A public relations crisis can affect businesses at one point or another. It doesn’t matter how big or small they may be. During this time, a press release or an executive’s public apology may not be enough to clear the air. When the reputation of a business is at stake, it is critical to prepare a damage control plan that can be implemented immediately and decisively. How you respond to such situations can have a lasting impact on your brand. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing a PR crisis, there are lessons to be learned from the crisis management successes of the past. Here, we recall the most controversial PR crises of all time and how the companies involved saved their names in the direst of situations.
Top 5 PR Crises of All Time and how they were Professionally Managed
1. Johnson & Johnson contaminated Tylenol capsules
What Happened: In 1982, seven people died in Chicago after taking potassium cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.
In response, the company immediately recalled $100 million worth of bottles and stopped producing and advertising the product. It also offered replacements free of charge. After the crisis, J&J reintroduced Tylenol, but this time, in tamper-proof packaging. The move served as a catalyst for the reformation of the over-the-counter drugs packaging in general.
A year later, Tylenol was able to reclaim its largest share in the analgesic market. The lengths J&J went to was widely praised by the public and it is no wonder it is still regarded as one of the most successful PR crisis management cases to date.
2. Hypodermic syringes in Diet Pepsi
What Happened: Washington 1993. A syringe was reportedly found in a can of Diet Pepsi. It raised a nationwide panic as it was followed by a series of reports claiming the discovery of other foreign items in the product.
In spite of being swamped with tampering reports, PepsiCo stood firm saying that it was impossible for these foreign items to make their way into cans during manufacturing. The company even released a series of videos about its comprehensive canning process to prove it. In one of the videos, a surveillance tape was included. It shows a Colorado woman planting a syringe into a Diet Pepsi can.
Although there were no reported deaths or serious injuries, the case still resulted in a 2% drop of Diet Pepsi sales. But this only lasted for a month thanks to the aggressive defense strategy PepsiCo had taken.
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3. Cadbury Worm Infested Chocolate Bars
What Happened: In 2003, Cadbury came under fire when two of its chocolate bars were found infested with worms in India.
Authorities immediately pulled the chocolate bars that were manufactured in one of its plants off the shelves. In response, the chocolate company issued a statement affirming that the infestation was not a manufacturing problem but was a result of the retailers’ unhygienic storage practices. However, the FDA countered the statement by blaming improper packaging for the problem.
Recovering from this event was a challenge. But the company was able to regain consumer confidence by bolstering its advertisements and introducing a better packaging. All these efforts came to fruition with the company now becoming a world leader in chocolate.
4. Under Armour US Speed Skating Suit Design Flaw
What Happened: In 2014, Under Armour exclusively provided the US long-track speed skating team their Olympic suits. However, it came under scrutiny when none of the athletes won a medal.
In stark contrast to what it was trumpeted as – the fastest, most aerodynamic speed skating skin in the world – the suit, called Mach 29, may have actually slowed the long skaters down. It was such a debacle that the skaters abandoned the suits halfway through the competition.
The Baltimore-based company attempted to alter the suit, but even with the modification, the team didn’t do better than placing seventh. In its bid for redemption, Under Armour immediately renewed their sponsorship of the team for the 2022 Olympic Games. Its smart move to address the situation right away saw them pull through.
5. Coca-Cola’s Attempt to Shift Blame for Obesity Away from Soft Drinks
What Happened: In 2015, a New York Times article accused Coca-Cola of financing a study that attempts to deflect the role of soft drinks in the obesity and type 2 diabetes crises.
The beverage company was accused of teaming up with scientists to convince the public that the solution to maintain a healthy weight is to pay more attention to exercise and not on their food consumption. However, various health professionals countered that the message is deceiving, particularly with the greater evidence proving otherwise.
In response, the Coca-Cola CEO published an op-ed in Wall Street Journal, wherein he admitted their wrong course of action. He defended the company by saying it always had good intentions. He vowed to act with more transparency and continue the company’s efforts to provide healthy options for the consumers. The PR community deemed this response as a case of first-class corporate crisis management.
Businesses under fire can look to these successful PR crisis management cases when responding to issues. No matter how big or small your company is, you must be ready to act smartly and have a feasible strategy to bounce back stronger than ever.
Do you find dealing with issues challenging? We have a team of PR professionals who know the best way to manage crisis and take care of your brand! Contact M2Comms today!