A CEO explains the importance of developing a public-relations strategy before a disaster strikes.
Don't wait until disaster strikes to whip up a public-relations strategy. Elliot Sainer, CEO of Aspen Health Services, a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens in Huntington Beach, Calif., already had a publicity plan at work when a teenager died while at a competitor's program in 1994. Still, Aspen beefed up efforts to battle the onslaught of bad press.
As kids withdrew from Aspen's program and new-business calls dropped by 20%, Sainer added an employee to his in-house public-relations team. Already hard at work touting Aspen's safety record to those who referred new business to Aspen, the team sped up the distribution of information on graduates' progress and turned the annual newsletter into a quarterly.
Next, Sainer agreed to a story request from U.S. News & World Report. "We were seeing our industry getting slammed," he says. He allowed the reporter to join one group at the end of its program, when the participating teens are happiest. Sainer was pleased with the article and mailed copies to more than 200 referral sources. Today Aspen is back on track with about $6 million in 1995 revenues and with incoming calls back to normal. Sainer credits the company's survival to the strategy. -- Robina A. Gangemi