Objective perspective helps allay crisis

It is clear the food company and director of marketing have little experience dealing with public relations crises, underscoring the need for an objective perspective and reassurance that strategies can be developed to manage the situation.There is evidence to suggest the...

It is clear the food company and director of marketing have little experience dealing with public relations crises, underscoring the need for an objective perspective and reassurance that strategies can be developed to manage the situation.

There is evidence to suggest the crisis may be a ‘one-day wonder,’ with no lasting negative impact. Specifically, the company is a secondary rather than a primary player.

Other organizations, such as the league and the team, have a more compelling need to directly address the crisis.

The company maintains a strong consumer franchise, while the athlete enjoys an impeccable public image and there is a strong likelihood of innocence.

There is no reason to believe this incident will necessitate the immediate cancellation of the sponsorship contract.

Approach

Communications will seek to pre-empt or mitigate any negative effects on the food company or its customers through research-driven tactics that focus on the impact of the incident on the company’s or athlete’s image.

Tactics

1. Research

Research will provide the basis for making informed decisions.

An overnight national media audit will establish whether this is a local or national news story, whether the client is identified with the incident and gauge any negative impact on the corporate image.

An overnight telephone poll will assess consumer reaction and provide benchmark data for on-going strategic considerations.

2. Third-party relations

We will immediately contact the athlete’s lawyer/agent, the team, league organizers and secondary sponsors to determine their plans, confirm roles and responsibilities and encourage delivery of consistent messages.

A stakeholder analysis will identify special interest groups, for example, race relation groups, assess their perspectives and suggest appropriate action.

3. Communication tools

We will develop internal question-and-answer documents for senior management and the field sales force in the event of inquiries from distributors or merchants.

We will also provide overnight media training to the company spokesperson to enhance message delivery skills.

And we will prepare a standby media statement reinforcing the company’s commitment to the athlete and deferring further comment until after the police investigation.

Media relations

We will establish a media policy to screen and channel all media inquiries to a company-designated contact. And we will continue to monitor media coverage to identify the need for clarification of the company’s position and involvement.

Marketing promotions

Assuming research confirms continued public support for the athlete, we will reschedule the cancelled appearance at the shopping mall and create a media event to demonstrate the relationship between the company, athlete and fans.

We will leverage the marketing potential after the athlete’s exoneration and recognition of his role as peacemaker.

In the unlikely event research reveals an unsympathetic public, we will recommend restricting product marketing activities tied directly to the athlete, while enhancing the company’s relationship with consumers and their preferred sport of baseball.

In the worst-case scenario, the company will be advised to quietly negotiate an amicable termination of the athlete endorsement.

Final perspective

It is essential the public relations firm communicate to the client the food company will be judged not by the situation, but by the way it handles the crisis.

During the management of the crisis, the client should be encouraged to approach the situation from the Chinese perspective that views a ‘crisis’ as a danger and an opportunity.

David Weiner is partner and Edward Gould is managing partner at NATIONAL Public Relations in Toronto.