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Spotlight on Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management

Updated December 23, 2021

I have been fortunate to know and admire Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management for nearly two decades.

He has been a client and a contributor to several of my publications over the years. More importantly, he has been willing to listen and give me feedback on my various ventures. And he has always made himself available when I had a question or when I sent someone his way for a conversation.

So how do I reward this? By asking him to submit to an interrogation, of course!

I think you will find what Jonathan has to say both insightful and entertaining.

Tell us about yourself and your agency.

I’m the son of a career foreign service officer, raised in six countries.  After five years in US Army Military Intelligence, I became an investigative reporter for five years before segueing into PR in 1982 and, by 1989, focusing entirely on crisis management as a specialty.  I created Ruder Finn’s first Crisis Communications Group, and then left that agency in January 1994 to start Bernstein Crisis Management.  By avocation, I’m a folksinger and Reiki practitioner.

Bernstein Crisis Management is a specialized firm dedicated to providing holistic strategies for managing crisis situations. We guide our clients through every step of the crisis management process, from preparation to response, and are available 24/7 for assistance. Our more than 30 years of experience assisting clients worldwide makes us the absolute authority on professional crisis situations.

Unlike most public relations firms that only offer crisis management as a side practice, we’re specialists. By exclusively focusing on the full spectrum of services needed to prevent and/or mitigate crisis situations, we set ourselves apart from the competition. I started the first international email newsletter on the topic of crisis management, which now reaches readers in 75 countries, and my article, “The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications” has received some 400,000 mentions online, been reprinted in more than 20 languages, and positioned Bernstein Crisis Management as a thought leader in the field. Our experts are also regular contributors to popular media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and CNN as a trusted resource, and have been published in hundreds of articles sharing their knowledge.

What book would you recommend to other agency leaders and why?

The Response Leadership Sequence by Mike McKenna.  Mike, one of the regular contractors on my agency’s virtual team, focuses on establishing a professionally healthier paradigm for those who must lead during crises.  It enhanced my understanding of the subject considerably and, in my opinion, should be a must-read for the members of any Crisis Management Team.

What industry trend are you most excited about?

Insurers and boards of directors are, increasingly, becoming the driving force behind our incoming requests for assistance with crisis preparedness.

What advice do you have for someone just getting started in the agency world?

Ask for help, ask for help, ask for help.  I have seen many account coordinators and account execs floundering when they’re trying to do something for which they had insufficient experience and/or education.  Their mindset was, “I don’t want to bother my boss or I’ll look bad, and I don’t want to acknowledge to my peers that I really need help right now.”  Then their work product is poorly written and/or completed past deadline, their client’s unhappy, their supervisor is unhappy, etc.

Who is someone who influenced your career and what impact did they have?

The several PR professionals who predicted, when I launched the agency, that it would be impossible to make a full-time living focused exclusively on crisis management.  I’m sure they didn’t intend reverse psychology, and neither did my mother when she told me I’d never stick with playing guitar after I took it up at age 13.  The naysayers were all wrong.

How did you first get involved in PR/marketing?

I was working as a freelance writer, making relatively good money, when my 2nd cousin, Nann Miller, suggested that my skills would translate well to a public relations career.  Nann owned her own agency in the Los Angeles area at that time and had spotted an opening at Playboy Enterprises for a manager of corporate communications.  I applied and was hired.

What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?

I caught a hand grenade fishing in the Korean DMZ when I was 15.

How do you clear your mind when you’re not working?

Meditation, PC gaming and folksinging.

Where did you grow up?

France, Italy, Nigeria, England and Korea until my junior year in my high school, back in the U.S.  Father was a career foreign service officer, hence all the travel.

Where can people find you online?

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SAGA Staff

The SAGA blog provides news and insights for PR and marketing communications agency owners and executives.

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