Instant Recall

The news today tells us that Procter & Gamble is recalling 120,000 bottles of Vicks Sinex nasal spray after small traces of bacteria were found in the product. This follows soon after the story that Maclaren umbrella strollers were recalled in the US. This story was widely picked up in the UK even though no such product recall was made here. The reason for the coverage here is not only because of the serious nature of the problem (the UK company issued a voluntary recall on one million strollers in the US and offered free repair kits because the product was being blamed for fingertip amputations) but also because, understandably, parents in the UK were probably expecting to get further information, if not a product recall of their strollers. No such recall was made in this country nor anywhere else in the World and as a result the company was inundated with requests for information or with parents asking whether their stroller was also unsafe (many of these requests came via Twitter which is rapidly proving to be a serious platform for making your discontent and or just a mouth piece for the public).

Maclaren seemed to be a little unready for the onslaught from their customers and the wider public, but in their defence Farzad Rastegar, CEO of Maclaren USA, did pledge to supply the necessary repair kits to customers based anywhere across the globe (for more information; an analysis, along with some very well informed blog comments can be found on this site, which also tells us that Maclaren have used YouTube to post safety-style videos – a savvy move: http://tiny.cc/ZgCxb).

In this day and age, with information able to pass around the globe from ‘citizen journalists’ in seconds, companies clearly have to move quickly to protect their brands. There are many examples and case studies (including many used in our own media training and crisis training courses) which illustrate how organisations have handled crises, ranging from oil spills to product recalls, badly. There are also a few examples of how companies have handled these situations well, or at least minimised the potential damage to their brand e.g. Johnson & Johnson’s 1982 recall of Tylenol, which is still held up as a very well handled crisis. So what are the lessons learnt from the case studies? Much of what we learn may seem like commonsense with the benefit of hindsight but it’s surprising how often commonsense does not prevail when companies start seeing sales fall or share-prices tumbling, so here are our top ten tips:

  1. Act fast – this is where crisis planning and preparation helps, don’t delay in moving to solve the crisis.
  2. Gather as much information as you can – you may not have all the facts from the start but make sure you can find them out as soon as possible.
  3. Be honest – tell the truth, if you don’t, people will find it out sooner or later.
  4. Show your regret – this is especially important where health risks (for people or the environment) are involved.
  5. Tell the press – if you ignore the press they will not be very forgiving, if you speak to them early on, you can set your ‘stall’ out and put forward your story first.
  6. Tell your wider stakeholders – the press will do their job, but don’t assume everyone will be able to get the information they need from the media.
  7. Keep the public updated as often as you can – just putting out the initial release is not good enough, people will want you to keep them informed about changes and developments.
  8. Explain what you are doing to resolve the situation – people want to know what ‘real’ action you are taking to fix the issue.
  9. Don’t be miserly – now is not the time to penny-pinch, whether it’s a media campaign or customer compensation, ensure you make an appropriate budget available.
  10. Keep the dialogue going – even once the crisis has been resolved, make sure you continue to communicate with your stakeholders and PLEASE don’t pretend the incident never happened.

You would be forgiven for thinking our top tips seem to focus on the communications element, but there’s a good reason for that – properly carried out this can save your reputation.

Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – November 2009

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