Fighting Rumors–P&G, Starbucks, McDonalds bedeviled

Increasingly there are signs that companies with much brand value at stake are understanding the new rules of public information. The first one being speed in the age of instant news and online attacks.

Here’s the most relevant segment from this story from Brandweek about P&G, Starbucks, McDonalds and others who have been fighting rumors of being associated somehow with the devil:

Despite P&G’s success, some companies hesitate to act out of the fear that the additional attention will spread the rumor even farther. Instead they wait for a story to achieve a certain level of traction before responding. How do they determine what that level is? “We could tell the rumor was having an impact by the number of calls we were receiving about it,” said Loftus. “Today, that’s e-mails.”

But analysts warn the increased speed of communication has changed that. There is no way to tell when a piece of false information will suddenly become the Web’s story du jour. “The rules have changed. Until about 2000, the rule was you wait until it hits critical mass,” said Mike Lawrence, evp at Cone Communications, Boston. “Now you have to respond quickly, before it hits critical mass.” 

As has been discussed here many times, one of the most critical questions for communicators and executives is when to respond. Respond too soon and you risk elevating a story that may die a quick and quiet death. Wait too long and you risk finding yourself in a deep hole that could have been avoided. Getting your listening posts in place and having the wisdom and judgment to know when to pull the trigger is critical. But, has this story shows, increasingly there is little time for deliberation. And the unpredictability of what gets traction on the web increases the thorniness of this problem.

(Greetings from sunny LA–here for a few days for business and to greet my beautiful new granddaughter born early Saturday morning)

2 thoughts on “Fighting Rumors–P&G, Starbucks, McDonalds bedeviled”

  1. Hi,
    Your post got me thinking: response previously depended on a critical mass of inquiries but today with a plethora media options, it is tough to peg that point. It would be interesting to analyse how people have in the past responded to crisis situations. I am thinking of using this germ of an idea for a paper for my P.R. Management class.( I am a grad student at Emerson College). I hope to get your permission to do so.

  2. Hello Rhiddi–certainly have my permission to use the post. I’d love to see your paper. I think more than ever it is becoming a matter of experienced judgment. It may not be the quantity so much as who is doing the complaining or spreading rumors, what venues are they using, what is the likelihood of it getting traction, etc. In this new world, a few wellplaced people with the motive and will can have a tremendous impact.

    Let me know what you come up with.

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