As discussed in our lecture and in class material, public relations is communication aimed at shaping public perception or motivating a defined action. It is nearly as pervasive as advertising. If fact, you are likely to be the recipient of at least one public relations message every day. There is an area of public relations that is undergoing substantial growth. It is called crisis management. You can think of it as damage control followed by image repair.
When celebrities or organizations run afoul of the law or behave irresponsibly, it is almost certain their image will be damaged. A damaged image means unfavorable public response, leading to reduced revenue for the person or organization that behaved badly. Boxer Manny Pacquiao made homophobic remarks, which cost him a Nike endorsement deal. Actor Mel Gibson has yet to recover from racist statements he uttered years ago.
More recently, Chipotle and Volkswagen have had their own damage control challenges.
Smart organizations are quick to respond to such crises.
Blogger Kim Bhasin sums up the task:
Crisis management requires more than an apologetic press release or a CEO’s disingenuous appearance on CNN. News goes viral in a flash. Companies must be ready to respond to disasters swiftly and decisively, using all platforms to communicate with the public. Most importantly, companies that make mistakes must sincerely accept responsibility for their actions — not distance themselves from them.
Your assignment will stem from the following scenario. Specific instructions, including the deadline, have been posted.
You are director of marketing and public relations for Utopian Candies, which manufactures and sells pricey chocolates. The products are made from organic cacao, grown on ecologically friendly farms in Mexico and Central America. Utopian advertising has made much of their products’ purity and the excellent working conditions its workers enjoy.
A number of ecological groups and early childhood education programs in the Bay Area receive Utopian funding.
The candies are produced at factories in San Jose, Costa Rica and near the company’s headquarters in Oakland, California.
Since its founding in 2002, the company has enjoyed phenomenal success, with sales steadily increasing yearly. The candies are sold only in the U.S. and Canada.
A little more than two weeks ago, at least 12 customers reported to retailers that they had found bits of plastic in their chocolate. Ten of the customers were in various American cities, and the rest in Montreal, Canada.
This information was passed along to you and other top executives. It was decided to not disclose the incidents, for fear of panicking consumers. No real thought was given to the potential health hazard posed by the presence of plastic in candies.
An internal investigation, however, was launched. The findings were inconclusive. Top officials decided to offer the 12 customers financial compensation to head off lawsuits.
Four days ago, 16 more cases of plastic bits were reported. This time all of the contaminated chocolate was sold in Los Angeles. Two of the affected customers contacted reporters at The Los Angeles Times. The journalists discovered the earlier incidents, and contacted you yesterday for comment. You promised to have a response as soon as possible.
The reporters said they would publish a story the next day. The story, which did not include comment from Utopian, is quite damning. The company is portrayed as having put consumers’ health at risk and being secretive.
Key executives and the board of directors met today and decided to counter the catastrophic publicity. Since the story’s publication, other news organizations have written similar stories, and social media is ablaze with all manner of negative comments about Utopian.
Sales have already begun to drop sharply.
It is decided that you will prepare a damage control public relations campaign. The first step is preparation of a press release for immediate distribution to media outlets.
Here are the points you will make in the press release:
*Utopian is profoundly sorry for not alerting the public to the contamination.
*The company erred in thinking it could determine and correct the problem without quickly disclosing what it knew about the presence of plastic.
*Starting today, Utopian will not distribute any of its products, and will request that all 1,330 retailers in the United States and Canada cease sales and return supplies to the company’s headquarters.
*Consumers who have any Utopian products are urged to return them to retailers for a full refund.
*Anyone who has purchased contaminated Utopian products is asked to go to the company website: utopian.com. There they will be able to lodge a complaint which will be addressed as quickly as possible.
*Utopian will hire outside investigators to determine the cause of the contamination and make sure there are no further such incidents.
You have this statement from the company’s CEO Matt Andrews:
“I and like-minded friends and associates founded this company with the mission of providing products of the highest quality and purity. In recent weeks we have badly failed to do that. All of us at Utopian are deeply sorry for losing sight of our mission. I realize that we have lost of the trust of many of our valued consumers. That is a very painful loss.
“However, I am going to do everything possible to regain that trust and loyalty. We will have to work with renewed purpose and diligence to achieve that goal.
“Our highest priority is safeguarding the public’s health, and we are taking aggressive steps to do that. An earlier internal investigation of what went wrong was inconclusive, so we will immediately launch an independent inquiry.
“We must and will determine how our products were contaminated, and we will make sure something like this never happens again. Finally, while I respect the media, many of the stories about us been harshly biased in depicting as uncaring and mercenary. Our overall record, not one mistake reflects who we are.”
Write a press release of between 325 and 375 words.
Be particularly mindful of the lead. What is the most important information you should include?
The CEO’s comments should be included, but not in their entirety, obviously. Consider paraphrasing what he said and using part of the quote.
Do not use the “we” or “I” voice. Rather write in news story fashion. This enhances credibility because it makes you appear neutral. Of course, you are an advocate.
It’s important that you be forthcoming and reasonably candid. However, do not be severely critical. Remember, you are trying to repair damage to the company’s image.
Be sure to write using the proper format.
The word count does not include contact info or the headline.