Category Archives: pet food crisis

Speed, directness and transparency–translated

Today I got a link to a Polish public relations website that published in Polish one of the articles I wrote on this blog some time ago: http://www.proto.pl/artykuly/info?itemId=36292

The article was titled “How to Tell if Your Crisis Manager Gets It.”

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion (interview) with a reporter from a Canadian national business magazine about the pet food crisis. I certainly admitted that I hadn’t been following it particularly closely and couldn’t comment with any substance on how Menu Foods was dealing with their very serious crisis, but I did make the key points that I think are critical in dealing with any crisis situation these days: speed, directness and transparency.

And that’s what the message of your crisis manager getting it is all about. The reporter asked how I thought Menu Foods did. As a casual observer, it seemed they were slow. But I commented it did seem more and more businesses and organizations were understanding the importance of speed these days. The recent post about P&G, Starbucks, etc., is one example.

Regarding directness, or as I have called it “the stakeholder first” strategy, it is hard to tell. Menu Foods’ future depends on its relationship with its customers–including those 95 brands involved in the recall. I hope their communication was better with them than with the public. Because if the message went out for weeks that we really don’t know what went wrong and so little information available about what is being done to solve the mystery, then I think they are in trouble. But such direct communication is not visible to the casual observer. So they may be doing very well. But, they must for those 95 brands to be willing to trust them. Because from their standpoint, the crisis is about them, not menu foods. It is their brand that has lost the confidence of pet owners. To reveal that it all comes from one pet food plant–the same as all the others–is a huge underlying crisis as I pointed out here before.

The real pet food crisis…and it's not about dying pets

First, before I get hate comments on this, I have a dog and I love my dog. And dogs and cats dying from their very well known brand name pet foods is very serious business. But since I write about organizations in crisis, I am suggesting that the problem with the contaminated food will be resolved in due course, but the crisis of revealing that a great many different brands are coming from the same factory will hang around the industry for a long time.

Here’s an article from Ad Age that sheds light on this challenge.

Why is this a problem? Because the mantra of marketing has always been “differentiation, differentiation, differentiation.” It is pretty well known that fuel branded by a variety of different companies comes from the same refinery. After all, they all have to meet the same specs. However, the differentiation question is around the additives they add at the terminal. So the real brand differentiation question between Shell and Chevron for example is over the additives. If it weren’t for that, gasoline would be a true commodity (it is very close to that).

Pet food is a long ways from being considered a commodity. There are vast price differences and people paying much higher prices need to believe they are getting value. All the brands affected by this crisis are premium brands (which in itself a problem: Hey, I pay more, I should at least get a SAFE product!) but more importantly, any claims to differentiation have now been undercut by the realization that all these very different brands come from the same Canadian factory.

Here’s where crisis managers and heads of marketing or communication better get together. The crisis just undermined all kinds of brand strategy and brand building promotion. How will they deal with it? The additives strategy? Tell the world they opened their own factory? Of just quietly go back to business and hope everyone forgets that one big factory provides them and their competitors with the same products?