Larry Kamer: Teaching firms to handle crises

Not all executives can compare corporate preparedness to a musical, but crisis communications expert Larry Kamer sums it up as such: “You wouldn’t go to a Broadway show and expect the actors to be reading from a script, would you? You have to know what you’re supposed to do.”

Kamer, who has been named one of PR Week’s “Top 10 Crisis Busters,” returns to the Bay Area this month to lead public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard’s West Coast operations and to co-chair the company’s corporate practice. He most recently spent two years as president of Chicago’s Manning, Selvage & Lee, and had previously lived in the Bay Area for 20 years, founding lobbying and advocacy firm Kamer/Singer Associates (later acquired by Grey Global Group).

“I’ve always had tremendous respect for Fleishman. A lot of the people I respect most in this industry are affiliated with the company,” Kamer explains. “And, the job involved a relocation to the Bay Area. … All you have to do to appreciate this area is to leave.” Kamer has worked on numerous high-profile cases, including advising Nike to clear concerns about their international labor practices. Other clients have included Procter & Gamble, Reebok, Home Depot and General Motors. Kamer points to his work with local hospitals as instances where “good communication can solve problems.” Hehelped to advise Berkeley’s Alta Bates Medical Center on the famous Baby Kerri case, in which a baby was kidnapped and ultimately returned to her parents, and worked with California Pacific Medical Center to halt untrue rumors of HIV/AIDS-tainted blood.

These days, Kamer’s role has evolved from advising on quick fixes to being more of a long-term strategist.

“I try to show companies best practices, and help them reconnect to the values that make them a great organization,” Kamer says. “Companies that anticipate, execute and communicate build enduring value.”

His advising style is direct and to the point: “My first question is usually, ‘What’s keeping you up at night?’ Crises are inevitable, and often it’s the best organizations that are targeted.”

One of his two children might carry on his communications legacy: “We used to call my son the ‘littlest litigator.’ He must have taken a swim in my gene pool.”

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