senior executives of corporations throughout the world and other public figures should do so as well.
Vice Admiral Ed Straw Former President, Global Operations The Estee Lauder Companies
Stop the Presses is a revealing surprise so far. I'm finding it a compelling work of reference, application and practical wisdom that's equally clever, smart and a popping good read! I hope the authors do for C-suites what Cluetrain Manifesto did for those who were once 'sheep.' In fact, I just ordered one for my favorite 'litigator' -- my dad.
As an investigative reporter years ago, I would have delighted in this book -- it's quite enlightening in terms of how the media and its sources traditionally share a mutual perspective as 'frienemies' -- whether those sources are marketing chiefs, communications 'comptrollers,' information 'controllers' or the info-trolling public they can't control (and never did... not all of 'us' anyway).
Though cliché, the authors' call to 'run to the crisis' isn't trite at all. It's no less trite for chiefdom, occupational journalists and their citizen counterparts dawning 3.0 than it was to the friendlier, subtle but perhaps more adversarial 'oneupmanship' that marked information exchange and reputations of the 1.0 generation. Our corporate 'friends' and counsel wore white-collar T-shirts beneath their expensive vests; we wore our coffee-stained cottons and camisoles straight up to the copy desk. (We dressed them up for boardrooms with khakis and a blazer ....)
As I recall, the press corps' most popular T quoted Richard Nixon: "... The media always have the last word." Levick and Smith 'get it,' and they also seem to get the power of integrity and today's new media powerbrokers, as well as the fuller message of Nixon's full quotation: "The media are far more powerful than the President in creating public awareness and shaping public opinion, for the simple reason that the media always have the last word."
Today's media often have the first word, too, which STP underscores well -- crisis or not. And for that, Levick and Smith deserve a T-shirt ... with matching SOX to boot. Or maybe they'll brand some sox for the C-suite that offer the real wisdom of this book: "Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching." -- Stop the Presses
The title of this book invokes a sense of urgency and indeed the book is a must-read for anyone who has to navigate their way through the increasingly complex world of public relations. It is clearly written, well-organized and easy to read.
Richard Levick and Larry Smith include many real-world examples that provide fascinating context for the information covered in the book. The checklists of best practices that the authors include have made this book my "go-to" resource when I'm developing a PR plan for an issue or a case in which my firm is involved. I will keep this book close at hand along with my already dog-eared copy of the first edition.