CrisisCommunication When it’s not business as usual Julie Cormier-Doiron Kevin Dias Kathleen Fraser Stephanie Frisina Meagan Taylor
What Is a Crisis?• A situation that has reached a critical phase• Three types of crises –Immediate crises –Emerging crises –Sustained crises
Why Bother with Crisis Planning?• Management will be prepared in a crisis situation.• Can support vision and mission of organization
Why is PR Important During a Crisis?Enables an organization to.. • Deal with internal and external publics • Uphold and maintain an organization’s reputation by communicating with stakeholders and target publics.
Maple Leaf FoodsFirstReports• Maple Leaf Foods issues news release on August 17, 2008, notifying public that products at their Toronto facility may have been contaminated with Listeriamonocytogenes.• Recall begins immediately after positive confirmation by public health agency.• There are 19 deaths and more than 60 cases of illness.
Information &MediaMLF representatives made available to media:• Linda Smith (Spokesperson)• Michael H. McCain (CEO)• Lynda Kuhn (InvestorInquiries Contact)• Michael Vel (CFO/VP)Seventeen official news releases and 45 storiesin the Toronto Star between August andOctober.
Public ApologyMaple Leaf Foods CEO Michael H. McCain issuespublic apology.
TheApology“When listeria was discovered in the product,we launched immediate recalls to get it off theshelf, then we shut the plant down. Tragically,our products have been linked to illnesses andloss of life. To Canadians who are ill and tofamilies who have lost loved ones, I offer mydeepest sympathies. Words cannot begin toexpress our sadness for your pain…“By this week, our best efforts failed and we aredeeply sorry. This is the toughest situation wehave faced in 100 years as a company. Weknow this has shaken your confidence in us; Icommit to you that our actions are guided by putting your interestsfirst.” —Michael H. McCain, CEO Maple Leaf Foods, August 2008
Public ReactionBy August 26, the Toronto Star reports that Maple Leaf Foodswas “winning applause for its proactive and open publicrelations approach.”“Its a tragedy; people got very sick, people died, and thatsbad news no matter how you look at it. But a company in thatkind of a crisis can gain or lose a lot. They can lose everythingor they can gain some public trust if theyre handling theproblem the best they can...I think Maple Leaf Foods did that.” —interview with J. Fred Kuntz, Toronto Star editor-in-chief atthe time of the crisis, October 2011
CadburyFirstReports• Leak at facility in England, which may have caused salmonella contamination, discovered in January 2006.• Notification made to FSA on June 19, 2006.• Product recall begins on June 23.• There are 45 illnesses believed to be associated with the recall.
Information &Media• Unnamed spokesperson says that Cadbury’s recall is a precautionary measure.• Cadbury sets up a free helpline.
Little Accountability• Accountability is deflected by Cadbury as media stories fail to convey any sense of sincerity.
Public Reaction• British media began to report by July that Cadbury CEO Todd Stitzer and the company were being criticized for the huge embarrassment.
Planning for CrisisBeing prepared is the first step to success.• Mitigate impact with issues management vigilance and open communication.• Organizations better equipped to respond with proactive solutions to reduce risk and policies to react swiftly to crisis situations. ―Given that the potential for damage increases exponentially if it takes time to react effectively, Bernstein argues that it is better to prepare for a crisis than to simply react.‖
Reacting to CrisisTransparency, Reaction Time, Leadership• Building cultures of cooperation and collaboration among key decision-makers is critical to emergency preparedness.
Strategies: Cadbury’s Risky PRApproach That Did Not Pay Off• Cadbury’s crisis communications methods and message deemed unethical by consumers, stakeholders and media.• Decision to remain silent and accept responsibility did not resonate well with concerned consumers.• Lack of information and delays caused speculation and hysteria, as contaminated chocolate unknowingly consumed over Easter holidays.
Strategies: Cadbury’s Short-TermThinking and Lack of TransparencyFrustrated ConsumersLong-term cultures of cooperation and collaborationamong key decision makers builds trust.• Delay in Cadbury’s response time severely limited public relations efforts to mitigate risk.• Cadbury’s PR efforts and good regard for historic company outweighed by public outcry over lack of corporate transparency.
In Court of Public Opinion, Cadbury’sCrisis Communications Deemed a Fail• Cadbury’s decision to remain silent for months a risk that did not play out in their favour.• Duck-and-dodge tactic ultimately severely damaging to reputation and broke trust of consumers. ―If not dealt with, the damage done by crises will not go away; they will become long-term reputation issues.‖ — Marra, Francis J. (1989)
Strategies: Maple Leaf FoodsEffective PR Strategy Well Executed• Immediate, transparent and proactive communications proof that Maple Leaf Foods had an emergency plan in place to deal with the outbreak.• Strategic plan executed across a variety of media outlets, CEO made available to media, and openly apologized for endangering public.
Strategies: Maple Leaf Foods Uses CEO’sPresence to Successfully Add Credibilityto PR• Use of familiar spokespeople and the CEO as key authorities reaffirm public’s perception of organization’s honesty, integrity and accountability.
Strategies: Maple Leaf Foods Long TermCommitment to Consumers• Maple Leaf Foods successfully made strong long-term efforts to repair broken trust by communicating their “Food Safety Pledge” to consumers, investors, shareholders and employees.• By firmly stating organizational priorities, Maple Leaf Foods executed a top-down approach to corporate food-safety values.• By providing more than short-term solutions (press conferences, public apology), and building a long-term strategy, the company is upholding values on an ongoing basis and at all levels of the company.
In CourtofPublicOpinion, MapleLeafFoods Crisis CommunicationsDeemed a PassA crisis well managed, praised by industry analysts,media and consumers alike• Maple Leaf Foods handled their contamination crisis with transparency, swift action and public accountability, which resonated positively with all stakeholders.
Role ofthe PR Practitioner• The career of a PR practitioner can be a multi-faceted journey.• A well-respected public relations professional is a key contributor to the executive management of any organization.• The PR professional must be able to deliver a message that is timely, authentic and empathetic.―There’s two tenets that you seek to reinforce. One is timeliness, and theother one is authenticity of message — and what people need to hearemotionally, for the empathy side of the equation.‖ —interview with Linda Smith, Maple Leaf Foods spokesperson at thetime of the crisis, October 2011
LessonsLearnedA PR practitioner can, with the support of all management, craftand execute a plan that will help an organization weather anystorm.An effective crisis communications plan, well-executed, willensure that the organization and its PR representatives are• Well-informed• Prepared to act• True to the organization’s mission and values• Trusted and valued within the organization• Available to and trusted by the public and the mediaIt is in a crisis that the value of the communications plan andthe character of an organization will be most tested.