Tag Archives: blunders

Rinse and Repeat

"...or else the whole thing will come undone."

I’ve diverged from my usual corny metaphors these last few blog posts, but I’d like to return to my literary roots to discuss crisis communications.

WARNING: Extended Metaphor to Follow

So you have this wool sweater, right? And it’s like your favorite article of clothing, but the knit pattern poses a serious concern. At any given moment you could get caught on something and cause a snag. So what do you do? Obviously you aren’t going to put it on and sit in bed all day, surrounded by the safety of your blankets.

That would be a bit extreme, but chances are you are going to avoid mosh pits when wearing it. You plan to wear it on a nice calm day with lots of book reading, until—uh-oh! You’re friend’s zipper gets caught on the threads when you are hugging. Now you have a giant loop hanging from the sleeve.

You must act quickly and tend to the snag, or else the whole thing will unravel, leaving a gaping hole for all to see.

This, my friend, is crisis communication. It’s all about awareness, preparedness, and action. PR professionals, and all members of a company, must be vigilant before, during, and after a crisis to achieve effective communications.

All to often, a company does not have a crisis plan in place. A lack of crisis planning can have disastrous results. Preparation can greatly decrease the magnitude of a crisis and make it easier to handle. It’s not rocket science folks, but people make mistakes in crisis management every day.

I will admit, that not all crises can be avoided or even predicted. Skittles, for example, is in the early stages of a PR crisis of a very unique nature. Both the New York Times and the blog Spin Sucks have provided coverage on the issue. According to the New York Times, “Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was shot and killed by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., last month [was] carrying only a packet of the candy and a bottle of iced tea.”

Since the controversial murder, Skittles’ sales have skyrocketed and the candy has become a symbol for supporters of Trayvon. Some media outlets and consumers are calling Skittles out on the profits made from the tragedy. They feel the candy’s slogan “Taste the Rainbow,” gives the company a perfect opportunity to support racial equality.

Instead. Skittles has only released a broad statement offering their condolences to the Martin family. And in this situation, I think they have done the right thing—for now. If the pressure for a corporate donation continues to build, Skittles’ will be forced to address the public. I am not saying they should donate, but I do think they should at least make a statement.

I don’t think they should concede to the public’s pressure—they did not encourage purchase of their products for the cause—it happened organically. I do, however, think they could highlight other ways people can contribute to the Martin family.

It may not be possible to predict all tragedies, but organizations can still prepare on a broad level. An overall understanding of risk factors can help avoid crises or at the very least make them easier to manage. The lessons are right there in my sweater story:

  • Avoid Mosh Pits = Avoid Risky Situations
  • Plan = Uh…Plan
  • Uh-oh! = Recognize Crisis
  • Tend to Issue or Leave a Gaping Hole = Action
  • Rinse and Repeat = Apply in the Future

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the crisis, or else the whole thing will come undone!

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Soup of the Day: America

So we’ve talked about every public known to man; businesses, consumers, media, communities, and all that jazz. But what about all the little nuances of each of those sub-groups? Take consumers for example, they are so diverse! They can’t just be clumped together in one big ball, you have to treat every one like the shining star they really are.

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"America has been called a melting pot, but I think that is in reference to more of a soup than a fondue."

In Adventures in Public Relations, my dear friends Guth an Marsh discuss cross-cultural communications. The basic jist is that you have to be aware of the differences in cultures–not just internationally, but domestically as well. America has been called a melting pot, but I think that is in reference to more of a soup than a fondue. By that I mean that you can distinguish the different parts of the whole.

Culture can be defined in many different ways, but Guth and Marsh offer an all encompassing definition:

“Culture refers to a group or community with which we share common experiences that shape the way we understand the world.”

Different ethnic groups are the most obvious example of cultural differences that may require special attention. A well-known example in the communications world happened when an America company tried to supply African citizens with their product. They offered the African people jars of baby food with a picture of a baby on the label. The people were horrified because they thought they were being served ground up babies. If the supplier had done its research, it would have known that, in Africa, the picture on the label of food is an indication of its ingredients. Yikes!

There are many case studies in which cultural and language differences between a company and its consumers led to miscommunication. It is important to do your homework before positioning a campaign–especially when targeting an unfamiliar culture. The site Kwintessential.com has a few more real life (real funny) examples.There are some valuable lessons to be learned from these PR slip-ups.

It’s not easy to communicate with a population as diverse as America’s. These things happen everyday! Ben & Jerry’s recently issued an apology after putting fortune cookie pieces in a limited time flavor, “Linsanity.” The flavor was intended to celebrate the Taiwanese born basketball star, Jeremy Lin, but it inadvertently offended some people. Ben & Jerry’s is known for their celebration of diversity and did the right thing by responding to their publics with honesty and sincerity. This just goes to show how difficult it is to predict how people will react!

To wrap this up, I thought I would share a touching and quite strategic move in cross-cultural communication. The South African burger chain, Whimpy, gained over 800,000 media impressions (and counting) when they created a campaign specifically for blind individuals. Yes, disabled individuals are a whole other culture to consider.  Trust me, I studied the American deaf culture and language for four years. It’s fascinating, complicated stuff!

Anyway, the burger chain arranged sesame seeds on burger buns to spell out words and phases in braille, such as “100% beef.” They then surprised fifteen blind individuals by asking them to feel the bun before eating it. You have to watch the video to understand the feel-good nature of the campaign! Their efforts showed that they are both culturally sensitive and creative.Image

Other companies could learn a thing or two from this campaign. Plus, it’s just plain nice. Now go watch the video and smile!

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