On May 6 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that “metoo” clip-on toddler chairs are hazardous, and claimed in a press release that metoo chair importer phil&teds USA Inc. “has refused to agree to a national recall of their hazardous product that is acceptable to CPSC” and instead has been offering a repair kit consisting of rubber boots to cover the upper clamp grips of the chair. The rubber boots are supposed to reduce the risk of the chair becoming detached from a table and falling with a toddler trapped inside. The CPSC urged all metoo owners to discontinue using the chairs.
Phil&teds then waited until May 10 to respond with a press release expressing surprise at the CPSC’s May 6 statement. “Since before announcing in February a worldwide voluntary upgrade of the metoo—approved by all worldwide product safety authorities except the CPSC—the company has cooperated fully, and worked diligently, with the CPSC to reach agreement on a recall to repair that is acceptable to the CPSC,” said phil&teds in the statement. “It will continue to do so in the best interests of metoo users…Contrary to comments made in the CPSC release, phil&teds has sought CPSC approval of a recall to repair kit where the ‘socks’ were to be included as part of the replacement kit and will continue to work to secure their approval of replacement parts in the U.S.”
Phil&teds also posted a video on the company Web site that shows how to attach the chair to a table correctly. Meanwhile, mommy bloggers are issuing warnings about the clip-on chair and directing traffic to a YouTube video that demonstrates the dangers of the chair.
Whether or not the CPSC blindsided phil&teds with the May 6 announcement, the chair importer would have served its own interests—and certainly the interests of its customers—by responding immediately with an announcement that it was taking seriously CPSC’s concerns and would release more information shortly. By waiting a few days, the company lost control of the story. On top of that, the company released a statement that focused more on its issues with the CPSC than on children’s safety.
Once again, the same cardinal crisis communications rule has been broken: In a crisis, respond immediately, even if you’re still in the fact-finding phase.