When negative news, such as a recall or a possible E. coli outbreak, hits the headlines, how should brand communicators handle it? And since most PR News Pro readers are outside the food sector, let’s broaden the discussion: How should communicators react when negative items about their brand make news? We’ll use food as a jumping-off point. The tactics and strategies we’ll cover apply to most sectors.
The root cause of most scandals is institutional belief in infallibility. For the Catholic Church, papal decree established it in 1870, and as the award-winning movie Spotlight so clearly illustrated, it is still a part of the Church’s culture. For politicians, winning elections seems to convince them that they can get away with anything (think John Edwards and Mark “hiking the Appalachian trail” Sanford). In corporations it generally comes from a narcissistic CEO. We’ve noted this corollary in numerous columns: the more ego-driven the leader, the more likely the corporation is to suffer a PR crisis.
Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention on the evening of July 18 included a passage that was clearly plagiarized nearly word for word from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. PR pros, take heed: If you’re working with a high-profile personality who’s going to be giving a speech, you need to vet it for plagiarism.
Did Disney do all it could from a PR perspective following the fatal gator attack on 2-year-old Lane Graves at its Disney World property? How about the Cincinnati Zoo’s handling of the incident where Zoo employees killed Harambe, a rare, 450-pound lowland gorilla, after a 3-year-old child fell into the animal’s moat? And don’t forget the Academy Awards and #OscarsSoWhite.
For a brand that so aligns itself with happiness and childlike wonder, it must be difficult even to address the tragedies that have occurred on and near its property recently. But since addressing them is necessary, brevity has been the name of the game when it comes to official messaging from Disney.
It’s the equivalent of spraining your ankle during warmups for the big game: Lots of people are expecting something great from you, and you fail to deliver. Sunday night’s Game of Thrones episode, “Battle of the Bastards,” was one of the year’s most highly anticipated, but when they went to log on to HBO Go or HBO Now, the GoT network’s streaming services, would-be viewers across the United States were greeted with error messages.
When Volkswagen sputtered in September with dieselgate, we had little trouble finding PR pros to opine about how VW could use the crisis to remake the brand through trust and transparency ( PRN, 9/28/2015). Similarly, trust and transparency were in play during a crisis management competition at PR News’ Digital PR & Marketing Conference on June 8 in Miami Beach. Crisis pros Pia De Lima, VP, corporate communcations, Western Union, and Allison Steinberg, communications strategist, ACLU, formulated a fictitious crisis scenario (below) and judged several teams’ crisis plans. The teams had 30 minutes to concoct their plans in pursuit of a $1,000 prize that PressPage—a sponsor of the conference, along with Business Wire, Cision and LexisNexis—provided.
Sometimes brands respond to an issue with a statement. Other times a good response is to monitor the situation and work behind the scenes. For most brands, it’s barely noticeable when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers decides to eschew milk and cheese to gain strength, reduce inflammation in his joints, lose weight and extend his career. If you’re a Packers fan, who affectionately dons a cheese headpiece on fall Sundays, such intolerance for lactose is a concern. Should you happen to be from top U.S. cheese maker Wisconsin, whose license plates declare it the Dairy State, well, the 32-year-old’s oath could be tantamount to an affront to good manners. After all, for years Sargento, the family-owned, Wisconsin-based cheese maker, has been kicking in $1,500 after every Packers touchdown to charities feeding the needy.
For the Cincinnati Zoo, a horrible accident swiftly escalated into a full-blown crisis as animal rights activists and social media users were quick to criticize the zoo’s decision to take the life of the endangered animal to save a 4-year-old boy who fell into the zoo’s gorilla enclosure.
The media shouldn’t feel too badly medical-testing firm Theranos is ignoring it ( PRN, Dec 21, 2015). Even Walgreens, which has a deal to set up thousands of Theranos blood-testing sites in its drugstores, received a cold shoulder. The pharmacist never even got a proper look at Theranos’ main testing device, Edison, The Wall Street Journal reported May 26 in a page 1 story.