Recently, a popular brand of international repute was under the scanner for containing certain amount of metal beyond permissible levels when tested by the Food Safety and Drug Administration (FSDA) The market value of Rs 1300 crores strong brand went down and eventually was taken off the shelves in many states. But, the FSDA report was not the only factor that contributed to the whole controversy. The bigger blow came from the brand maintaining silence over the matter for a long time and not communicating with the customers that proved a PR failure for the brand.
Instead, it reportedly asked its company officials to engage directly with stakeholders, dealers and tradeholders, but not to talk publicly about developments. A report in a well known business newspaper said, “Any engagement needs to be approved and vetted by the company’s legal team only.” When there was a personal touch required in such a sensitive situation, the company opted to communicate through its website and digital media. They included a new section on its website—for Indian consumers—with a detailed FAQ to deal with the concerns of consumers and other stakeholders.
The company has withdrawn the product from the market maintaining though that it is safe, because of a “state of confusion” they are taking it off the market. Meanwhile, the brand relied on press statements that were presented on social media in PDFs discouraging customers to actually go through them. It was an automated response and hardly had any emotional connect with the audiences. This showed the not so supportive or customer friendly nature of the brand whose PR activities were limited to just advertising the product until a few days back.
This wasn’t the first time that the brand faced such a crisis. Earlier, when a certain group, raised an issue about one of the chocolates produced by the multinational brand, the brand had an arrogant response that time too. But, no lessons seemed to have been learnt from that episode as the Indian arm of the brand chose to remain nonchalant about the product tests failure until some days ago when they held a press conference with CEO addressing the press that many PR experts feel came a tad bit late. They started taking baby steps towards damage control and announced the recall of its existing produce worth billion rupees. They even rolled out an ad out in the paper stating customer’s trust as their utmost priority and called out to millions of its customers who may still have the product at their homes and would wish to give them up.
This is one of the biggest crises that the brand has ever faced and has cost it dearly. Could the brand have avoided this crisis? Instead of taking it in a positive way and letting their PR machinery do the damage control, the brand chose to go defensive which hurt even more. This is quite amateurish coming from a brand that is 110 years old.
So how could the brand have managed this crisis in a better way?
- Quick response: When the FSDA had declared the results of the test, the first communication following that should have come from the brand. Considering that India is an emotional country and the brand engagement with the customers is huge, the brand completely failed in this regard. All the brand had to do is have a press conference and state their side of the story instead of leaving the customer in a state of confusion.
- Appoint a spokesperson: When faced with a crisis, the first thing that a brand needs to do is appoint a spokesperson who will be only point of contact for that crisis. This spokesperson should be a senior staff member or management committee. This will not only provide consistency to the voice of the company but will also be professional and show people that the brand is serious about solving the crisis. This was lacking from the multinational brand.
- Make a statement: As a brand, make a statement that will adhere to the following format: 1. Show sympathy to people adversely affected 2. Explain what you are doing to tackle the situation e.g. cooperate with an enquiry, conducting further tests etc. The brand in question had many chances and yet failed to do so.
- Communicate: What the brand forgot was that one should never leave the audiences in the dark and let them make up their mind based on one side of the spectrum. Communicate with them! It could be in any form – website, email networks, newsletter and face-to-face contact. Reassure your users and stakeholders that you are taking the issue seriously and let them know whether there are any changes to your products or not.
- Investigate: Even if it means that you have to set up your own enquiry or co-operate with an external investigation. Make sure staff and volunteers are supported through this difficult time.
- Give importance to social media: Social media plays an important role in crisis management so give its due and use it diligently. This could be your easiest mode of communication with the customers and stakeholders. When you are sending out a message, ensure that the tone of your response is aligned to the tone of your company. It is important to react on time; even a genuine and credible response will fall flat if it is not delivered at the appropriate time to make sure that you don’t rush to make a statement.