The violent events we have recently witnessed serve as a reminder that all our contacts need to know how to minimize harm in the unlikely event they are around violent situations involving weapons. In the hope that it will save others from harm, we are sharing a two minute segment from one of our security training programs on the standard protocol for dealing with violent circumstances. Please share it with your friends and colleagues.

Fake Opposition in the Age of Conspiracy

Fake Opposition in the Age of Conspiracy

For many years I dismissed most conspiracy theories as superstitious ramblings of people who mistook institutional incompetence for nefarious intent. Not anymore! If you observed the Strzok hearing or the Russian Indictments last week, you know conspiracy theories are alive and well in the United States. The world has changed, and the pace of change has accelerated. The challenge in this new age of conspiracies is knowing whether it is real or fake opposition, and what to do.

If you are purely reactive, it may not even matter much whether it’s fake opposition. It will feel real to many and that may be enough to spell the end for you and your business. Conversely, you may avoid being a victim by being prepared and proactive. To better understand this conspiracy trend, let’s look at last week’s news and see what it can tell us.

fake opposition conspiracy

In the case of Strzok, many people believe he is a member of the deep state who is out to get the President. For many others, it is an abuse of power by those who will defend the President at all costs.  In the case of the Russia indictments, it could be a case of the deep state manufacturing these charges to undermine the elected President of the United States. Alternatively, it could be a case of a foreign power deliberately conspiring to undermine U.S. elections.

It’s disturbing that many people react just as violently against fake opposition as they do toward real enemies. They may even sacrifice their core values to combat fake opposition. Sadly, if they took the time to learn it was fake, they could have kept their integrity intact. Watch this phenomenon carefully, so you too don’t fall victim.

Communication Conspiracies

Even in years past, we all knew that some conspiracies existed, such as in espionage and criminal matters. Nevertheless, there were limits. For instance, I didn’t believe the Apollo moon landing was faked or that  Area 51 was only a front for extraterrestrial studies. However, I still don’t know what I think about Roswell. Frankly, I also didn’t want to believe that a friend or colleague would intentionally deceive me or fabricate information.

The world has changed. Well-documented conspiracies are already underway. Some of these communication conspiracies are from foreign influences. Other conspiracies are manufactured right here in the good old USA. There are simply too many tools available to create artificial opposition and too much to be gained. It’s not just your imagination anymore.

That doesn’t mean we want you to instantly distrust your best buddy. We don’t want to destroy all your enjoyment by having you obsess over intrusions.  Instead, we want you to be aware and careful to explore who’s telling you what and why, before you act.

Businesses’ Role and Exposure

We are going through a time when the rules are changing, concurrent with the ability to manipulate and distort facts. Economic and social institutions are being massively disrupted, with people lashing out at each other as they struggle for control. Government officials, interest groups, and even religious sects are fighting each other rather than preparing us all to better manage our future.

Increasingly, businesses and executives are stepping forward to try to make things better. Your first reaction might be that people are just expecting too much, but it probably has more to do with businesses’ vested interests.

Interest groups view the current situation as a zero-sum game of “our way or the wrong way.” On the other hand, businesses are all about building the value of their enterprise and want to do what they can to prevent harm. Politicians dismiss an opponent as just “one of them.” In contrast, a business sees that person as connected to scores of others. That one person could use word of mouth to damage or promote the business with thousands of potential customers.

fake opposition conspiracy

The Problem of Fake Opposition

You may have heard of scams where digital calls wait for you to say “yes” so they can charge you.  There are also cases where a scammer uses a fake email address or cell number to mimic a decision maker’s identity. In far too many instances, this allows them to trick bookkeepers into issuing large payments to the wrong people.

These examples show how far people are willing to go for the right financial incentive. In fact, they are quite good at it. Stories and impressions will also work. A news or gossip scam can be just as effective as a phone scam, and far more damaging.  While some are tired of fake news claims, we need to recognize their potential impact.

Consider what would happen if businesses were attacked by fake opposition. Instead of waiting for you to do something wrong, your detractors could just roll out one fake opposition front after another. It’s a nightmare scenario! Don’t wait for it to happen. Prepared now.

What to Do

Whether your business is a direct target or just collateral damage, you’ll probably feel the sting of fake opposition. You want to inoculate your business with a strong, positive reputation. Support your reputation with a robust and effective communication plan that includes strengthening stakeholder relationships. Don’t just store communication tools for an emergency. Regularly test, sharpen and exercise those tools so they are more effective.

fake opposition communication conspiracy

Furthermore, you want to be sure you are using the right tool for the correct job. Be sure the fake opposition problem you think you have identified is the real problem. With the extraordinarily powerful threats of weaponized media and AI reputation stitching we’ve described in previous posts, a dedicated attacker can inflict grave damage. Their communication conspiracy can ruin relationships with your stakeholders.

It may be tempting to launch a broadside counterattack against the local activist group that appears to be your problem. Before you do that, make sure it’s not fake opposition. Delve deeper and learn whether someone more dangerous isn’t supplying them with the information or resources. There are experts who can help you with this. Let us know if you need suggestions.

If you have any reason to suspect fake opposition, you want to know who is really against you. Otherwise, you’re fighting fires that could pop up anywhere. Worse yet, if you try to resolve the issue with the fake opposition, you could find you’re negotiating with yourself. In this age of conspiracy, knowing your real opposition can be just as important as what to do.

Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Imagine an entire community emotionally paralyzed with indecision. Now, consider the impact during a crisis. This phenomenon occurs when communities suffer the sudden or traumatic loss of things that define them. It’s called Mazeway Disintegration. At their peril, most organizations do not anticipate the devastating impact of these crisis management cultural issues in their response planning. Fortunately, you can mitigate mazeway disintegration. We will walk you through how to address these cultural waypoints in your emergency response and crisis management plans.

crisis management cultural issues

Consider what happens to affected groups in an emergency or disaster.  In normal situations, our cultural reference points make it easier for us to comfortably conduct every-day life. This changes if a crisis disrupts or eliminates those cultural connections. Entire groups of people can be disoriented and even immobilized if they lose touch with cultural norms. Correspondingly, this limits their ability to cope with a disaster, compounding the difficulty of the crisis response.

If we do not mitigate mazeway disintegration’s effects, these groups may not be able to psychologically cope with the disaster. Accordingly, effective response plans need to address these crisis management cultural issues before a disaster occurs. The alternative is simply not acceptable since disoriented communities will only serve to prolong and magnify the crisis.

What is Mazeway?

First, let’s make sure we understand the term mazeway. Most of us have an organized and predictable way of doing all the things in our lives. It’s the pace, pattern, rhythm, and manner in which we interact with the world around us. It’s our mazeway.

The American anthropologist, Anthony F. C. Wallace, proffered the term, mazeway, six decades ago.  He wrote about what happens in a disaster from a different perspective.  He told the story of a Petun Indian tribe whose warriors returned home to find their village burned to the ground and every man, woman, and child a victim of a violent death or abduction.  Likewise, everything they knew, including their home, family, and possessions no longer existed.  He described their “shock” with the term mazeway disintegration.

mitigate mazeway disintegration

Socio-Cultural Disorganization

This is important because victims of other disasters often react in similar ways.  Think of people displaced by sudden onset natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes.  They didn’t see it coming. Therefore, they were emotionally unprepared for a disaster taking away homes, lives and entire communities. Interestingly, this is true even if they live in an area prone to such hazards.

In these circumstances, normal mazeways disappear or become unconnected…. disintegrated.  These groups no longer have the things that connect them to the world in a way that is orderly. Moreover, being psychologically (and physically) unconnected can be severely debilitating.

Crisis management cultural issues can make it impossible for affected groups to engage in activities that would normally help. The crisis response needs to address and restore enough of the cultural reference points to allow communities to function normally. Otherwise, the response will not mitigate mazeway disintegration.

Planning for Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Preparing to mitigate mazeway disintegration is an essential component of an effective emergency response or crisis management plan. If the objective is to resolve the problem, restoring people’s lives to normal needs to be part of your planning. If you don’t do this, the problem will fester and perpetuate the crisis.

To mitigate mazeway disintegration, you need to have some understanding of what their maze looked like before the disruption.  Likewise, rendering assistance beyond basic first aid can either support a return to normalcy or add exponentially to the problem. In fact, you may exacerbate the problem if you fail to address the group’s cultural norms and crisis management cultural issues.

crisis management cultural issues

Business and Cultural Interactions

Think of all the different cultures affected by a large multinational miner, manufacturer, producer, refiner, or transporter.  Some examples are business cultures, national cultures, ethnic cultures, regional cultures, local cultures and then subcultures.  Businesses interact with these cultures every day. Nevertheless, these cultural interactions are far more complex in an emergency or disaster.

Consider a Chinese company that has a U.S. citizen as the country manager for their U.S. operations.  Many people assume this will provide sufficient understanding of the U.S. culture.  In fact, that may be true for normal operating conditions when the public isn’t affected by an emergency. However, that assumption is no longer true when things deviate from the standard.

Imagine restoring normalcy to a displaced Quaker community after a pipeline rupture that caused fires and a toxic H2S release. Contrast that with an undocumented immigrant community in a city, a casino resort on a Native American reservation or a massive subdivision of expensive homes.  Each one of those has its own culture and requires different considerations and types of assistance.

Three Ways to Mitigate Mazeway Disintegration

  1. Go Beyond Cookie Cutter Correctness. The political correctness mindset limits and hinders the effectiveness of response efforts. This makes a thorough discussion of risks, solid vulnerability analysis, and subsequent preparation essential. Even the most brand-aware organization will be rendered ineffective if they fail to identify crisis management cultural issues in their response.
  2. Know the Mazeways of Affected Populations. Determine the characteristics of the cultures, inside the fence and out. Do this now before you need it in a crisis. If you don’t know their cultural context before it is disrupted, you can’t effectively mitigate mazeway disintegration after the disaster. If you wait until impacted populations demonstrate crisis management cultural issues, it may be too late. In fact, after the disaster, affected communities may not be able to articulate what they need to restore normalcy.
  3. Get Independent Assessment. Don’t pawn this off on an overworked or unprepared employee. While it’s not feasible to have cultural anthropologists conduct exhaustive studies of every population, there are cost-effective options. In most cases, you can use professionals who understand this dynamic. They should identify those special populations and describe their needs using accurate descriptors. If they uncover difficult issues, you can address them at that time. Also, prepare the cultural assessment in a context that won’t be misconstrued. This will more effectively mitigate mazeway disintegration in a crisis.

The public now expects companies to avoid culturally insensitive collateral damage. This approach demonstrates your company’s interest in your stakeholders and guards against charges of corporate callousness. Preparing to mitigate mazeway disintegration doesn’t need to be a huge, resource intensive program. Modest programs utilizing knowledgeable resources can identify crisis management cultural issues and develop plans to address them. By following these steps, you can mitigate mazeway disintegration risks and ensure a much more positive resolution.

Technical Surveillance Countermeasures

Technical Surveillance Countermeasures

Do you feel secure? Are you concerned about corporate espionage? Most people are focused on their physical security and cybersecurity. That’s good because there are real risks and steps you can take to counter those risks. However, you also need to look outside these boxes to other forms of surveillance and corporate espionage that can threaten your business and privacy. We’ll walk you through some of these threats and the technical surveillance countermeasures you can take.

corporate espionage

Let’s start this discussion with a quick review of physical security and cybersecurity issues. After that, we’ll get to some of the corporate espionage and technical surveillance stuff that only James Bond 007 knew. While few could counter a dedicated assault from a major government, that’s still a small fraction of the risk.  Fortunately, there’s much you can do to address 99+% of the risks. We’ll walk you through these technical surveillance countermeasures later in this post.

Physical Security

Innocent people have been the victims of too many recent school, church, event and newspaper shootings.  Our institutions and society are scrambling to address these vulnerabilities through greater training, increased use of off-duty police and technology. Smart institutions are also conducting in-depth security vulnerability assessments and creating robust security plans to counter these risks.

We also need to better prepare everyone to protect themselves. Many institutions are already doing this. In fact, we’ve provided online security awareness training to several clients. If you know anyone who needs this training, we’ve posted a two-minute clip on the run/hide/fight protocol from one of our training programs. You are welcome to share it as much as you want. While it’s not a cure for every circumstance, it will help in most.


Hacks, data breaches, denial of service and other cyber assaults have been real threats for many years. Companies dedicate significant resources to defending against and combating these assaults. We usually bring in experts for these cases, due to the complexity of cybersecurity issues. Recently, digital threats have started to impact corporate and personal reputations as well. Please see our posts on the emerging threats of AI reputation stitching and weaponized media, for information on two of the more worrisome developments.

In a related development, California’s new data privacy law has been capturing headlines and demonstrating the growing concern over privacy. It is advancing a growing U.S. debate over privacy protections. The California law is focused on protecting consumers, but businesses have real privacy concerns, as well. For many businesses, the data privacy law itself also increases their risks and potential liability.

Technical Surveillance – Corporate Espionage – Spied on at Home or the Car

Being the target of technical surveillance is a real security and privacy threat. While many large companies recognize the reality of corporate espionage, others may brush this off as a spy novel fantasy. Don’t let this lull you into complacency. It’s not just secretive governmental organizations that engage in corporate espionage. It could also be your competitor down the street, an opponent trying to catch your misdeeds or a private investor trying to make a killing in the market.

The risks should be clear if you simply consider whether you have conversations or information shared in your office that would give others a competitive advantage.   Now, factor in your vulnerability. This could be as simple as the number of people (visitors, delivery, maintenance, custodial and security personnel) who have access to your office in a typical week. Taken together, this should be enough to concern you.

technical surveillance countermeasures

A quick search online will reveal a ready supply of sophisticated yet inexpensive office items that contain hidden video and audio transmitters (Nanny Cams).  It’s easy to place one of these devices in your office, car or even your home without your knowledge.  What’s more, most people would not even notice the devices.

It doesn’t matter whether the technical surveillance stems from a corporate espionage attempt on your company or just a private matter that has become unmanageable. In either case, the bad guys can invade your life with little money and no special tradecraft skills.

Ease and Speed of Technical Surveillance

It only takes a second to place some devices. Even worse, you probably won’t be aware, even if you are there. It can happen while you’re greeting the person putting it in place.   Imagine what could be done by someone alone and unobserved with five minutes and a screwdriver.  Who’s vetting the individuals with access to your office to be sure they’re not representing the interests of your competitors or opponents?

Can someone walk down your street and easily get access to the electric and utility connections outside your home?  Did you watch the workmen when they remodeled or the cable people during their repeat visits?  It’s not just what they might steal that matters but also what they might intentionally leave behind.

technical surveillance countermeasures

Another risk is the white noise generators above the ceiling tiles in most offices. They can also be used to capture sounds and newer models are IP addressable. This means they can be hacked and your conversations monitored.

Tracking your vehicle is as simple as walking by and placing an inexpensive magnetic device anywhere under the edge of your car. This takes less time than a sneeze. Similarly, camouflaged game hunting cameras available at many superstores can easily be placed on shrubbery or trees. Once in place, they allow remote viewing of your home from any place. It might even be the car around the corner.

Technical Surveillance Countermeasures

Our corporate security practice and the special security groups we use have seen all of this and much more. In response, we have developed and used various technical surveillance countermeasures for clients. These surveillance countermeasures ensure clients’ offices, homes, vehicles, hotels and meeting facilities are clear of eavesdropping, geolocating, or other surveillance devices.

It’s a mixed blessing when we discover a monitoring device during a room sweep. On one side, it confirms the value of implementing technical surveillance countermeasures. On the other side, there is enormous effort needed to reconstruct what may have been revealed. Then there’s even more effort needed to mitigate the damage if that’s possible. By the way, if we find a device in one place, you’d be wise to check other sensitive areas, as well

Fortunately, there are processes and technical countermeasures that allow us to discover the devices and reduce future risks. These include periodic sweeps, enhanced access control, and other reasonable technical surveillance countermeasures. Guard privacy at home through Residential Security Assessments and confidentiality at work through Technical Surveillance Countermeasures. This will go far in avoiding threats that could create a real crisis for your business or personal life.

AI Reputation Stitching – The Unexpected Threat

AI Reputation Stitching – The Unexpected Threat

If something could destroy your professional reputation or your business in the next few months or years, would you try to avoid it or at least take steps to minimize the damage? If the answer is yes, let’s discuss AI Reputation Stitching, the new vulnerability in corporate and personal reputations from advances in artificial intelligence. Everything from proprietary corporate information to previously discreet or private actions and words are now vulnerable to discovery from numerous sources. Worse still, this AI reputation intrusion is making it possible to stitch together bits from thousands of sources to directly counter perceptions and reputations you may have spent decades building.

AI reputation stitching

Why AI Reputation Stitching is relevant

If you’re not already interested, let me ask these questions. Are you conversant about artificial intelligence or AI? Are you an emergency management, reputation management or corporate communications professional? Do you have several days of emergency supplies or a hurricane evacuation plan? Do you practice risk management or even take it to the next level as a corporate crisis prepper? Are you at all concerned about corporate or personal privacy? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you have the capacity to prepare for and change the worst outcomes from this unexpected AI stitching threat. Please keep reading.

While advances in artificial intelligence have driven its acronym, AI, into common usage, most of us are more focused on the curiosities of AI vs. human competitions in chess, Go or Jeopardy than the implications of how it will change our lives. Watson’s recent debate demonstrated how the AI platform could study the issues in real time while the debate was underway and successfully match the carefully developed arguments of an expert human debater. Similar AI capabilities can be used to focus AI on sifting through enormous amounts of data and quickly stitching together the pieces to form an accurate picture of you or your company that can serve as an AI reputation alternative to the organic reputation you worked so hard to build.

While this threat has not fully emerged, except in focused and rarified environments, it will likely confront more of us in the coming months and years. We call it Reputation Stitching. As these emerging artificial intelligence capabilities develop into advanced AI reputation stitching, there is an opportunity to proactively minimize damage and even improve the prospects for positive results. The challenge is what to do to anticipate and overcome our all too human personal and corporate flaws.

artificial intelligence

Is AI stitching real?

First, let’s consider a couple of recently published developments in AI stitching. One is the impressive and intriguing machine learning advances by Google in their still imperfect photo stitch capabilities. The other is the enormously promising efforts in healthcare data stitching that are still far shy of their potential.  Despite their flaws and limitations, the potential of these AI stitching pursuits makes it clear that advances are being rapidly achieved and they will transform our capabilities, reputation risks, and understanding of the world.

Google’s AI stitching to produce professional-caliber photos shows the capability is real and can touch everyday life. When healthcare stitching is widely adopted it will fundamentally change the precision and effectiveness of healthcare. Also, since patient privacy is guarded under HIPAA, there will likely be fewer risks than in some of the other emerging AI stitching capabilities, but the consequences could be enormous. With the continued prevalence of hacking and data theft, even HIPAA and the best efforts of everyone in healthcare may not be enough to completely secure this personal information in every instance.

reputation stitching through AI

Reputation Trends and Risks

Now, look at several recent examples of personal and corporate reputation damage from actions taken more than a decade ago. Consider how the #MeToo movement has encouraged people to come forward even years later and the impact this has had on powerful people such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey. Likewise, dedicated investigations have yielded prosecution and litigation for actions allegedly taken by Paul Manafort and  ExxonMobil more than a decade ago. These examples show how personal recollections and dedicated prosecution can find decades-old evidence that is still compelling enough to destroy reputations today.

Now if you extend these developments with our thirst for sensationalism, the explosion of surprisingly credible fabricated content (fake news), and the extraordinary threat of weaponized media you should have more than enough to keep you up at night. In this world, the potential for real or fabricated information to seriously damage reputation is enormous!


AI reputation stitching

Warren Buffett probably wasn’t thinking about reputation stitching when he said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it,” but he certainly anticipated the consequences if artificial intelligence uncovers and profiles the sins of the past.  A business’ social license to operate is intertwined with its reputation and once you lose one, you will likely lose the other.  This is the reason we are so concerned about the emerging risk of AI reputation stitching.

Sources of Data for AI Reputation Stitching

The same capabilities that can process overwhelming volumes of data and identify the threads that result in an accurate diagnosis and treatment in healthcare data stitching will soon be more broadly available to create AI driven reputation stitching insights into professionals and businesses. Just look at the Enron dataset of nearly half a million emails from over 150 Enron executives that FERC released into the public domain in 2002. These have already been extensively studied and dramatically contributed to the development of AI stitching capabilities for extracting meaningful data from our communications.

artificial intelligence AI stitching

The extraordinary public insights into these executives, some of whom were only guilty of being collateral damage in the Enron fiasco, have likely changed their lives forever. Now add the disclosures about Facebook data being freely shared with researchers and foreign businesses, along with the truly extraordinary volume of data available about our search histories, messages, movements and conversations. You may see how stitching together even a fraction of that information could be used to irreparably damage reputations.

If you find this hard to believe, that’s understandable. Our brains are conditioned to put things in the context of our past experiences and great departures are often difficult to fathom. So, let’s just consider how most personal devices are set to track individuals’ movements and how video surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. Between security cameras, dash cams and our penchant for recording life on our cell phones and then transferring it to social media, there are countless images recorded. With advances in facial and even smile recognition software, we are not far from tracking movements and then identifying what people are doing when they are at those specific locations.

AI reputation

In fact, this is already done with greater frequency than you might imagine, but it is still somewhat limited by the current resources needed to sift through the enormous volumes of data. With the exponential advances in machine learning, we will soon be able to process great volumes of data with enormous efficiency and minimal human involvement. With our new world of artificial intelligence, the advent of AI reputation stitching will soon be upon us.

What You Can Do

So, why are we telling you this? Do we get some perverted pleasure in alarming people? No, it’s because the world of reputation management is about to experience transformative change and you can reduce the risks to your professional and business reputation if you act now. Once AI stitching can decipher a large part of everything we’ve done, it will be nearly impossible to spin a story or manage your reputation without at least some people having the facts to counter the reality you are trying to present. We have long advised against spinning and manipulating information, but soon it may very easy to contradict your spin with compelling facts from reputation stitching.

The best defense will be for your business to consider its actions and behaviors, and proactively work to improve flaws it identifies. You may gain the benefit of the doubt and if you act before the issue is uncovered by others, you might avoid the matter altogether. Any action to address a problem is helpful, but government officials and the public are increasingly demanding that businesses identify their own problems and address them before someone else exposes them. So, act soon.

AI stitching assessment

Your first step should be to conduct a comprehensive vulnerability assessment.  This should be conducted by a third party, which will reduce the risk of bias or underweighting real issues. This vulnerability assessment can be as limited or expansive as you wish, covering media and social media reviews, executive background investigations, or interviews and additional investigation. If you decide to do this, we can walk you through how to protect confidentially and manage the process with appropriate sensitivity. Once you have identified the vulnerabilities, you will want to proactively utilize reputation management and crisis communications processes to work through the range of possible responses, develop a plan to address and message the issues, and take appropriate action.

Those who prioritize the future of their businesses and reputations will understand that any action will be far more effective if you work proactively before someone else uncovers an issue. To minimize the impact of reputation stitching, the time to act is now, before your AI reputation becomes the new reality.

Pandemic Preparedness Plans

Do you remember the tragic flu outbreak several months ago? Did you respond by testing your pandemic plans and pandemic preparedness? You may recall that the flu vaccines were not as effective as normal against this strain and many hospitals and healthcare facilities were seriously stretched in combating the illness. Some hospitals were using triage tents to better address and contain the illness outside of their emergency departments.  Even healthy young adults seem to have had difficulty combating this strain, which is reminiscent of the 1918 H1N1 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed 50 to 100 million people, back when the world’s population was only a little more than 2 billion.

pandemic preparedness plans

We may think what happened a century ago isn’t relevant in our highly advanced, modern world, but we should be careful that we don’t underestimate the impact of our dramatic global shift toward urbanization, rapid travel, strained supply chains and increasing evolution of drug-resistant diseases. The risk of another pandemic is substantial and it is extraordinarily difficult to accurately predict which pathogen will present itself as the next pandemic.

The Atlantic has just published a superb article by Ed Yong that describes the threat and responses that are underway. While much is being done, you’ll read that the risk has even the perpetually optimistic Bill Gates concerned. With some 600,000 to 800,000 unknown bird and animal pathogens with the potential to become threats to humans, we cannot know what will strike next.

Houston pandemic preparedness plans

With the traditional effectiveness of flu vaccines and relatively modest impact of outbreaks in most recent years, we may be underestimating the risks of a disease pandemic. This in combination with massive and reasonably effective responses to the Ebola and Zika viruses, have left many with a sense of complacency. Many also marginalize the flu as a relatively mild disease, which is a surprising impression given that globally the flu kills about half a million people in an average year.

In addition to health risks to their employees and families, companies will want to take steps to avoid the serious work disruptions that may occur in a pandemic, by reviewing and testing their pandemic plans and preparedness. A flu pandemic has been estimated to cause a five percent loss in productivity, but this could be further exacerbated in the highly concentrate office environments of a major city.

Houston Texas pandemic plans preparedness

In our Houston, Texas offices we are very aware of the risks of a pandemic, the speed of transport and global exposure of our population. With a major international airport, an enormous international port, the world’s energy capital and the largest medical center in the world, we have people moving through Houston from every part of the world every day. If a disease is not isolated at its source, it will likely make its way to Houston or any other city and more quickly than we would hope.

This presents strong personal and business reasons to take reasonable pandemic preparedness steps. Developing pandemic plans that include preparations, risk minimization communications and operational changes during a health crisis can make a considerable difference. Simple steps such as encouraging employees and their families to receive inoculations can be particularly helpful in a country where only 45 percent of the population normally receives flu vaccinations.

pandemic preparedness plans

Likewise, promoting increased measures of workplace hygiene and sanitation can be beneficial as both a mitigative and combative effort. Just as we have seen workplace safety programs increase employees’ attention to safety outside of work, greater emphasis on workplace hygiene will likely translate into greater use by employees’ families outside of work. An annual employee communication on disease prevention would be a small cost to better protect the company from disruptions, while simultaneously demonstrating an interest in the welfare of employees and their families.

Our hospital and healthcare clients are very aware of the threats, they regularly evaluate their pandemic plans and preparedness, and take steps to better address their systems’ vulnerabilities. Still, we need to recognize that our global health systems are not designed for a maximum event at every facility all the time, so supply chains and resources often are stretched in crisis situations such as a pandemic.

Recognizing this risk, many health systems’ pandemic plans build in additional contingencies to ensure adequate capabilities. Businesses can take a cue from these pandemic preparedness plans by also securing the basic supplies they may need in a pandemic during normal times, so they are better prepared when a pandemic crisis occurs.

pandemic preparedness plans

In the last decade, global businesses have developed and tailored sophisticated pandemic plans for worst-case scenarios. While the global businesses’ plans are usually very specific in application, those plans are seldom, if ever, functionally tested.  Before we hit flu season in this centennial of the 1918 pandemic is the perfect time to dust off those plans and ensure that they still work given organizational and process changes that may have occurred since the plans were developed.

It is an opportunity for training and to find gaps in pandemic preparedness measures before we encounter situations that can be infinitely worse.  And at the most elemental level, these practices are also good for employees, stakeholders, and the bottom line.

If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with the pandemic plans mentioned here or words such as epidemic, pneumonic, social distancing, hygiene etiquette, transmission cycles, PPE, or administrative versus engineering controls, then it’s time to revisit the topic personally or as an organization.  We can walk you through the issues and needs. If you do not have pandemic plans, we can help you formulate plans that are appropriate to your needs and the threats you may face.

Pandemic preparedness is even more important when the organization is critical to the public infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, and health care providers, and other such groups in a high density, lean staffing setting.  It doesn’t take many employees becoming ill to shut down operations or severely impact administrative environments.

Fake News? Business Political Tactics?

Fake News? Business Political Tactics?

Let’s start with a quick poll. What will be the dominant story this week and the next biggest story? Will they be 1) Kim Jong-un meeting with President Trump, 2) celebrities and pardons, 3) celebrities and suicide, 4) DACA, 5) Taliban ceasefire, 6) opioids, 7) hacking, 8) Facebook, 9) leakers, 10) Putin, 11) China, 12) Mueller investigation, 13) trade and tariffs, 14) Roseanne, 15) Uber and Lyft, 16) Elon Musk, 17) AT&T, 18) Disney, 19) school safety, 20) professional sports, 21) ill celebrities  or 22) something else? Seriously, please comment with your first and second choice. Unless there is an exceptional tragedy or celebrity curiosity, the odds are that the top stories will have political components. These stories dominate our attention as both real news and fake news. We are sometimes fascinated by them, their impact and the political lessons we can glean from them. We might even consider deploying some of these political tactics to help our business.

business political tactics

Whether you are a fan of President Trump or not, you probably marvel at his ability to generate support, shift attention where he wants it and so heavily saturate the discussion that no one seems to have the energy to debate the issue anymore. His approaches (practitioners might call them strategies and tactics) can be very effective if you’re a developer, celebrity or politician. If you are in a major business with major investments, lengthy project payouts and significant exposure such as energy, transportation, chemicals, mining or manufacturing, you may want to put less emphasis on these current trends and impulses.

Have you ever watched a news program and been amazed by a politician or political hack’s ability to avoid the difficult issues being tossed at him or her? Did you find yourself wishing that you could avoid consequences in the same very effective manner? If a reporter calls, would you like to dismissively address all the questions without answering any of them? If activists are protesting your new facility, have you been tempted to say, “throw the bums out”?

If your competitor is capturing the market have you considered exposing their criminal behavior and calling for an investigation of their questionable practices? Have you considered being so sensational in your social media posts and public persona that you draw millions of followers and then convert those followers into paying customers? Do you consider fake news and bots an expedient means of capturing public attention and support?

If you’ve thought about or done any of these things, you’re not alone. It’s likely that there are many other business executives who shared similar thoughts and ultimately chose not to pursue them. But a few still question why we shouldn’t use political tactics to build our business reputation, advance our business and get what we want.

Many companies recruit and utilize political talent in their government relations and communications campaigns. There’s a lengthy history of overlap between government and the private sector in the United States. In fact, when your company is attacked in the same vicious way that politicians, parties and government experience, it can be helpful to bring those political lessons into countering the assault, but you need to be careful how aggressively you use their political tactics.

Businesses and political campaigns have different purposes and measures of success. Most businesses are driven by providing a favorable return to their investors and having a favorable impact on their stakeholders. In most situations, the business intends to do this indefinitely. Things that damage the return to investors and relationship with stakeholders are considered threats to the company, including the company’s reputation and social license to operate.

business political tactics

On the other hand, campaigns are primarily about winning, getting your way, pushing your point of view and locking-in sufficient support to achieve the majority or plurality you need. Political tactics need to bob and weave to respond to a constantly changing landscape and they often use tactics that are vilified by the politicians themselves. While some politicians are very ethical and highly admired as statesmen, they still must win. This puts an enormous emphasis on shaping public opinion over the short periods of time needed to win elections. A politician can afford to offend some people to solidify the support of others and then conduct a campaign that variously creates infighting, alienation, and enthusiasm in different groups resulting in an election victory.

For most businesses, misuse of these political tactics could cause a crisis that must be managed and lasting harm to the brand. Stakeholder trust would erode, people would voice their opposition in government hearings, stockholder meetings and sales through word of mouth. While you can learn political lessons and even use political tactics to support your legitimate business interests, you need to balance this with conducting your business with integrity and a view toward maintaining a positive long-term reputation. Don’t sacrifice your brand, reputation, and stakeholder trust for a short-term, politically expedient fix.

political tactics

Well then, if it OK for businesses to observe politicians and campaigns to learn political lessons, what political tactics should businesses avoid? There are five political tactics that you should either use very sparingly or completely avoid in your business communications and encounters. They are marked by either being excessively confrontational or deceptive. They are attacking competitors, attacking reporters, attacking opponents, spinning stories to manipulate perceptions and deliberate use of fake news:

  • Attacking Competitors – If you attack your competitor, they will likely respond in kind. Also, you are part of the same industry, facing many of the same issues. If you tear each other down, who’s going to give you the benefit of the doubt?
  • Attacking Reporters – The adage of not picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel is still true. If you take the time to get to know some journalists, you will find that many are very bright and capable and they are as dedicated to their mission of providing the truth as you are to making money or whatever else motivates you. If you work with them ethically, they can help you share your story. If you try to deceive or hinder their work, they will figure it out and report the full story, including what you did that was illegal, inappropriate, or unethical.
  • Attacking Opponents – If this one isn’t obvious to you, just look at the years of fighting between heavy industries and environmental activists. The more business fought environmental protestors the more effectively environmentalists used it to publicize their cause, raise funds and increase the opposition. Assume your opponents have a different, but valid perspective and open communication so you have a better chance of cooperation than opposition. This does not have to be a zero-sum game. it is well worth the effort to find a win-win and simply opening a constructive dialogue can reduce the damage.
  • Spin – Honesty and transparency matter. As soon as a company or individual spokesperson for a company becomes known for spinning stories, they are distrusted, discounted and marginalized. People and reporters are very astute about attempts to spin. Many perceive this seemingly innocent attempt to slant the story in your favor as deception. You’ll get far more understanding through honest, ethical attempts to communicate than you will through spin.
  • Fake News – Governments, hackers, fringe advocates and online “entrepreneurs” have successfully used fake news to influence public opinion, disrupt and make money. There are a wealth of tools, bots, and channels to distribute and promote fake news. It has become increasingly difficult to detect and it may be tempting to use fake news to promote your position on issues and your business. The odds of getting caught publishing fake news may even seem to be slight and you could always deny that you knew it was fake, but you can’t predict what future concerns, detection methods, and laws will hold for fake news purveyors. In addition, fake news has been further infected by bad actors using increasingly sophisticated weaponized media that can inflict major damage on a company’s reputation. Eventually fake new with weaponized media may rise to a major crisis that will demand everyone’s attention. Do you really want to risk getting caught up in this and ruin the long-term future of your company to gain a little unfair advantage now?

fake news

While we understand how a business may want to skirt around some of these issues from time to time. If these political tactics are used extensively they may ultimately be the downfall of the business. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule just as there was public support for Nero against the Christians in ancient Rome and territories that embraced Genghis Khan’s conquest, but they don’t last. For the long-term business, a reputation for honesty, integrity, and performance is very important. A significant reputation hit can damage a company for years. Why risk a reputation crisis for political expediency?

Accelerating Reputational Crisis Threat

Accelerating Reputational Crisis Threat

The uproar over comments by Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee last week along with the corporate, political and public responses should spook anyone who realizes that what happens in one situation could quickly morph and replicate itself into another. Our society’s current obsession with sensationalism apparently needs to be fed frequently and this is creating an accelerating reputational crisis for anything in its path.

Celebrities and politicians are drawing most of the attention. They regularly feed it, benefit from it and use it to distract us. If celebrities and politicians are also the targets for this negative attention, we can rationalize it as appropriate live by the sword, die by the sword justice.

Pandora accelerating reputation crisis

Unfortunately, it’s not likely that this trend will be limited to celebrities and politicians. Much like Pandora exposed all of us to the seven deadly sins when her personal curiosity got the better of her, politicians and celebrities’ sensational promotions are increasing the risk of an accelerating reputational crisis that will confront corporations.

Public facing, B2C businesses are already seeing this. The actions of a few can even compel more socially conscious businesses such as Starbucks to become the poster child for addressing broader societal issues.  While B2C companies are more exposed, B2B businesses are also vulnerable and they better learn to deal with this growing risk.

The social media channels we “enjoy” today are connecting, motivating and empowering massive attention to things few previously noticed. Mass media understands this and is compounding the effect by heavily covering social media developments. The result is that stakeholders, including those who affect the future of your business, are aware and engaged almost before we know.

In this next iteration of our concerns highlighted in our weaponized media and corporate crisis prepper blogs, we are now focused on the very real risk of accelerating reputational crisis situations. Of course, most of us will quickly say that that Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee represent entirely different situations. We tell ourselves that “we are not racists, misogynists or haters, and we don’t tolerate it from our employees or contractors.”

accelerating reputational crisis

While that sounds good and may be true, it’s rarely that simple and straightforward. What if an employee does something insensitive on his own time or it’s unclear who is telling the truth and you need to investigate. Now take it up a notch and consider a case of harassment that previously would have been addressed through an internal investigation but could easily become very visible in today’s world. These are legitimate issues that need to be addressed fairly and equitably.

You want to avoid being whipsawed by public opinion, but we cannot ignore it. Social media is facilitating such rapid detection, amplification, and counterattacks that it is exceedingly difficult to stay ahead of anything. What was OK yesterday may not be OK tomorrow. Something that might have been quietly handled in the past, can be very explosively public in the future. We all need to prepare and be on our toes.

To maintain their social license to operate and avoid being hit by an accelerating reputational crisis, companies need to work through these situations now, so they can respond in real time when they are confronted. Start by establishing and clearly communicating acceptable standards of behavior, including social media policy. Work through how you will respond to various scenarios, develop related messages and test them through tabletop exercises. These are just a few of the steps that help you to respond more quickly and effectively if you are hit by an accelerating reputational crisis.

Positive Crisis Lesson – Uber 911 App

Positive Crisis Lesson – Uber 911 App

Give Uber credit. They’ve learned from their mistakes, changed their approach and now provided us with a positive crisis lesson. Of course, skeptics will wait to see if this will last, but they’ve made a major advance. In their past crises, Uber tried to defend or hide their actions and even counter-attack their critics, who include their stakeholders. Now, rather than once again try to explain away why something went wrong, they have taken concrete steps to fix the problem.

Uber positive crisis lesson

The 911 button on the Uber app and related measures may be a game changer for the Company and it’s an important, positive crisis lesson in how fixing the problem is your best hope to ultimately make the problem go away.  Of course, you’re still going to need to put a lot of effort into messaging, communication and implementation to ensure everyone understands that you’ve diligently worked to improve the situation.

Uber is doing this. They rolled out their new app and allowed it to be tested on the Today show. This was preceded by weeks of substantial media outreach, but the successful test provided the essential implied endorsement they need to show real improvement. They then aired an ad on the same network designed to restore faith in the Company and its reputation. You can be sure that there are other features of their rollout and that it was carefully planned.

To the casual observer, these initiatives may appear to be coincidental, but each communication reinforces the positive sentiments achieved from the previous communication. This is a program that over time will likely save the company from its history of one self-imposed crisis after another. In fact, as we watch this unfold, we may find more than one positive crisis lesson to study.

positive crisis lesson

By rolling out a feature on their app that allows riders to call 911 for help and the app providing their location and details on the vehicle, Uber is placing rider protection with a trusted third party, so both riders and drivers will not have to worry whether the company will appropriately address criminal or safety issues. This new feature makes a major stride in putting the welfare of their customers first and giving all comfort that they are not trying to protect bad actors in their business. They’ve found a way to give riders comfort that they are secure without appearing to reflexively take sides in the issue of rider safety.

Part of the reason this happened is that Uber has new management and they knew they had to make dramatic changes. Frankly, if it weren’t for the company’s interesting business model, they might not have survived this long. With these mismanaged crises, Uber appeared to have lost some traction to more responsible sounding competitors such as Lyft and some passengers even shifted back to taxis because they appeared to be safer. With this latest step, Uber may again have the lead, leaving the others to play catch-up. Who wins may depend upon whether Uber sticks with the cultural change and positive crisis lessons learned or they falter. Time will tell, but Uber won this battle.

Memorial Day – Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial Day – Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice

On Memorial Day we gratefully remember the men and women who gave their lives while serving in the armed forces of the United States of America. While many remember them every day, we should all take time this Memorial Day to reflect on these remarkable men and women. Their enormous sacrifice protected the precious rights and liberties that we continue to enjoy today. We are humbled by their gift to us, their fellow Americans.

Memorial Day

We are in a politically fractious time, that is fraught with international tension. We appear to be increasingly tribal in our orientation. We often align ourselves with others who share similar cultural, religious or political views. New businesses, technology, and communication channels are actually facilitating that tribalism and our suspicion of information outside our tribe. This means that many are more focused on what divides us than what brings us together.

This Memorial Day let us reflect both upon the sacrifices of those who died serving our country and on why they made those sacrifices. If we just take time to think about these brave young men and women who put aside their fears and comforts for the greater good, then perhaps we can rediscover what we have in common.

Memorial Day Sacrifice

Their lives had such great promise. While we will never know what they might have become, we do know what they became. They were heroes who put their Country and the welfare of their fellow Americans before their own. They deserve to be celebrated for this ultimate commitment.

Those who step up in times of crisis and adversity are the ones who allow us to build a better future. We owe it to these heroes to honor their sacrifice and build a better America, so they will not have died in vain.

On Memorial Day we urge all to honor those who died serving our country and to work to build a Nation worthy of their sacrifice. They deserve this, and future generations do as well.

Corporate Crisis Prepper – A Ton of Cure

By anticipating and managing the challenges that confront organizations, a corporate crisis prepper can make the difference between success and failure for a company. To understand how, we first need to explain what we mean by a corporate crisis prepper or more simply, a corporate prepper. To get there, we need to discuss the broader survival prepper movement in our society.  For those of you who are not as aware of prepper concerns, there may be more to the story than you think.

corporate prepper

Ultimately this story will take us to preparing for a corporate crisis when communication systems collapse. Along the way, we’ll briefly touch on items that some associate with preppers, such as storing food, medicine, and weapons for extreme doomsday scenarios. We’ll do this because there are elements of being a survival prepper that make it easier to understand why you should consider being a corporate crisis prepper.

At various levels of intensity, survival preppers have surmised that there is a risk of the breakdown in the fundamental systems we’ve come to expect in our everyday lives. This could be as obvious and likely as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes or some other natural catastrophe that disrupts day-to-day life. It might last for a day or two or it might be weeks or even months. Just look at the flooding from Hurricane Harvey in South Texas or the continuing hurricane damage on Puerto Rico. In these situations, there could be a loss of power, logistics for food and other supplies, internet and cellular communications, and increase in opportunistic or desperation crimes.

prepper supplies

Survival preppers address this possibility by storing water, food, medicines, alternative sources of power, manually powered radio, solar generator and some include self-defense in their preparations. The extent of preparedness depends upon the individual’s level of concern and their individual judgment and available resources to determine what is needed.  Many preppers very rationally, objectively weigh the risks and take the precautions they deem appropriate for those risk.

Someone who has been through several disruptive natural disasters is likely to have a few days of water, nonperishable food, batteries and maybe even a small generator. However, another person who has lived through weeks of isolation with no help available may well take even more extensive precautions.

solar flare corporate crisis prepper

Then there is the risk of wider, more extreme disasters such as a coronal mass ejection solar event frying electronic circuits or a major hack bringing down our national power grid. Both are unlikely at any given moment, but the consequences are so high that the seemingly small risk is great enough to consider some precautions.

Then you get less likely, but still feasible scenarios such as a break-down of civil order or armed insurrections. Most Americans scoff at this possibility, but we should realize that violent revolution and invasion are more common than our U.S. experience. Even the U.S. has had major revolutionary conflicts in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, so with our limited experience, we still average a major event about every 120 years. Those of you who have studied probability may see this risk as somewhat comparable to the multiple hundred-year floods the City of Houston had in 2017.

revolution corporate crisis prepper

This isn’t to suggest that we’re going to have a violent revolution in the U.S. any time soon or even ever. It’s just that globally revolutions are relatively common, meaning that at any given time somewhere in the world it is a real possibility. That’s why the smart money occasionally goes to the preppers.

If you layer on top of that the enormous, unpredictable advances in technology, the growing international tension and what we have already seen in countries using weaponized media to attack each other, we can see how major disruption is possible either through a natural disaster, mistakes or malicious intent. This makes being a corporate crisis prepper, the hero who will be praised if a non-traditional crisis befalls their company. It’s also where a lot of wealthy geniuses are putting some of their money.

It might surprise you to learn that several Silicon Valley billionaires have taken a little of their money and dedicated it to providing a sustainable life for themselves if we have a catastrophic event that wipes out a lot of our infrastructure and support systems. To them, it’s not that they expect doomsday scenarios, but the impact would be so great that it’s worth taking a few percents or even a fraction of a percent of their wealth to mitigate and guard against it.

prpepper bunker corporate crisis prepper

If these bright, wealthy individuals can objectively justify some prepper investments, shouldn’t the same be true for a major corporation which could either lose everything or end up ahead in a catastrophe? This is where being a corporate prepper and a survival prepper overlaps.

Like people, corporations have individual identities that they want to extend and grow. This requires a certain amount of care and societal acceptance for corporations to flourish. Companies need to be able to protect themselves and survive hardship, but they also need to be reconciled with other demands. So, let’s scale this back for the corporate prepper to just the relatively likely scenarios in the next few years and see what we should rationally do.

In addition to your crisis management, relationship, reputation and crisis communications efforts, the wise corporate crisis prepper needs to assume that the company’s website and social media channels are vulnerable. As we discussed in our recent blog on weaponized media, your digital media could be attacked long before you even know there’s an issue.

Since you could lose one or more of your primary communication channels, you may want to consider supplementing them with at least some of the following capabilities:

  • Equipment
    • Landline – cellular service can be interrupted or overloaded, and you need another way to reach people.
    • Satellite phone – for remote locations and critical communications if other systems fail.
    • Shortwave radio – in dire circumstances, this 20th-century technology rarely fails.
    • Cell phone with encrypted voice network – to talk with key personnel and stakeholders confidentially.
    • Controlled and encrypted text messaging system such as Vaporstream – if other systems may have been compromised, you need a secure way to exchange information.

crisis prepper

  • Resources
    • Hard copy contact lists and plans – If you can’t use your computer or smartphone, you better have a backup.
    • Radio contacts and protocol – if you rely on the web or even phone trees to communicate with employees, you need this if your region loses power and phone.
    • Dark website – both to protect your commercial website from being disrupted by a crisis and as a reserve if your primary site goes down.
    • Access to a major press release network, such as Business Wire or PR Newswire – this is to better target audiences and in case your internal capabilities aren’t available.
    • Monitoring services such as Cision, Meltwater or more sophisticated analytics such as Synoptos  – you need to know what is happening and how to counter.
    • An outside PR firm – to help you quickly scale up to challenges confronting your business and even take over if your own people are not able to respond.

A corporate crisis prepper who has the right mix of this equipment will have the basic ability to communicate with employees and stakeholders if they lose other channels such as internet and intranet through a widespread loss of power or denial of service. Of course, you will still be very limited in your ability to combat misinformation or attacks on your business unless you can quickly mobilize support to understand what is happening, appropriately respond and get your message out. That’s why a corporate crisis prepper will likely secure most, if not all, of the resources shown above.

In future blogs, we will delve more deeply into these individual tools and resources, but for the moment we just want to encourage you to anticipate risks and begin to marshal the capabilities necessary to respond to them.

Contact Us

Phone: +1.833.227.4747


Address: 405 Main Street, Suite 730
Houston, Texas 77002