Book Reviews

Public Relations

PR Crisis Bible: How to Take Charge of the Media when All Hell Breaks Loose

Author: Robin Cohn
Publisher St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 2000

Reviewer: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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It has become a sad fact of life that the media and the public are more attracted to bad news than good news. A company or individual that goes through the year doing all the right things seldom gets any attention. But one misstep - real or imagined, small or large - will bring the world to your doorstep.

Ms Cohen or the publisher can be somewhat forgiven for giving this book such a bigger than life title - Crisis Bible - but she does an excellent job of covering all of the areas and providing concrete examples and logical, common sense guidelines for the reader. The most difficult problem anyone who picks up this book will face is where to read it. You need good quiet time and a long, unbroken period to digest and analyze the thoughts and recommendations properly.

Doing it as we did during a six-hour flight to and from Hawaii is not recommended. Trust us, you get a lot of unwanted stares from passengers in the passenger lounge and on the plane. Trust us though, no one will bother you while you are reading though.

We agree with the premise behind the book…to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Reading the book's mixture of executive crisis tales (positive and negative), strategic planning recommendations and rationale discussion will be very useful to any PR executive today. The big problem is whether senior management has also read the book and understands what needs to be and can be done when the media is at the gate.

In a very rapid, easy-to-read fashion the author delivers a lot of do's and don'ts in her book that sometimes make you wonder if you're watching a movie with four plots being carried on simultaneously. You often lose your way.

If anything, the book suffers an organizational issue and you may find it easier to understand and digest the book if you read the last chapter first. Here she does an excellent job of summarizing the seven deadly sins of crisis management. Go here first and you'll have a good foundation on which to base the rest of your reading.

Ms Cohen does a very good job of providing balance in the book by highlighting successful and unsuccessful examples of crises. Her insightful analysis of each situation provides the reader with ample reasons on the need for companies in every industry to formalize their crisis team and program as well as carry out practice sessions before problems occur.

To Ms Cohen's credit, her Bible doesn't preach to get her messages across. Instead she uses a good balance of using humor and "putting the fear of God in you" to explain how and why firms and their senior management get into trouble. She also gives management valuable insights into what they can do when the unimaginable actually happens. She delivers the seven deadly sins of handling a crisis in a fashion that gets you to shake your head in agreement that today there is no problem so small you can afford to run away from it.

The challenge for any PR professional who reads the book is how to get their CEO to read it…and believe it. If Firestone/Bridgestone and Ford management done this their fiasco may never have occurred but if it had both firms might have come out of the situation either with only minor bumps and bruises rather than mortally injured. But by being pro-active, Bayer A.G. was able to preserve its image and reputation when it recalled its highly popular and profitable anticholesterol product, Baycol, following the report of 31 deaths.

Ms Cohen's book is a valuable resource for any PR professional. The question is whether you'll be able to get your CEO and legal counsel to read and accept her recommendations as the company's best course of action…that could be a big obstacle.