Here is a very interesting assessment of two recent crises–Taco Bell and the rat problem and JetBlue’s customer service–and how each of these companies is responding on the Internet.
The point that Ed McLaughlin of SVM E-Business Solutions is making is a very important one. Your crisis communication plan had better have a very strong element of digital communication including YouTube, a crisis website, key search terms, etc. (I was especially intrigued in this article how Taco Bell co-opted negative search terms such as “taco bell rats.”)
Taco Bell’s e.coli problems aren’t over yet. The outbreak of last December cost them a lot of business and bad press, and now they are being sued by the farmer who supplied the green onions–thought at one time to be the source of the problem. Turns out it wasn’t. And TacoBell either didn’t stop their communication pointing to the green onions in time or intended not to as a way of reassuring the public that they identified the problem and were dealing with it.
Who knows what the truth is. But it is a reminder, that despite the urgency to get information out fast, it is still critically important to get it right. If this was an example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing (TacoBell folks who knew from the FDA on Dec 11 that it was not the onions, vs. the communication folks who didn’t know this and didn’t cancel the big ad in time) then it is critically important that organizations plan not only on speedy external communication, but a fool proof means of communicating about the incident internally.
A few months ago it was new–now it seems common. Starbucks used YouTube to respond to the accusations of Oxfam, David Neeleman from JetBlue posted an apology video on their website and now President Emil Brolick of Yum (Taco Bell and KFC) has put an apology video on his site relating the rat story that made its rounds on the Internet. (See my PIERblog post).
Note to crisis managers and communicators: your crisis plan had better now include provisions for quickly videotaping an apology from your CEO as well as the knowledge and capability of quickly putting this up on your website and on the proliferating video sites such as YouTube.
In crisis management we look at crisis vulnerabilities. Taco Bell in the New York area just experienced a nightmare that faces almost everyone in the food business: an E. coli outbreak.
The news (here as reported in a Bulldog report) focuses on how quickly Taco Bell was able to re-open all but one of the nine stores they closed after more than 25 confirmed cases of the illness were discovered. This is good news from a crisis management perspective–interesting too because it appears the investigation is still going on.
The question for the millions of food suppliers who could experience an E. coli outbreak, is how prepared are you to communicate. This story got on the front page of the NYT. Potentially thousands of customers, including critical customers in distribution chains could be greatly affected if food you produce, process, distribute or deliver to consumers is suspected (not even proven, but suspected) of being infected. That means that everyone of these people need to be prepared to deal with the instant news world or face the consequences of failure to communicate quickly and accurately.
My brother is the manager of a regional county fair. Everyone of the people in leadership in fairs across the country worry about E. coli, in part because of the high level of potential exposure of children to animal feces. Plus all the food eaten at fairs. But, are regional and local fairs adequately prepared to deal with both the media scrutiny and the flood of fair visitors who will hit their websites and be expecting direct information from them? Their future may very well depend on that preparation.