‘Cooler heads must prevail’

It is tempting in these situations to go to extremes -- either on the offensive or burying your head in the sand. But, in all crisis situations, cooler heads must prevail.If, as the lawyer indicated, the ballplayer was the peacemaker, the...

It is tempting in these situations to go to extremes — either on the offensive or burying your head in the sand. But, in all crisis situations, cooler heads must prevail.

If, as the lawyer indicated, the ballplayer was the peacemaker, the whole incident will blow over in a few weeks.

In the meantime, the marketing director must maintain the reputation of the firm, himself, and the product sales.

Research

To understand the incident’s real impact, Cohn & Wolfe recommends an immediate consumer and retail trade telephone survey be implemented for review Sunday evening.

Research will provide a benchmark for determining next steps.

We also recommend that it be repeated in the days and weeks ahead, depending on the volume and content of the news coverage.

Media training

To prepare the marketing director and management for media calls, a media training session would occur Sunday night.

Because it is a family-owned firm and the president is well-known, he should be the corporate spokesperson. Key messages about the company’s relationship with the ballplayer, management’s knowledge of the situation and their plans regarding the celebrity endorsement would be developed and rehearsed.

Cohn & Wolfe also recommends that, in conjunction with his lawyer, the ballplayer receive media training and guidance. This will help him deal with the press over the next days/weeks while awaiting his court date.

Media relations

The editorial media cannot be ‘controlled.’ They decide how they cover a story.

However, negative coverage can be minimized by being upfront with journalists. Media would, therefore, be invited to a press briefing at head office so they hear the same message from the same source.

Company spokesperson

To ensure only the president speaks with the media, the company receptionist/switchboard operator would be advised on directing calls from the press.

The president would also issue a memo to employees, informing them of the situation, reassuring them of the on-going success of the candy bar and asking that, should they be approached by the media, they refer the reporter to the president.

Target audiences

In addition to the general public, the company has other key audiences to reach.

The salesforce and the retail trade would also be reassured that the company will continue to support the new candy bar, with or without the ballplayer’s endorsement.

A letter would be sent immediately from the president to key trade customers and the salesforce reaffirming the company’s commitment to the brand and thanking them for their on-going support and help in making it a success.

Special event

The company owes the shopping mall and the children a ‘make good’ on the Saturday event.

Another event would be scheduled for the following Saturday, with some of the ballplayer’s teammates recruited for an appearance.

The ball team will want to co-operate, as the bar room incident has not reflected well on it either. The event offers an opportunity for positive media coverage for the candy company (have the president on hand) and the ball club.

Longer-term plans

New advertising creative development should begin as a contingency in case the ballplayer is dropped.

Cohn & Wolfe also recommends broadening the marketing tactics beyond the current single focus of the celebrity spokesperson in order to further generate awareness and encourage product trial.

The marketing director could explore opportunities to sample the candy bar with the target audience  perhaps at track meets, school dances, and shopping malls.

Cross-promotions with other companies selling to the teen market also reach target markets effectively. How about a free candy bar with each purchase of a cd at hmv?

Management

The marketing director’s Sunday meeting with management is crucial for him.

Cohn & Wolfe would prepare a presentation that demonstrated he has managed the crisis effectively, illustrating that he: 1) initiated research to determine this incident’s impact on consumers’ intent to purchase and on the company and product’s image; 2) hired a public relations firm to manage media relations; 3) established sampling and cross-promotion opportunities; 4) told the ad agency to start developing new creative; and 5) developed short- and long-term action plans for the two scenarios  if the ballplayer is exonerated and if he is not.

His presentation would remind management that using a celebrity endorser for the product has been successful in generating sales to date, and would cite examples of other companies that have used celebrities and successfully weathered similar storms.

Carol J. Panasiuk is general manager of the Toronto office of public relations consultancy Cohn & Wolfe.