Book Reviews

Crisis Management

The Crisis Counselor: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis

Author: Jeffrey R. Caponigro
Publisher NTC Publishing Group
Publication Date: December 1999

Reviewer:G.A. (Andy) Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Business trips give you an excellent chance to catch up on your reading since you’re isolated on a plane for 2-3 hours. So there was no better time for us to review Jeff Caponigro’s guide to managing business crisis than the round trip flight from San Francisco to New York. We didn’t know that the trip would turn out to be a business crisis that is being increasingly experienced by too many business travelers.

After five hours of sitting in United’s Red Carpet Club the airline finally found a pilot and a plane which were both willing to take to “the friendly skies.” At 4 a.m. we arrived at our hotel only to be told that we really didn’t have a reservation despite the fact that we had a document in our hands. The reservation clerk did find us a hotel for one night after numerous calls and for only $350 we enjoyed an hour-and-a-half sleep and shower.

On the trip back, United treated us to an hour of seated relaxation on the tarmac at LaGuardia as well as two hours at Denver’s Stapleton Airport.

Were these the crises that Mr. Caponigro wanted to cover in his book?

Probably not. But then the traveling public has come to expect this level of service. Our tolerance levels have been constantly raised to the point where it becomes a pleasurable surprise when we actually get what we pay for.

While it is written by a public relations professional, The Crisis Counselor really isn’t a public relations book…it’s a management book.

Mr. Caponigro does an excellent job of outlining how crises can develop and become major disasters in almost every business -large and small. Unfortunately though after reading the first two chapters you quickly see that a crisis can occur over even the slightest action or decision. It would be very easy to become so depressed that you simply stay in bed and pull the covers over your head to avoid a potential crisis.

Since this is impossible, the next best thing is for management to follow Mr. Caponigro’s excellent advice and identify areas of potential vulnerability and take the necessary actions to prevent potential crises.

Using real life examples without identifying specific organizations and a very readable question and answer format, The Crisis Counselor clearly explains how large and small firms can plan in advance to minimize damage to the organization. Mr. Caponigro covers almost every type of problem you can imagine in the book’s 286 pages. Strikes, boycotts, lawsuits as well as natural and manmade disasters are well covered to show management how they can protect the company’s reputation and survival.

About ten years ago we took up skiing and the instructor drilled us on the proper way to fall. By the end of the first season we had the theory and plan of action down pat.

The problem was every time we got in trouble we never fell according to “the plan.” This reality versus theory conflict is even more frustrating when it comes to protecting a firm from a crisis. Fortunately few companies will experience a major disaster that will cripple or destroy the firm. However we all face a multitude of potential minor disasters every day and the best way to recover is to use books such as Mr. Caponigro’s as a guide.

As the author points out most businesses today really do try to do the right thing but disasters and crises will occur. As a result, having a good set of plans in place that are frequently reviewed and practiced can minimize the damage. In addition, the author stresses again and again that fast, accurate and clear communications can limit damage and often improve the company’s image, goodwill and support.

As we noted from our personal experience skiers seldom spill according to plan but having a plan can prevent injuries. The same is true of business crises.

Unfortunately, effective crisis management plans are time consuming and cumbersome to develop. In addition, these plans seldom if ever have an immediate effect on the firm’s bottom line so they don’t get the management attention they need and deserve…until it is too late.

But that is no reason management shouldn’t develop a set of business crisis management guidelines. They worked effectively for Pepsi-Cola in the syringe scare, for the Tylenol crisis and Odwala in their drink contamination crisis. The problem is that most organizations tend to want to over-document the program so it covers every possible contingency. However, after reading The Crisis Counselor you come to understand that your plan or guide should be designed to handle an unpredictable event. By their very nature, unpredictable events can’t be prepared for, no matter how much documentation you have.

Because of this, Mr. Caponigro stresses that a short, concise crisis plan that can be readily understood, especially in desperate situations, is more effective than one that covers every possibility. As the author notes, plans are written ahead of time as a projection based on historical records and include a lot of assumptions as to what the situation will be at the time of the disaster. Few thinks happen as predicted and the management team that is best prepared to handle the situation is one that views things as they exist in real-time.

Ninety-nine percent of the CEOs or managers who read The Crisis Counselor will never encounter a major crisis or disaster. However, the organization will experience a number of minor events during their existence and managers will be confronted with a number of these during their careers. The Crisis Counselor will be an excellent guide in preparing for, understanding and dealing with these situations in a positive, pro-active manner.

But if you want The Crisis Counselor to really be effective, buy an extra copy or two and give them to your senior management. As for me, I’m sending my copy to the president of United Airlines.