Crisis Management

In the late 1990s and again in 2000 Coca-Cola was faced with two major public
relations crises which...
Inverted Logo

In 2000 Coca-Cola was hit with another crisis, this time involving a computer graphic of an
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Microsoft Word - Crisis Management - Coca-Cola


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Microsoft Word - Crisis Management - Coca-Cola

  1. 1. Crisis Management In the late 1990s and again in 2000 Coca-Cola was faced with two major public relations crises which the Agency crisis team successfully handled. CASE STUDIES: LIFE MAGAZINE AND LOGO CRISES Life Magazine Life Magazine published a photo-caption of a Cameroon Muslim shopkeeper performing his prayers in his shop. An old-fashioned branded Coca-Cola ice chest was set against the wall in the direction of Makkah so the shopkeeper was photographed prostrating before the ice- chest. The caption read: ‘Everybody knows that Muslims around the world seek spiritual refreshment. This Muslim from Cameroon has found the Real Thing.’ While the caption was obviously written without malice aforethought it ignited a firestorm of protest from Muslim organizations in the U.S., which called for Muslims to boycott all Coca-Cola products. News of Coca-Cola’s anti-Islamic ‘advertising’ rapidly filtered into Saudi Arabia, first through a Muslim publication, Al Muslimoon, and then, like wildfire through university campuses. Student organizations began to call for a boycott of Coca-Cola in the Kingdom. The Agency was charged with damage control and jumped into action. We did a rapid situation analysis of the Saudi media and discovered that Okaz, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading high circulation daily newspapers was planning a full-page exposé of Coca-Cola’s anti-Islamic ‘advertising’ based on the Al Muslimoon story. Our crisis team, through Coca-Cola’s public affairs manager in Saudi Arabia, requested that Coca-Cola Atlanta secure a written exoneration and apology from Life magazine clearly stating that Coca-Cola had nothing to do with the photograph. This was to be communicated to the protesting Muslim organizations in the U.S. who would be asked to acknowledge that Coca-Cola was blameless. This was carried out from Coca-Cola corporate headquarters in Atlanta and Coca-Cola offices in New York City with astonishing alacrity - the Agency received copies of the requested documents within two days. These documents were immediately translated into Arabic by the Agency. Simultaneously, the Agency contacted the Okaz journalist who had written the story and asked that it be embargoed until the end of the week until Coca-Cola could make its case. The story was re-scheduled to be published in the Saturday edition of the newspaper. On Thursday evening, the Agency met with the journalist, with all the documentation from Coca- Cola, Life Magazine and the U.S. Muslim Students Assocations. Once the facts were laid out we put it to the journalist that if he published the story he would be publishing an outright lie. He agreed to withhold the story. To quell the fallout from the Saudi rumour-mill, the Agency visited the Muslim World League in the holy city of Makkah and presented the Secretary General with the case in order to secure an official letter clarifying this issue. The letter was distributed to universities and other student organizations. No further negative media coverage in Saudi Arabia appeared relating to the Life Magazine photo-caption and student protests died out within less than one month.
  2. 2. Inverted Logo In 2000 Coca-Cola was hit with another crisis, this time involving a computer graphic of an inverted Coca-Cola logo, which it was claimed spelled out ‘No Makkah, No Mohammed’. While the allegation was clearly absurd, the anti-American mood was at a peak as a result of the renewed Intifada and calls for a boycott of American goods. Coca-Cola was at the top of the boycott lists and the allegation spilled out from Internet chat rooms into the national media. The Agency was charged with containing the issue, countering negative coverage and putting a stop to coverage of the issue. Because of the absurdity of the charge, we went on the offensive, attacking the allegations as without foundation and un-Islamic through a carefully written press release explaining to readers the historical development of the Coca-Cola logo, developed in the 1880s in Atlanta when Coca- Cola was a local drink sold in pharmacies only in Georgia. At the same time, we contacted leading newspaper columnists who wrote on Islamic affairs and communicated the message, encouraging them to call for a stop to baseless allegations. We found most of the columnists we communicated with were outraged at the allegations and several columns in Saudi daily newspapers condemned the allegations. Letters were also sent to the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Information and Ministry of Interior protesting the publication of stories attacking Coca-Cola based on a spurious computer inversion of a logo created in the 19th century. The Agency and Coca-Cola representatives met with government officials in Riyadh on several occasions to reinforce their case. The issue was discussed at length in government circles. After several weeks, the Ministry of Interior officially condemned the allegations and forbade any further media coverage of the issue by the Saudi press. Trans-Arabian Creative Communications Services has implemented numerous crisis communications programs for a wide-range of clients, including Procter & Gamble, Pepsi Cola International, Rhodia, the Savola Group, Misr International Bank, Jordan Commercial Bank, Bank Al Bilad, Bank Al Jazira and Saudi Amiantit Group, among others. Most of the work implemented has been covered by confidentiality agreements and cannot be published. We believe that pre-emptive crisis management is preferable to reactive crisis management. Therefore we focus on creating crisis protocols for our clients, which aim to identify potential crisis situations and prepare for them in advance. We have created crisis handbooks and protocols for Rhodia Egypt, Jordan Commercial Bank, Misr International Bank, the Savola Group, the Saudi Supreme Commission for Tourism and other organizations.