As we already know, crises can be very unpredictable so it’s important that organisations have a crisis communications plan to help deal with issues in the best way possible. We’ve analysed some examples – both good and bad – of how other companies have dealt with a crisis and what you can learn from each.
Back in 2009, Domino’s Pizza came face to face with a crisis that was created by their own employees. A series of videos were posted on YouTube showing two employees clowning around in the kitchen of one of their branches. One employee films as her colleague performs a number of unsanitary stunts, such as putting a piece of grated cheese up his nostril before placing it back into someone’s food order and sneezing on another food order. The food was then sent out to be delivered and the video was posted online.
Due to the power of the internet and social media, this video went viral and Domino’s corporate office were alerted. Their Vice President dealt with the issue and responded with an apology, as well as taking the time to thank the public for helping to bring the incident to light.
“Thank you for bringing these to our attention. I don’t have the words to say how repulsed I am by this, other than to say that these two individuals do not represent the 125,000 people in 60 countries who work hard every day to make good food and provide great customer service.”
Tim has apologised and reassured Dominos’ customers that those two employees do not represent Domino’s Pizza as a whole – isolating the employees from their brand as a whole. The next step in a situation like this, is to prove to customers that this will never happen again, in order to prevent their reputation from being damaged for good.
Domino’s Pizza US president, Patrick Doyle took to YouTube to post a two-minute video to explain the next steps and to reassure customers that this would not be a recurring matter.
Doyle said the store in Conover, North Carolina, where the videos were made, has been shut down and sanitized. He stated that Domino’s would re-examine their hiring practices to ensure high-quality staffing. The franchise owner of the Domino’s Pizza store at which the videos were made filed a criminal complaint against the two employees, who were also sacked immediately after the videos emerged.
Domino’s Pizza worked hard to regain trust and to protect their brand throughout this crisis and used transparency, consistency, authenticity and visibility to ensure their reputation was not damaged.
Almost 700 KFC’s across the UK had to shut down after issues with a new delivery contract resulted in a chicken shortage leaving branches with no chicken – the irony!
People were quick to take to social media to express their opinions. As you can imagine, the jokes about Kentucky Fried Chicken running out of chicken were plentiful. Although this was a complete disaster and major crisis for KFC, their response was pretty clever.
The brand openly admitted to their mistakes and took full responsibility for their actions and how it affected many customers and staff members. Despite this clever and humorous response, there were still questions that needed answering. To ensure that customers and the public didn’t feel ignored, KFC took to their Twitter account to put some rumours to rest; another example of corporate transparency during a crisis.
There’s gossip in the hen house, here’s the facts… pic.twitter.com/lEuyiOZx2h
— KFC UK & Ireland (@KFC_UKI) February 21, 2018
The importance of being transparent and quick to release the latest information is paramount to navigating a communications crisis, as these will always be the first crucial steps in regaining trust and protecting the organisation’s brand.
In India, October 2003, the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner received unusual complaints about two Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars. The two chocolate bars were infested with worms. Of course, this resulted in a media outrage which dragged Cadbury’s name to the ground very quickly.
They released a statement which explained that the infestation was not possible at the manufacturing stage and attempted to shift the blame onto retailers by claiming the worms had got into the chocolate bars due to their poor storage conditions. Unfortunately for Cadburys, the FDA weren’t buying this and neither were the public. Blame shifting doesn’t make an organisation look good and Cadbury’s sales decreased by 30%, even at a time when sales would usually increase by 15% due to Diwali.
With sales quickly dwindling, Cadbury’s quickly learned their lesson and attempted to rectify their mistakes. In an attempt to regain trust and improve their brand imagine, Cadbury’s invested 1.7 million into new machinery and new packaging which was ‘purity sealed’ to prevent any recurrence of the worm situation.
In 2010, the Gulf Coast was hit by a huge oil rig explosion – so huge that it was, and still is, the biggest oil spill in US history. It lasted for 87 days with an estimated 130 million gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. In a huge crisis such as this, there isn’t much an organisation can do or say to please the public as it is was a catastrophe that not only claimed 11 human lives, but also devastated the ocean and the wildlife living in it.
BP were dishonest with the facts they initially released, stating that the oil rig was leaking up to 1,000 barrels of oil a day. That number was later found to be closer to 5,000. BP also then attempted to subtly shift the blame and diminish their significant role in the crisis via a press release stating that the oil rig belonged to Transocean Ltd. Honesty is always the best policy, even if the admission feels like a PR disaster in itself; lying will only cause further negativity for the brand in the long run.
BP’s CEO Tony Hayward appeared in many interviews over the 87 days and is now renowned for making several comments which demonstrate a badly structured crisis communications strategy – in fact, it is unclear whether they even had one. Tony was the spokesperson in this crisis, however, a series of interviews and press releases highlight how poorly prepared he was when addressing this disaster. Preparation and strong key communications are key factors to consider when tackling a PR crises. Failure to do so can completely damage an organisation’s reputation in one sweep; one inappropriate/misworded sentence can have a significant negative affect on a company’s reputation.
A professional and well-prepared crisis communications team should have briefed Hayward to appear consistent and transparent. Eventually it was Hayward’s resignation that was offered in an attempt to try and salvage the brand.
On 9th April 2017, Dr David Dao was travelling on the United Airlines flight 3411, but was forcibly removed against his will. United Airlines had overbooked the flight with four spaces needed for their own crew. To find space, the airline crew randomly selected four passengers to be removed from the flight, with David Dao being one of them. He refused to leave his seat as he needed to get back to Kentucky to oversee the opening of a clinic he founded for US veterans.
Already a difficult communications task, United Airline’s first response placed the blame on David Dao. In a leaked company email, the CEO, Oscar Munoz, accused the passenger of being “belligerent” and “disruptive”, which received negative feedback on social both to the situation on the plane and the PR crisis that followed.
It is reported that United Airlines lost $1 million in value after this incident, following which their CEO released a public statement:
The tone of this statement is in complete contrast to the previous statement issued. United Airlines even state that they claim FULL responsibility for the incident and list some changes that will be made. In retrospect, this should have been the first statement they released as it would have helped save their brand image and reputation.
Over a 10 year period, there were 12 incident reports of children’s fingertips being cut off in Maclaren’s pushchair hinges. Finally, the brand decided to recall 1 million of these products and issue repair kits to customers who had purchased a faulty pushchair. However, the recall request only occurred in America, with the same pushchairs available for purchase in the UK.
Instead of a formal recall and repair kits being sent out to every Maclaren owner, UK Maclaren ‘warned’ buyers to not let children stick their fingers in the folding mechanism as the pushchair was being opened. This caused a media outrange.
Any serious injury being done to consumers of your product should cause panic, particularly when children are concerned. The discrepancy of one division of a company acting in comparison to another not is poor communications and operations management.
The lesson to learn here is to act quickly. If you receive complaints about your product, investigate it quickly and make changes if necessary. Maclaren waited ten years’ to respond to serious allegations concerning their products. Delay in response to such serious reviews can affect trust in your brand and also affect stakeholder perceptions.
Organisations must always be prepared for a crisis and must act quickly, proving to customers that they want to rectify the wrongdoing and will do all they can to prevent such crises from happening again.
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