Crisis Communication 101

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Apr 14, 2009 in Crisis Communication

The chairman and CEO of Mattel, Inc., Robert A. Eckert, speaks at the University of Arizona about his crisis communication with toy recalls in this recorded lecture. I think it gives an interesting view on how companies handle crises.

First of all, skip to 5:12 (unless you want to hear the dean speak and then hear about the speaker’s summer vacation).

Lead paint and powerful magnets are two things that have caused dangerous problems to children in the toy industry.

If you don’t want to watch the entire lecture, below are the subjects and times. If anything, at least watch 29:00 to 33:25 about the lessons Mattel learned about the recall crisis.

  • About the failure of a routine lead paint test and what they did (12:50)
    – Recalled 83 toys
    – Followed by another recall two weeks later
  • Recalled magnet toys that did not meet standards (15:20)
    – Newspaper ads, letter from Eckert to reach publics and video from Eckert
    -The media coverage about the 9 million toy recall (18:40-25:15)
  • Regulators and Legislators (25:16)
    – Public hearing conclusion by Senator Durbin (27:05)
  • Scope of the situation (28:25)
  • Lessons learned (29:00-33:25)
  • Results (33:26)
  • Q&A (35:10)

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Case Study: Tylenol Poisonings

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Apr 12, 2009 in Crisis Communication

Seven people died in 1982 after taking Tylenol capsules, which had been tampered with and contaminated with cyanide. According to Effective Crisis Management, Tylenol’s market share quickly went from 37 percent to only seven percent.

Johnson & Johnson faced a huge challenge. Not only did the company have to manage the crisis communication of just Tylenol, but also of the entire company’s reputation.

J&J recalled approximately 31 million bottles of Tylenol from across the country and stopped all advertising.

On the first day of the crisis, the Tylenol poisonings were the top story for all three broadcast outlets. By the end of the crisis, there had been more than 100,000 news stories run in newspapers.

According to an analysis on the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Communication Web site, a seven-member team was put together by James Burke, J&J’s chairman. His first focus was to protect the people and his second focus was saving the product. The company also used the media to issue alerts and held several press conferences at the corporate headquarters with a live satellite feed. There also was an 800-number available for consumers.

Some say J&J set a standard for crisis communication when they “assumed responsibility by ensuring public safety first and recalled all of their capsules from the market,” despite the fact that the bottles were tampered with after reaching the shelves.

Tylenol was reintroduced into the market with triple-seal tamper-resistant packaging, offered coupons for the products, created a new discounted pricing program, new advertising campaign and gave more than 2,250 presentations to the medical community.

According to Managing Crises Before They Happen (Mitroff, 2001), J&J actually increased their credibility during the crisis because of the candidness of the executives.

Notre Dame expert Professor Patrick Murphy said J&J set a “gold standard” in regards to business ethics as well because J&J was proactive and transparent.

What I think

Although J&J handled this crisis well, I think it would be a totally different situation if it happened today due to social media and the immediacy of communication.

What I believe was most effective how J&J kept the media informed and was transparent. It also was good to have the strategy team set up, although it would have been better if a team was already planned in case of situations like this.


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Three points on using an apology as a crisis communication tool

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Feb 9, 2009 in Crisis Communication, Public Relations

This is a post from my crisis communications blog.

I just came across “Ask the Professor: Sorry! An apology as a strategic PR tool” in Public Relations Tactics (12/2007) by John Guiniven, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA.

Here are three key points I picked up from the article:

  • Relationships are important and sometimes an apology is the best way to get it back on track.
  • The legal department might say no. Sometimes you should listen to them, but make sure they can justify why you shouldn’t apologize.
  • Don’t just say, “We were wrong and we’re sorry.” Someone needs to take responsibility, tell them how the problem will be fixed and why it won’t happen again.

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Crisis Communication

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Sep 2, 2008 in Crisis Communication

Check my blog regularly to read my posts on crisis communication. I am doing an independent study on it this semester. If you only want to read my crisis communication posts, click on the category that says “crisis communication.”

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