Sunday, January 4, 2009

ERM-BC-COOP: How to "sell" preparedness

There has been an interesting discussion on a couple of Emergency Management lists in (on?) which I participate.

The issue: How to get everyone - organization management, community leadership, and individuals - to sign up and sign on for self preservation.

The problem, according to many List participants, seems to be that all of the above have a "someone will provide" mentality.

"The Government" - pick a level, any level - "will provide."

"The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will provide."

"The charities - e.g., Salvation Army - will provide."

Whatever happened, we ask each other singing, as we do, to the chorus, to self-sufficiency? Where is The American Way of being dependent on ourselves rather than on "someone" to provide for our needs?

There's an expression particularly common to Jews: "History forgotten is bound to repeat."

Translation: we need to learn, and keep in mind the lessons learned, from past events.




Fires - structure and forest.




And, yes, even war and financial disasters.

The bottom line question for us - risk management, business continuity, emergency management, and crisis management practitioners, and maybe some others as well - is how do we get, and keep, the attention and support of "the other folks," those that still lack their choir robes?

There was talk of a Smokey (CQ) Bear-type campaign. It has been pretty successful. According to the Smokey (not "the") Bear Wikipedia entry (, "Smokey Bear's message 'Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires' was created in 1944 by the Ad Council. In a recent study, 95% of those surveyed could finish the sentence when given the first words. In April 2001, Smokey's message was updated to 'Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.'"

Novice speakers and instructors are told to "Tell'em what you are going to tell them; tell them, then tell them what you told them." In other words, repeat the message until it gets through.

Granted, unless there is a "variation on the theme," eventually the audience will tune out when the first words appear.

Having seen the impact schools can have on young minds, and knowing the age group that gets introduced to Smokey, my personal suggestion is to start promoting self-sufficiency at a very early age.

We need to do this carefully so that while instilling a self-sufficiency mentality we do not, at the same time, cause simultaneous development of a Me First callousness to the plight of others.

Taking a page from Madison Avenue might be a good idea for those of us who realize people need to take some responsibility for themselves. The "let George do it" mentality - never good - only works when "George" is around and able to perform.

Smokey, the senior spokes-cartoon, has been around since 1944 - the Bear is almost old enough to file for full social security and probably older than most of this blog's readers. Many of you grew up with Smokey or Sparky, Smokey's urban counterpart. Today's kids, unfortunately, also have - and need - an anti-crime mascot, McGruff who "takes a bite out of crime."

Smokey, more than the others, pops up in places you would expect - at the entrances to federal and state parks and forests - and in places you might not expect - on a subway in a major metro area.

He is almost ubiquitous.

That's what we need - a message, or perhaps a messenger associated with a specific message - that "is almost ubiquitous" and one we collectively are introduced to at an early age.

Of the three mascots mentioned above, only one comes from a cartoonist's mind. The others are based on actual animals, particularly Smokey. The suggestion is that whatever image carries our message, it has to be one able to span the generations with minimal change (think of Aunt Jemima who "slimmed down" and, I think, lost a great deal of her appeal). This is not a job for Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man.

The nice thing about animals - at least those that look like "the real thing" (e.g., Smokey and Sparky vs. Joe Camel or the Pink Panther) is that they are based on something we can see, albeit perhaps only in a zoo or picture book, and these animals, unlike people (e.g., Uncle Sam and Aunt Jemima) are free of any racial connection; they are "politically correct." (I have a little black bunny named Franklyn who would volunteer and I'm sure he could "beat the drum" for self-preservation at least as good as that obnoxious battery bunny.)

I've done a bit marketing in my day, but I think selection of a suitable mascot for self-preservation needs to be "discovered" by advertising pros and approved by the experts in kindergarten - these experts are, after all, the ones who will carry the message to their parents and, later as parents themselves, will share it with their children.

EM lists referenced earlier:
International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)

Aunt Jemima history at

John Glenn MBCI, SRP
Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity practitioner
JohnGlennMBCI @ gmail dot com

1 comment:

Jonathan Bernstein said...

John, I enjoyed your commentary. The mascot of my email/online newsletter, "Crisis Manager," has long been "OhNo the Ostrich," the surprised avian looking over his shoulder with a big target painted on his rear. It seems, when I introduce him with some humor in board rooms of clients, to elicit some understanding about the cost of not preparing. Here's one page where you can view OhNo (who was designed by my wife):

I think that whatever image is used, humor can go a long way towards successfully selling a difficult message. The fear approach has already been tried -- and it hasn't worked!

Jonathan Bernstein
Bernstein Crisis Management