Stacy Bettison

Stacy L. Bettison is a communications strategist and owner of Bettison Consulting LLC. Stacy focuses on crisis communications, reputation management and media relations. She is also a licensed attorney and has practiced law in both Chicago and Minneapolis.

There, but for grace, go we

Posted by: Stacy Bettison under Society, Violence, Disasters Updated: December 16, 2012 - 7:09 AM
I lay awake at 3 a.m. this morning, wondering if the parents whose children had been killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut were also awake, too shocked, too grief-stricken, too afraid to close their eyes, lest they wake up and find this was not a horrible nightmare.
 
“There, but for the Grace of God, go I" routinely comes to my mind at times like these. Yesterday’s events are a stark reminder that no one is immune from random violence  -- not at our movie theaters (Aurora), not at our places of worship (Oak Creek, Milwaukee), not at our public rallies (Tucson), and not, sadly, at our schools (Columbine, Ricori High School).
 
While the most impacted and traumatized are, of course, those families and friends who lost loved ones in yesterday’s shootings, this is a crisis for all families, for all schools, for all communities – a national tragedy.
 
What can we do, amidst the acknowledgement of our precarious nature, that there but for the Grace of God goes each of us?  That any one of us could be a Newtown family, grieving the loss of a little child or a loved one who worked at the school?
 
For schools, Monday morning will come fast. Parents will say good-bye to their children, releasing them into our uncertain world, trusting that schools are taking care of them. Kids will return to class, many aware of Friday’s calamity. There are numerous things schools can do, including:  
  • If schools haven’t already, acknowledge what’s happened.
  • Remind kids and families that you have procedures that are designed to protect kids, faculty and staff. They might be well-aware of your lock-down drills and the like, but reminders reassure.
  • If there is some aspect of your crisis response plan that needs works, nail it down now. The importance of crisis planning has never been more obvious than now. Back in September I wrote an article here entitled “Dusting off school crisis plans . . .” where I encourage schools to pull the crisis planning binder off the shelf and give it a good, careful look, find the gaps, and fill them in.
There are many great resources for schools such as this resource at the National Association for School Psychologists website
 
For parents and families, it’s okay to talk to your kids about this, and many experts encourage you to do so. The age of your child or children will dictate how much you say and what you talk about, but giving this issue some oxygen is important.
 
Parents can access articles at the links I provide below to help guide you through this weekend and into the coming days. Remember, fears linger, and the wounds of trauma do not heal the same for everyone. Check in with your kids and give them the space to talk and ask questions, even well down the road.
 
Thoughts and prayers abound for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary and the community of Newtown.

 

From the shadows of doping: How Livestrong and Lance are moving on

Posted by: Stacy Bettison under Celebrities, Society, Crime Updated: December 4, 2012 - 6:03 AM
 
The shadows of the cycling scandal continue to loom. Three days ago, the International Cycling Union (UCI) appointed a three-member panel to investigate and report by June what role the UCI, the sport’s governing body, itself played in the scandal. 
 
Today, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee will consider, among other scandal-related questions, whether to strip Lance Armstrong of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Games.
 
Saving Livestrong. Shortly after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s 1000-page report on Armstrong became public in October, the Livestrong organization stepped out quickly to save itself while its iconic namesake disastrously fell from grace. In the days and weeks since, the organization has walked a very challenging line of affirming the incredible contribution and inspiration of Lance Armstrong as a cancer survivor and advocate, while creating distance from Lance and his now stained cycling career. The organization has done a good job in a very messy situation.
 
Here’s some of what they’ve done, externally, to protect the Livestrong brand and keep the organization moving forward:
 
·         After Lance resigned as chairman of the board on October 17, CEO Doug Ulman did an interview on NPR, affirming its desire to have Armstrong continue to be involved in the work of the organization. Said the CEO, "He's our founder. He's been the inspiration for our work for so many years.” Mr. Ulman handled tough questions exceedingly well, focusing on the organization’s key message of continuing the mission to support and serve people living with cancer.
 
·         The organization changed its name from The Lance Armstrong Foundation and to the Livestrong Foundation.
 
·         When Lance fully resigned from the board in mid-November, the foundation’s new board chairman, Jeff Garvey, said this:
 
Lance Armstrong has chosen to voluntarily resign from the Board of Directors of the Livestrong Foundation to spare the organization any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding his cycling career. . . .  We are deeply grateful to Lance for creating a cause that has served millions of cancer survivors and their families.
·         Livestrong spokeswoman Katherine McLane said Armstrong remains as the charity’s “founder and inspiration and our biggest donor.”
 
·         The Livestrong Foundation website underwent changes. Among them, the “Our Founder” page features Lance’s cancer diagnosis and his many contributions to the cause. Gone is any mention of his cycling career.
 
Ironmans and Defiance. For Lance, according to his personal website, he appears to knocking off an Ironman here and there (five in 2012, so far, to be exact), and participating in other triathlon events. His website still has photos from the Tour de France¸ with a good number of shots of his long-held race number (#1). He describes himself on Twitter as “Raising my 5 kids. Fighting Cancer. Swim, bike, run and golf whenever I can.” A couple of weeks ago, Lance posted a picture of himself on Twitter lounging on his couch, surrounded by his seven yellow jerseys. Comments abounded: Lance is in denial; he’s defiant; he’s arrogant.
 
Yes, that all may be true: perhaps he is in denial, defiant and arrogant.
 
Here’s another truth—Lance is an incredible athlete. Ultimately, it was his athletic ability, drive and commitment to winning that fueled his fight against cancer, and inspired him to help others. His legacy, even with the doping scandal, will always include the fact that he has inspired and helped millions of people diagnosed with cancer. Critics notwithstanding, there is little denying that he has done vast amounts of good, and his athleticism contributed to that.
 
I don’t know Lance personally, but I’m guessing this is also true: While he may be in denial, defiant and arrogant, there is a deep reservoir of good in Lance Armstrong. To go through a cancer diagnosis like he did, and turn it into a positive, sweeping movement like he has, comes from a place of good. Though critics may say that Armstrong’s good deeds were just a devious way to deflect attention from his misdeeds, I question whether deceitful ulterior motives would have sustained the powerful momentum of what Livestrong has become. No doubt, Lance Armstrong earned goodwill because of Livestrong, but that’s what happens when you do good—you are in the good graces of many, because you have done right for so many. 
 
Lots of people are waiting to see the innate good and undeniably human side of Lance, wondering when the 60 Minutes exclusive mea culpa will air. I’m not sure what he’s waiting for, but I’m guessing there is some calculating, strategic reason—the passage of time, to see if the arbitration of team director Johan Bruyneel goes forward (in which Armstrong may be subpoenaed), or the UCI’s report in June (assuming the UCI is blameworthy).
 
Forgiveness will be fast. The general public will be quick to forgive. And while the internet, tell-all memoirs and future Tours de France make it impossible to forget, forgiveness will come fast. There may be those that were so affected by Lance’s actions that they can never forgive, and that’s understandable. But most people want to see the good in others, and most people would rather forgive than forever hold a grudge.
 
To be human is to be full of contradictions. We all possess both good and bad, and we have all erred—some more than others. If all or even some of the allegations are true, Lance erred a lot. These errors, these shadows, will always lurk. But when Lance admits his wrongs, apologizes and asks for forgiveness, that’s the moment when Lance can begin to move forward, out from the shadows and into the light.

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The Unfortunate Irony of Fear-Based Decisions

Posted by: Stacy Bettison under Business, Businesses in hot water, Society, Disasters, Government Updated: October 14, 2012 - 7:51 AM

I was a bit surprised to hear Tokyo Electric Power Co. recently announced the nuclear disaster resulting from the March 2011 tsunami could have been avoided.  What surprised me was not that the disaster could have been avoided (crises so often can), nor that this contradicted earlier statements by the company that the facility was prepared for such a disaster (differing, later statements are not unusual). 

 
What struck me was the unfortunate irony of this announcement:  the company knew the facility needed improvements, but fear of the political, economic and legal repercussions of making improvements prevented them from getting it done. 
 
Instead of dealing with the costs of safety improvements before the disaster, the utility is now faced with even greater political, economic and legal problems that will last for years—the very problems it was seeking to avoid by not updating the facility.  What’s worse, the cleanup of the nuclear disaster will take decades, and the full effects on humans and the environment have yet to fully seen and understood.
 
This announcement reminded me of the rationale Penn State used for not reporting concerns about Jerry Sandusky—bad publicity.  The sad irony here: the thing Penn State feared most was the very result of its decisions — bad publicity, in spades.  More concerning and tragic, Penn State’s decisions perpetuated a cycle of abuse leaving at least 10 victims in Jerry Sandusky’s wake. 
 
Organizations have a choice: deal with the problems and challenges of your organization now, or deal with them later.
 
Dealing now admittedly involves costs, strategy and planning.  It requires bold leadership that is willing to do what is ethical and in the long-term best interest of its stakeholders, even in face of head-in-the-sand types who ask, “Is this really necessary now?”  It requires strength in leaders to advocate for smart, safe choices today, and make the case for why now costs so much less than later
 
The most important costs organizations must consider for later, however, are not those paid by the organization, but those to be paid by victims. The effect of radiation exposure to humans, ocean and atmosphere is still being fully assessed, but the impact is expected to last decades. The boys victimized by Jerry Sandusky, and their parents, and even their yet-to-be families, are all impacted by Penn State’s concern over bad publicity—and they will be for the rest of their lives. 

The First Amendment: The Blood in Our Veins

Posted by: Stacy Bettison under Society, Government, Politics Updated: September 27, 2012 - 8:59 AM

Like many, I’ve been thinking a lot about our First Amendment lately. As protest and violence in the Muslim world has occurred in response to the vulgar Internet video satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, and as we’ve seen President Obama simultaneously defending our free speech rights and denouncing the video, I’ve pondered this:

 
What makes the First Amendment so challenging for some to understand?  How can we better explain why the First Amendment is so important to Americans?
 
History usually provides some good insight into why things are the way they are today. 
 
I chose to consult than A History of the American Constitution, by legal scholars Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry. I read this book as a student of both professors when they taught at the University of Minnesota Law School. The chapter on the Bill of Rights spoke to my lingering question:
 
  • Free speech and free exercise of religion were among several rights that the colonial Americans cherished most from British heritage.
  • These rights were viewed as inalienable; fundamental; self-evident; natural; inherent; “true, ancient and indubitable rights and liberties.” In essence, if you were human, you possessed these rights.
  • Because they were inherent, they didn’t need to be written to be protected.  If they were written, the writings were viewed as “declarations” - not “enactments.”
  •  As such, government lacked the power to limit certain of these rights.
  • There was significant debate at the Constitutional Convention as to whether a bill of rights was even necessary. For instance, there was objection to including a declaration as to the freedom of the press, because the power of Congress did not extend to the press.  
  • James Madison, then elected to the House of Representatives, met considerable resistance from fellow Congressmen to even discuss the issue of amendments to the Constitution. Ultimately, however, he presented the amendments, with this preface: 
It will be a desirable thing to extinguish from the bosom of every member of the community, any apprehensions that there are those among his countrymen who wish to deprive them of the liberty for which they valiantly fought and honorably bled. . . .
  • Weeks of debate over necessity, substance, and working ensued.  The final result was the version that is now our First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The establishment, free exercise and free speech clauses form a trifecta of freedom. 
 
We get to decide whether we worship at all (per the establishment clause), and if so, who we worship, where we worship, when we worship and how we worship (free exercise). We get to choose how we express our religion and honor our faith (free speech). Walk down any street in America, and you’ll see expressions of religion worn on our bodies, whether it be a cross pendant or a burqa. Walk into any home, and you may see a crucifix, the Star of David or nothing at all.
 
A fundamental American right is the ability to express our thoughts about religion. We get to disagree, criticize and even ridicule. Offensive? Yes. Blasphemous? Yes. Hurtful? You bet. It’s this part that is so difficult for other nations, and often even our own, to understand—why allow people to defile and blaspheme something that others hold dear?
 
We tolerate that which offends because we know, as did our Founding Fathers, that unleashing the natural liberty of free speech and religion is far more powerful and influential than even the most bigoted and irreverent video. Allowing humanity the full expression of thought and conscience ultimately enables humans to flourish, even when some of that expression is so utterly contrary to what we believe is right and good.
 
The First Amendment is one of the foundations of our American heritage and society. Without it, our other rights—and even our American culture—would suffer and stagnate. Those suffering under more repressive governments have difficulty appreciating that which we have long known to be fundamental: that the right of fools to speak freely actually gives our country and our people strength. Free speech is worth fighting for and worth defending, even when it’s been used to inflict harm.
 
Rather than violently oppressing the rights of others to speak offensively, Americans have bled and died in the defense of this right. We believe, as our Founding Fathers believed, that these rights of expression are as natural to our humanity as the blood in our veins. 
 
Follow Stacy on Twitter -- @StacyBettison

 

Dusting off school crisis plans – good for kids, families & schools

Posted by: Stacy Bettison under Charter schools, Society, Education and literacy, Government Updated: September 12, 2012 - 4:20 PM

Back to school is upon us. Summertime schedules have officially yielded to school days. Fall is also the season when school/district crisis management teams meet to review their programs and policies.

Unfortunately for most schools, crisis is not a question of if, but when. It may not be this year, or even next. But given what’s at risk – the safety and well-being of our children -- schools must be vigilant.

Last month I presented “Crisis Communications & Issues Management for Schools and Parishes” at the Minnesota Catholic Education Association’s Annual Convention. Much has been written about school crisis preparedness, and there are countless resources on the internet to assist schools. My talk included some fundamental strategies for managing critical issues and crisis communications, and throughout I focused on this overarching theme:

Crisis typically results in chaos. And any type of crisis, controversy or conflict – no matter the size – creates distress for those impacted.  In the worst case, lives are at stake.

Crisis, however, can be an opportunity to strengthen an organization and its relationships. In planning for crisis, we must consider the opportunities a school has to become stronger so it can better fulfill its mission, better safeguard the well-being of the children in its care, and better develop the relationships that are vital to the school’s success.

It’s all about relationships. Crisis planning can result in stronger relationships with children and families, which ultimately benefits the school.

1.    Children. In planning, schools can find opportunities to strengthen the most crucial elements for a learning environment.  In reviewing plans, ask the following:

·         How does this plan create a safe, supportive, and predictable learning environment?

·         What other aspects of our plan would make our school more safe, more supportive, and more predictable?

A school can strengthen its relationships with the children by sharing age-appropriate information about its plans and expectations. Drills are an obvious (and required) way to plan, but other communications that help children know what to expect helps them feel safer and more trusting.  (See www.ready.gov/kids and www.ready.gov/parents-teachers for some options.)  Sharing plans can elicit questions from children, and this gives an even greater opportunity for teachers and administrators to hear and address new concerns.

For older students, seeking involvement and input for some crises may be appropriate and beneficial. Under what circumstances student involvement would be good for both the students and school are considerations that a crisis management team could give thought to as it plans.

In recovery communications, thinking through ways to validate the stress or fear of the past is critical. The balance here is to acknowledge the pain of the past, but not dwell on it. Positive, forward looking communications help the healing process. The communications are not trite, but they are substantive, meaningful and supportive of the student and their families.

2.    Families. Schools can strengthen their relationships with parents and families by asking this one question:  What would our families want us to do?

The particular demographics of a school may influence families’ concerns, but generally speaking, families want to know: 

·         If their children are safe

·         How and why the crisis happened

·         How the school/district will fix any problems

·         How the school/district plans to prevent the problem from happening again

·         Who is accountable for school safety and crisis management

·         How they (parents) can help

To top it off, families want answers to these questions immediately, if not sooner. Once word of a crisis spreads (text messages, Facebook and Twitter promise it will spread fast), the school’s phones will ring and the e-mail inboxes will fill with questions from panicked parents.

A prompt response is among the most important strategies for managing a crisis effectively and maintaining a strong, trusting relationship with families. Schools should review the communications portion of their crisis management plans now. They should focus on providing fast, accurate and detailed communications (through communications technologies, social media, special web sites).  Schools should do this even if all the answers to the above questions are not yet known.

The role of teachers and non-teaching staff. A school’s teachers and non-teaching staff are the lifeblood of any successful school. A school can strengthen its ability to respond to a crisis by giving all staff an opportunity to not just review and receive training of plans (which is required), but to provide input to the crisis management team as well. Because teachers and even some non-teaching staff are often the most connected with the students, they are in a good position to provide feedback about student needs. This enables school leadership and a crisis management team to develop a more comprehensive, effective plan.

In recovery communications, teachers and non-teaching staff are critical to assessing how best to support children, identify special situations that require attention, and effectively talk with children and parents to foster a trusting, safe and supportive relationship.

The school is a haven. Other than the home or place of worship, school is the most important place a child spends time. Schools are places of learning, friendship and development. They are places of success and struggle, triumph and tears. Above all, schools need to be safe havens because learning requires safety and security.

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