By now you’ve read dozens of news stories and blog posts about Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old who was planning to be the world’s youngest person to sail around the globe.  Her parents have been excoriated as irresponsible.  She has been accused of being too young for the task. The whole venture has been deemed too risky.

But global sailing for teenagers aside, are we teaching our kids to take enough risks?

One of my big concerns as a parent is the rise of organized sports teams for the very young. On the one hand, the practices and games are fun. On the other, they require mobs of parents to drive, coach, cheer and supervise. The kids are never left to their own devices after school. When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, a group of my friends and I would get together on the playground that was in between our apartment buildings. Our mothers could see us from the windows up above. Or maybe one or two moms—not necessarily our own–were in the park chatting on benches. We were on our own until someone called us home for dinner.  We devised our own games, our own rules, and cheered each other on.  We developed a sense of independence. We had conflicts, of course, and resolved them ourselves.  Could we have been taking some unforeseen risks? Probably so.  Were our parents crazy? I don’t think so. I grew up, attended Yale, and have run several successful businesses.

Risk-taking for kids doesn’t just take the form of playing games on the playground or sailing around the world. There’s significant ground in between. Including trying a different kind of book than what we usually read. Experimenting with a college course outside our major. Working in the Peace Corps. Taking a “gap year” between high school and college to travel or work.

Some parents are legitimately concerned about these kinds of ventures. On the college front, there is an understandable concern about taking courses that have no “purpose” for future jobs.  Post 9/11, travel for kids across the U.S. or around the world without us nearby is truly frightening.  But without taking these risks, how can our kids develop their own sense of mission and the pride that comes from self-reliance? And chalk up some failures–probably the single most important part of risk-taking.

As Abby wrote on her blog yesterday, from the deck of the fishing boat that rescued her: “Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.”

The question for those of us who are parents, educators, or supporters of same, is this: what kind of preparation are we giving our kids to be prepared for life’s storms?  And how can we give them the confidence to remain undefeated when an unexpected storm breaks their main mast?

According to CEO Danny Sullivan,  BP’s latest PR tactic was to purchase all the Google links for any search that includes the words “oil spill” or “BP” or “gulf oil,” among other keywords. Type in any of these and the top result you see is BP’s special Gulf of Mexico Response website.  Interesting brand-in-crisis move.

Part of the reason BP did this was to control the message. Controlling the Message is of course Rule #2 of Crisis Communications 101.  (Rule #1 is Full and Immediate Transparency/Disclosure.  BP hasn’t quite gotten that one down, no doubt because it is in conflict with all of the rules of Avoiding Lawsuits 101).  BP was smart to try the Google search word approach since they got major blowback from the TV ads they purchased, which featured their lambasted CEO touting all the great work BP was doing on the cleanup.   They really didn’t have many options for getting out their message, since BP was not well established in social media prior to the crisis and wasn’t positioned to respond (take note, SM slackers!), they had to go this route.

The ultimate question is:  is it working? Since the new top-of-the-Google-charts BP link clearly says “Sponsored Link,” people know it’s not a clean search result. Or do they? And even so, are they tempted to click on their site and scan it? It would be interesting to learn if the company is getting increased hits and any positive spin from that. BP stock prices just dropped another 4%, so that may be one indicator this plan isn’t working.

The recession’s not in the rearview mirror yet, but some indicators show it is receding. And after 18 months of triage, companies and nonprofits alike are assessing the damage.  Here are key areas to review when considering any impact the downturn has had on your brand.

Employment Brand

Those who froze hires but didn’t let anyone go will come out ahead, as their employment brand got a boost. In addition to keeping a good reputation for future hires, your existing staff felt you stood by them in tough times and will reflect that to others.  Regardless, you can still take advantage of the volumes of talent still out there—in all age and experience categories—and snap up some great new hires before year-end.

Customer Brand

If you retained the consistency and value of what you provided throughout the downturn, now is a great time to remind customers and clients of that fact, as well as what makes your organization unique.  Let stakeholders know what steps you took to reign in expenses and overhead so that you could continue to deliver a quality product or service.

Donor Brand

Many nonprofits maintained and even increased donor giving during the downturn because they a) knew their donor base well enough to know who to turn to in a crisis and b) focused on their core values and services. Remind all donors of the value you continued to deliver, and the mission you succeed in every day, even in uncertain times.

Brand Communications

Naturally, some companies had to trim their sails when it came to communications and marketing campaigns during the recession.  Websites are looking a bit tired. Skeleton communications teams are overworked. But wise organizations made ample use of “free” tools like social media. (We all know staff time isn’t free, of course.) Now’s the time to ramp up long-term campaigns, while still leveraging cost-effective measures like user-generated content, print-on-demand, and social networks.

If your brand suffered during the downturn, there’s still time to ramp back up. Look at all the pieces and be sure there are no cracks that could rupture and cause you to miss the next economic boom.