Risk managers who are convinced their organization is prepared to withstand a blow to its reputation need only read the daily newspapers to be reminded of what can go wrong and the snowball effect the lack of a comprehensive crisis management plan can have on the outfit's brand, value, employees and community standing.

A case-in-point is Duke University in North Carolina, now in the midst of a public relations nightmare because of its handling of a rape charge by an African-American exotic dancer against white members of the university's lacrosse team. Sadly, the incident provides a perfect example of just about everything that can go wrong when an organization does not have a crisis plan in place, public relations experts warn.

"This is obviously a tragic situation and one that hurts the Duke brand," said Mike Swenson, president of Barkley Evergreen & Partners Public Relations in Kansas City, Mo. "If they had been doing real crisis management, then the moment this occurred, the first person who was made aware of it, whoever that might be, would have made one phone call–to the crisis manager of the organization."

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