6. Joe Baerlein on crisis communication: clear, concise, honest communication and, especially now, a strong dose of authentic empathy

March 30, 2020

Joe Baerlein, a nationally known strategic communication advisor for some of the country’s largest companies, trade associations, large non-for-profits, talks about what matters: always consider the long-term impact on the company’s brand and reputation – and never be afraid of providing truthful information or being proactive about providing it.

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Links

Baerlein Partners

Joe Baerlein’s Bio

An example of authentic, clear and factual communication from Arne Sorensen, President and CEO of Marriott International with stakeholders:

Quotes

If you are a CEO of an organization, you need to say we’re doing everything we possibly can.  We’re observing everything that the CDC, the various state departments of public health are telling you.  But we want you to know that we care about you. We are one community…this will eventually recede if we do everything. 

If the CEO of a particular company can’t deliver that message and come across as authentic after two tries, then I would say that’s not the messenger.  And you’d have to think about who might be the best messenger.  It could be the senior vice president of health and safety who may live this in his or her bones every single day. It could be the chair of the board – because people will smell in a second if you’re not authentic.  13:08

I think this [Covid-19] changes everything. Why? Because it’s unknown and I think smart CEOs are going to look at their board and say, what do you think? 7:46

[Information you provide to the press] must be 100% accurate because you do not get the proverbial second opportunity to make the first impression. 15.10

Ideas/Comments

Companies have to have a communications vehicle that can speak to all of their publics, broadly defined, meaning who’s important to them: their employees, their customers, their vendors, the community where they do business. And they have to be able to talk in real time.

During the coronavirus crisis the separation of management and governance for boards will shift – it’s all “hands on deck.”  Companies need the expertise of their C-suite, of their outside experts and their board now more than ever because they need to figure this out, together.

When there is a crisis, the company’s brand and its reputation is a responsibility of the board.

When an unknown hits, you should at least have to have some operating principles on how you would react.  What are our highest risks? What could happen in this company from A to Z?  How would we manage those risks? What level of resources would we need?   What are the five worst things that could go wrong? What are the first five things you do?  It depends on what the business is, but it allows you to have a game plan, that you will alter depending on circumstances, when and if something bad happens.  But at least you have a game plan on how to respond when a crisis strikes.

Transcript

Joe Ayoub: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to On Boards: a Deep Look at Driving Business Success. Hi, my name is Joe Ayoub and I’m here with my co-host Raza Shaikh.

Hey Raza, how are you doing today?

Raza Shaikh: [00:00:21] Very good Joe and I’m very happy to be here with you co-hosting.

Joe Ayoub: [00:00:25] Good to be with you too.

On Boards is about boards of directors and advisors and all aspects of board governance, twice a month in 30 minutes this is the place to learn about one of the most critically important aspects of any company or organization – it’s board of directors or advisors.

Raza Shaikh: [00:00:44] Joe and I speak with a wide range of guests and talk about what makes great boards great, what makes a board unsuccessful, how to be a good board member, and more importantly, how to make your board one of the most valuable assets for your company.

Joe Ayoub: [00:01:01] Our guest today is a nationally known strategic communication advisor for some of the nation’s largest companies, trade associations, large non-for-profits, and specializing in reputation and advocacy matters.

Raza Shaikh: [00:01:16] Working with boards, law firms and businesses all over the country, he has managed over a hundred crisis and reputation assignments on a variety of topics, including Department of Justice, US attorney and State Attorney General investigations, sex abuse at private schools, airplane crashes, data breaches, and media investigations into high profile individuals.

Joe Ayoub: [00:01:43] We’re very excited to have as our guest today, Joe Baerlein.  Joe, welcome. It’s good to have you here on On Boards.

Joe Baerlein: [00:01:49] Great. Thank you.

Joe Ayoub: [00:01:51] First to our listeners. For those of you listening during the time that the novel coronavirus is still spreading, and we’re all trying to understand how to best conduct ourselves, we hope you’re all taking precautions to stay safe.

Joe, as we record this show today, COVID-19 is the number one topic for everyone. I think most people would agree, last week was unlike anything almost any of us in this country have ever experienced. It is an uncertain and unsettling time.

You’re the person that’s called when there’s a crisis, and certainly this qualifies as a crisis. So I’m sure you’re getting calls about messaging and addressing internal issues and many, many issues that are facing companies today, which they may have never before faced.

Can you tell us a little about what kind of calls you’re getting and what kind of questions are coming into you.

Joe Baerlein: [00:02:51] Well, I think what’s been going on, you’d have to divide it into this week, last week and the week before because, each of those weeks was different. I would say three weeks ago it was: “Tell me what you think about this. You think this is something we have to be concerned about?”

Last week when the stock market crashed and you saw governors of various states and finally the federal government acknowledging that this was indeed a serious pandemic, I think there was widespread “what do we do?” And I think the first thing you saw companies doing was how do we get our employees to work from home and with the CEOs that I’ve spoken to in the last week or so, I would say that was the major effort. How can we clear out all the people that we can to work at home?

This week now, have companies thinking in a variety of different ways. One: this may be longer than we thought, therefore, how do we think about planning for the near term and the longterm?

(Two) What is my responsibility to my employees, my vendors, and my customers over these next let’s say 60 to 90 days to be charitable here.

And then number three, what sort of preparation and response do they need to be thinking about.  And I would say that last one is really just occurred since, I would say the end of last week, up until 96 hours ago, we were in a different phase.

So as an example, my team, my team is a group of a specialists in security and preparedness, in video content, digital marketing, digital technology, microsites, which are websites for a specific target. I have an international government relations specialist. I have a survey research person.  Our team was hired by a major national retailer officially on Saturday. Their issues are how do we deploy people in their company all across the country?  How do they bring customers into their store and then get them to exit their store? And then, how do they communicate to their employees

And what was interesting, their sales force need to have information that they don’t usually get from the company headquarters. So we’re building this microsite, which will be geared towards specific information for their sales force  So, if you envision your traditional website that you’re all familiar with, this will be something specifically on the coronavirus, and it’ll be particular to this business’s operations, and it will include, you know, a Q & A, what should say a store manager know if asked by a customer on a daily basis, and that’ll change probably every 12 hours or less. There’ll be a statement from the CEO about what the company is doing nationally to protect their employees, their customers, their vendors. And then there’ll be information on how either employees, sales force or customers get additional information.

Joe Ayoub: [00:06:34] That sounds interesting.

One question that we talked about a little bit before was to what extent are boards of directors meeting now to discuss how their companies should be messaging?

 Every board I know is meeting virtually, none of them are meeting personally right now.  What should boards who are thinking about the well-being of their companies or thinking about potential liability or thinking about how to act responsibly during this very difficult time, what kind of conversation should they be having?

Joe Baerlein: [00:07:11] As both of you know, traditionally the bright line that separates board from the C-suite is, the C-suite and the CEO are responsible for day to day management, and the boards are tasked with looking at the long-term issues that face the company as well as the operational issues the financial reporting.

I think this changes everything. Why? Because it’s unknown and I think smart CEOs are going to look at their board and say, what do you think? What do you think? If you have a former CEO on your board. I think that’s going to be one of the first people that you as the CEO call. So I think we’re in a different ballgame.

Joe Ayoub: [00:07:56] Yeah. the, the separation of management and governance is really going to be a little blurred –  it’s all hands on deck. We need the expertise of our C-suite, of our outside experts and our board now more than ever because we need to figure this out together.

Raza Shaikh: [00:08:12] So Joe, now, when you’re getting calls from your clients, what are you advising them?

Joe Baerlein: [00:08:18] Well, first of all, they have to have a communications vehicle that can talk to all of their publics, broadly defined, meaning who’s important to them: their employees, their customers, their vendors, the community where they do business in. They have to be able to talk in real time.

I can’t tell you how many perfunctory emails I’ve gotten in the last 48 hours from businesses and organizations. We want to let you know what we’re doing on the coronavirus. I don’t even read them anymore because they’re old information and they don’t say anything .

I think the first step is to say, how do you figure out how you’re going to talk and communicate to those important constituencies that matter to your business.

Joe Ayoub: [00:09:06] So what should a company do in its communication to make sure that people like you and me don’t see the email and go, Oh, this is perfunctory, this is old news, this is, this isn’t going to tell me anything.

What do they need to be doing so people are actually going to read it and what they want to communicate is going to get to them?

Joe Baerlein: [00:09:28] If you think about it, we all have choices in what we decide to open, what we decide to read, what we decide to view. So one is the information has to be new, it has to be credible and it has to be, if not medical or science based, it has to reference that information. So if you want to stay on top of this today, you’re probably reading three or four major newspapers a day.

 So if I was a company, I would be looking to say, what can I tell people who don’t read The Washington Post every day or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? What can I tell them? You know, the aggregation of news, for example, is really important here.

Joe Ayoub: [00:10:13] So going beyond just giving them good information and going back to this, national retailer you mentioned, you’re setting up a microsite, you said, why kind of messaging. Not what are they going to say, but what generally, other than informational, should they be providing to their various audiences?

Joe Baerlein: [00:10:34] I think I would divide this into two parts. One is factual information so that people know if you’re XYZ company, you’re going to continue to be open for business, you’re going to change your hours, you’re gonna alter the way that customers visit your operation. You’re going to have more things online than you did before. You need to give them that.

But then I think what is missing in a large way across the board today is any degree of empathy about what people are going through.

I strain to see that in public officials, in business leaders, right? Which is, this is very uncertain. This has a degree of fright that we haven’t seen. Take 9/11 it’s comparable to that in my, in my mind. And I had an assignment for a company five days after 9/11, so I think you need to reassure, if you are a CEO of an organization, you need to say we’re doing everything possible we can.  We’re observing everything that the CDC, the various state departments of public health are telling you. But we want you to know that we care about you. We are one community. We are, in this case, one Commonwealth. I mean, I could almost write the words to say, this will eventually recede if we do everything right.

Joe Ayoub: [00:12:07] How do you deliver that message and make it sound like you really mean it as opposed to our people told us to say this, we really care about you. I mean, how do you make it so that someone actually gets this message and think – they’ve given this some thought? They actually might care about what is happening.

Joe Baerlein: [00:12:27] I look at that and say, if the CEO of a particular company can’t deliver that message and come across as authentic after two tries, then I would say that’s not the messenger.  Right, and we’d have to think about who might be the messenger, the best messenger. It could be the senior vice president of health and safety who may live this in his or her bones every single day. It could be the chair of the board because people will smell in a second if you’re not authentic.

Joe Ayoub: [00:13:08] Talk a little bit about the microsite that you’re setting up for one of your clients. What would be its purpose and how will it help that company. deliver its message and deliver the information at once to its audience.

Joe Baerlein: [00:13:23] The way to explain this, I think to your listeners, is: company websites are like giant ocean liners. They’re really hard to turn around. Microsites are like speedboats, right? They have very functional software tools on them that enable you to adapt very quickly to a changing environment.

So for example, if you wanted your customers or employees to communicate the position to an elected official, , you can build a box into these microsites that allows you to write your congressional delegation, so that a citizen or an employee could send a note to any one or all of the nine congressional districts quickly.

I think the second thing is the ability to fresh up information really fast. In some of these cases where we’ve had crisis situations, we’re changing information, altering it every three to six hours. 

And then the third thing is for a company who wants to reach, say, a sales force, you can make this password protected. So if I’m the store manager in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the headquarters is in New York City, and I’m wondering what, what’s going on, I can go in several times a day and see updates. I can see the video from the CEO, I can see the Q & A, which gets altered. I can see any and all information in the store, hours of operation. That’s the value.

Raza Shaikh: [00:14:59] So in doing all of that, Joe for these communications, what factors should we consider when sending out those communications?

Joe Baerlein: [00:15:10] One, it must be 100% accurate because you do not get the proverbial second opportunity to make the first impression. Right? So you must be that.

You must be concise in the information that you are going to distribute, about whatever the situation is. And I would say the third thing is you have to let people know whether it’s employees, if it’s environmental issue, people in our community, you have to let them know you actually care about this and what you’re doing to alleviate this in great detail.  That’s an absolute necessity. If you put out anything less than that, people will then dismiss it. It’ll look like all those emails we’re all getting about what they’re doing

Joe Ayoub: [00:15:58] Makes a lot of sense.

So Joe, you’ve been providing advice about communications and crisis management for a long time. I believe your first experience advising a board was a number of years ago when you were still working with the Choate Group, which was the public strategy subsidiary of Choate, Hall & Stewart – you started that group in 1987, is that right?

Joe Baerlein: [00:16:19] Yes.

Joe Ayoub: [00:16:20] Tell me about that first situation you had that involved giving advice to a board and how that played out?

Joe Baerlein: [00:16:27] So this was one of the major national credit reporting companies, and they had an issue at that time where the vendor that they used did not understand this, municipal lien process in the state of Massachusetts.

And so what happened was that the first headline in the newspaper was that over a hundred thousand people had their credit affected by this erroneous interpretation of this municipal lien statute. This went on for three days, so on day four one of my partners decided to call me in on this.

The first meeting was with the general counsel of the company, the senior vice president of government affairs and I listened. So I, this was three o’clock in the afternoon and there was an hour long session about this and, finally, I said they’re going to go file their copy at five o’clock because it’s a business story on Page One.

What are you doing?  What do you have to give me? And they looked at me like I had two heads and I said, look, you know, if you’re telling me that this is not 100,000 people at risk, it’s less than a thousand – their research had shown that – then your goal has to be to get this off Page One and back into the business page.

Joe Ayoub: [00:18:03] Because at a thousand it’s not a Page One story anymore.

Joe Baerlein: [00:18:07] Right.  It’s a, it’s a story. It may be on page one of the business story, but it’s not a Page One, and it’s certainly not a Page One four days in a row. So we got to this hemming and hawing back and forth, and now it’s a quarter to five and I said, what do you got to give me?

And my partner said, well, we have a detailed letter that’s gone to the Attorney General, but that’s privileged.  And I said, well, let me see it, and I read the letter and it basically laid out all the ways that this was, this mistake, which they acknowledged was a mistake, really affected less than a thousand people, not 100,000.

So I said, give me the letter. Well, it’s privileged. And I said, look, here’s your choice: Page One or inside the business page.

And so at that point, a member of the board, who was a lawyer, joined the call and, he came in in the bottom of the eighth inning here, so to speak. And I did a summary of this and I said, look, here’s what we have to do in my opinion. The ground rules would be to the reporter: look, I’ll give you this on an exclusive basis, but only if it goes back into the business page. And then I said, and if, we are wrong, you can go back to putting this back on Page One, but I believe we’re right. And if we’re right, you’re looking really bad if you keep printing 100,000, cause it’s going to come out eventually that it’s less than 1,000.

So, the board member, said, go for this, and the general counsel, agreed, it was interesting the general counsel and the, and the board member of the company said, yeah, go for that.

 So I called the reporter and I said, look, I got something for you. Here’s the trade. It’s not 100,000, it’s less than a thousand, I have a letter to the Attorney General that lays out why.  I’ll give it to you and you only, but it’s got to go back on the business page. . He took the trade, I sent him the letter, the next day it was back in the business page.

Joe Ayoub: [00:20:12] So two things I take from this as a board member or someone that advises boards. Don’t be afraid of giving truthful information. Why would you hold that in your back pocket? And absolutely don’t be afraid of being proactive about doing it because holding it back, I would think minimizes or devalues its importance.

Joe Baerlein: [00:20:35] Well, and I think again, sometimes, lawyers might look at something very narrowly and say, well, gee, that’s a privilege document. And I’d say, as a nonpracticing lawyer, so what? If this means protecting the company’s brand and reputation, and in that case, this turned out to be the right solution.

Joe Ayoub: [00:20:56] The last thing you just said is, to me, why a board’s involvement in this is so important because the board’s responsibility is the company. So the company’s brand and its reputation is a responsibility of the board, and in this situation it is incumbent upon them to look at this very broadly.

Great, to have lawyers in the room – we have two in this room right now of the three of us – but from a board perspective you have to look way beyond, you know what’s privileged, what’s not privileged. Obviously keeping a mind, you know, you can’t violate the privilege if it’s something really critical that can’t go out, but you have to think about what is in the best interest of the brand of this company.

Joe Baerlein: [00:21:40] And many times, the first thing I say when I get hired, working with a lawyer I have not yet worked with, is I’ll say I was Of Counsel at Choate, Hall & Stewart, and I understand our first responsibility here is to protect the legal strategy and the legal rights. So 9 times out of 10, we’ll be on the same page, but there’s going to be an occasion in this assignment, likely when we’re going to be having a discussion about the legal rights and legal strategy versus the brand and reputation. And I said, we’ll talk that through. And you can see their shoulders just drop in comfort like, okay, this guy is not someone who throws the proverbial spaghetti up against the wall and wants to get the client in the newspaper or on television every day.

Joe Ayoub: [00:22:26] Right.

Raza Shaikh: [00:22:28] Joe, several years later, you were brought into an internal company situation by a member of the board regarding serious allegations that the CEO had a relationship with a woman working in the company. Tell us about that and, what happened and how you advised your client?

Joe Baerlein: [00:22:45] So this was several years ago, just to put it in context.

It was certainly pre Harvey Weinstein. It was pre the “me too” movement, but it was certainly at a time when most companies had policies in their handbooks about what defines inappropriate conduct or contac  between male and female employees.

What was interesting, this company was a fairly big company, but it was silent on  people in a senior role having a consensual relationship with a subordinate.

Joe Ayoub: [00:23:26] Just want to interject. It’s not just male and female interaction. It’s any kind of sexual relationship, whether it be male, female, or otherwise.

Joe Baerlein: [00:23:36] Right. And at this time I was just saying, this happened to be male female, the CEO of the company, a woman who was not a direct report, but she was an officer of the company. They were both single, right? That was  the situation.

Joe Ayoub: [00:23:51] So on its face, if you think about it, two unattached people, not reporting to one another, doesn’t on his face seem like a  bad thing, but there’s no company policy that addresses it.

Joe Baerlein: [00:24:08] Right? Correct. And I think you saw recently there was an issue, with the McDonald’s CEO who was dating a subordinate, but they did have a policy in place that said that was a violation of the policy in a he, I think he was allowed to resign. so that was very clear on its face. This was silent. and this was at a time, I think it was like 2011 or 2012 where there was certainly a heightened interest on these issues, between what was appropriate and what was not appropriate in office situations.

So I got brought into this by a board member who I knew.  And, it was interesting, the first meeting of the board, there were nine people on the board, it was eight to one to say no issue with this. And the one person, who was the person who brought me in, who said, well, we have to look at this because there’s no policy as to whether or not we would get hurt.

Joe Ayoub: [00:25:14] Question: was there gender diversity on the board?

Joe Baerlein: [00:25:19] Yes, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t a, I think there might’ve been two women and seven men, right? It was two, maybe three, but it was certainly not five, four, or four or five.

Raza Shaikh: [00:25:31] And Joe, is this when the board begin to realize that they have to manage aggressively some headline risk?

Joe Baerlein: [00:25:40] Yeah, I mean, I had several meetings with the board.

First there was a subcommittee, there were three people, the gentleman who brought me in and two others, and I just started talking about risk. And this woman had been promoted to her position within the last year to 18 months.  By him. But she did not report directly to him. I think she reported into the COO or the CFO.

 So there’s not a direct reporting, but he technically had to agree with the promotion.  So as you dug deeper into this, you saw there were degrees of complication as to how they might handle it.

Joe Ayoub: [00:26:23] So what did you advise them?

Joe Baerlein: [00:26:25] This CEO had done a wonderful job in the running of the company in terms of everything – profitability, you know, meeting all their financial goals. And there was a strong sense, well, there’s no reason to have to force him to leave. So I said look, let me paint a scenario for you, which is, you allow him to stay and someone out of those 10 senior vice presidents that, are in the same line as this woman is, decides to drop this to the press and say CEO “X” is having a relationship with Senior VP “Y” and, she just got promoted and that’s all they have to say.  And, you know, in some outlets, that’s enough. If you go the gauntlet from TMZ to sort of others, that’s a story, right. And then I said, the question becomes how big a story is this?

How long does this story go for?

Would there be others that come out and say, yeah, I agree she shouldn’t have been promoted to that job. Said, anonymous, you know, XYZ company Senior VP, and then all of a sudden you’re dealing with multiple day story. 

And the rule is if you can’t clean it up by the third story, then you’re in for a long haul.

And so when I said that I got some of the board to pause.  I think what got people to accept what I suggested is I said, look, by all accounts, this is a very ethical person who’s running this company. He has done nothing wrong in his past, and he read the same handbook that everyone else did. It said, I don’t have to disclose anything.

Joe Ayoub: [00:28:28] Completely silent.

Joe Baerlein: [00:28:29] Completely silent.  And I said so think about this. If this CEO gets beat up on the way out the door, and by the way, if you get to a fourth, fifth, and sixth story on this, there’ll be pressure on you to ask him to resign.

So if you really respect and admire this person, I would say allow him to resign and allow him to put his own reasons on why he is resigning, because if he’s that good, as you say, he’ll get picked up by another company in the next 6 to 12 months, and you can figure out what a generous severance is.

And then the question became on whether the woman should leave also. And I said, look, you could decide to do that if you want, but a Senior VP is not at the same level as the CEO.

And so what happened is they brought him in and he understood this and he said, yeah, I don’t want to get beat up on this, I don’t think I did anything wrong . So he resigned, there was some attention, but not a lot of attention. It wasn’t really, no, it was minimal attention.  And six months later, he was the CEO of another company.

Joe Ayoub: [00:29:47] So, actually the result was excellent. It does kind of underscore the importance of having that kind of policy really clearly laid out. Today, it’s kinda hard to imagine any company of any size would not address that. But the result the board came to was the result that would have come about had there been something in the book because it would have prohibited the relationship that they were involved in.

Joe Baerlein: [00:30:16] Yes. but, you know, when that one, as I said, it was a eight to one when I started. And then by the time I think we had six, seven meetings, it became the majority. And actually everyone unanimously thought, and then they brought in the CEO. I was not part of that meeting, but the executive committee met with him and he understood this

Joe Ayoub: [00:30:35] Right.

Raza Shaikh: [00:30:36] So with this fast track of, news on the internet, Joe, when do boards realize that the importance of aggressively managing headline risk is paramount for the company and for the boards?

Joe Baerlein: [00:30:50] Well, in most cases I have seen, there’s not a practical understanding on how that works. . So…

Joe Ayoub: [00:31:00] You’re saying not a practical understanding on the part of boards?

Joe Baerlein: [00:31:04] Yes. 

Joe Ayoub: [00:31:05] So what are, what are they missing?

Joe Baerlein: [00:31:06] Meaning, if you look at a board and you say: I got a former CEO on the board, I have my outside counsel, I have someone who is a partner in an accounting firm, down the line. There’s usually nobody like me,  and again, these are all very smart people in their field, but this is new to them .

So sometimes when I go into an assignment, I say this is how you need to think about proactively protecting the brand without stepping on day to day governance issues of the CEO.  But understand today with the internet, a reputation can be blown up in, in a day. It was before online, you know, going back to like 2000 you would say, okay. The 24 hour news cycle.

Just think about what a joke that is now, right? The information moves so quickly.

Raza Shaikh: [00:32:01] Oh, it’s a two hour news cycle.

Joe Baerlein: [00:32:03] And, I think the other thing that I say to them is  because traditional media has shrunk, many times the online world is the new assignment desk, meaning here’s a story. And you get calls from a respected entity that you have to run down something or ultimately turns out not to be truthful.

So I think what I say to boards is, one, it’s moving really, really fast. Two, you have people online who are not the same respected journalists that you see at the Boston Globe and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, where you can actually have a conversation with someone and say, look, let me make my case on whyI think this is wrong.

Joe Ayoub: [00:32:48] Now, you can’t do that anymore with a lot of people. It just doesn’t exist.

Joe Baerlein: [00:32:51] So in the online world, you get the story and then you’re playing the prevent defense.  It’s a bad place to start off.

Joe Ayoub: [00:32:59] Yeah. You know, it’s funny you talked about the kind of people that might be on boards, and I would say. It would be extraordinarily rare to have someone who’s used to dealing with headlines, crisis headlines, on a board.  So it probably applies to almost every board, no matter how well put together they are, no matter how well they were constructed for the strategic plan of the company, they’re not likely to have dealt with the kind of headline risk that you’re talking about.

How do they prepare for it so they’re not calling you? You know, as you said to me once , I always get the call when there’s a four alarm fire, so what can the board do in advance? So they’re not waiting until, you know, the horse is out of the barn or whatever metaphor you want to use.

Joe Baerlein: [00:33:46] Well, again, if you think about it, I think about an example I had on anthrax back in 2001. So I got hired by the largest direct mail company in the world, happened to be located in the United States. Basically your everyday junk mail that we all get, right. That’s what they move through the system.

And when the first case of anthrax was discovered in the US Capitol in 2001, I got a call from their outside investigative firm.  So I was brought in and they were nowhere near a headline, and they were a very decentralized company, but they had no one in that company all the way up to the CEO would ever had any experience with this.

So we spent eight weeks. Fortunately we had eight weeks, of going through all of the various contingencies. Of what could happen and what their response can and should be.

Joe Ayoub: [00:34:49] So you had a luxury in that case that you had eight weeks

Joe Baerlein: [00:34:52] Very often doesn’t happen.

Joe Ayoub: [00:34:53] Oh my goodness. I mean, today Raza just talked about a two hour cycle. I’m not even sure it’s sometimes not even, it’s less than two hours. Today with news moving or information moving so quickly – what should a board do to be prepared to take action as quickly as possible in the event of a headline crisis?

Joe Baerlein: [00:35:17] Think they need to look at the business that they are in and say, what are our highest risks? And then go through and role play. Ed Davis, the former police commissioner, who’s one of my agency partners, we’ll actually do that. We’ll, we’ll go through a roleplay and say, what could happen in this company from A to Z? What would be those risks? And then we’d say, how would we manage those risks? What level of resources would they need outside resources to go into the company?

Joe Ayoub: [00:35:48] So do a prep with the board for potential headline risk scenarios so that when it happens, they’ve already at least given some thought to it.

Joe Baerlein: [00:35:59] It’s actually a plan you get them, you’d give them a document that says, all right, you’re in the energy business. Here are the five worst things that could go wrong, right?  How do you deploy people. What are the responses? What internal resources might you need. So, you know, it depends on what the business is, but it allows you to have a game plan that you will alter, by the way, when, when and if that happens. But at least you have a template on how to respond.

Raza Shaikh: [00:36:29] And so, Joe, you’re saying that, for the known unknowns, you will have a plan for things that you know, can happen.  But that, does that cover unknown unknowns as well? Do you have a general plan about, okay, well how do we get together when a crisis happened that we never thought about or, or, never worked through before?

Joe Baerlein: [00:36:49] Coronavirus is a pretty good example, right? I mean, I don’t think, I think we were all sort of numbed by swine flu, Ebola, SARS, and said, okay, it’ll be handled. It won’t reach us.  When an unknown hits, I think you at least have to have some operating principles on how you would react.

Again, if you’re in a retail business, how do you deploy your employees and how do your customers access your premises if it’s a brick and mortar, right?  How do you get information if you’re a national company out to your workers? So it would vary, but I do think you could at least go through that exercise of planning what happens, what are the first five things you do?

Raza Shaikh: [00:37:37] Yeah.

Joe Ayoub: [00:37:38] Joe, it’s been great speaking with you. Thanks for coming in today and thanks for joining us here on Onboards.

Thank you all for listening today to Onboards with our special guest, Joe Baerlein. Please stay safe and take care of yourselves, your families and your communities as best you can.

And you, Raza, you take care too.

Raza Shaikh: [00:37:59] You too, Joe.

Joe Baerlein: [00:38:00] Right. Thank you both.

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