Don’t horse about in a media crisis

The revelation that a sample of Tesco Everyday Value beef burgers contained 29% horse meat has provided a rich seam of material for the nation’s comedians.

Don’t horse about in a media crisis

Our favourites include:

  • I went to a Tesco café yesterday and ordered a burger. They asked me if I wanted anything on it, and I said: “Yes – a fiver each way”.
  • I think someone may be sending me death threats. I woke up this morning with a Tesco burger in my bed.
  • A woman has been taken to hospital after eating Tesco burgers. Her condition is said to be stable.

Whilst many people have had a laugh at Tesco’s expense, the episode highlights the essential need for food and drink companies to prepare themselves to handle bad PR by creating an effective crisis PR plan.

Mintel figures reveal that between 2001 and 2011 there were 2,500 documented food recalls around the world – that’s over two per month. These recalls can cause media and consumer panic resulting in significant damage to a brand and the bottom line.

So here are some tips from our award-winning crisis PR and food and drink PR experts to help you prepare. After all it’s no use closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Prevention is better than cure. Have a crisis communications plan. Don’t wait for problems to happen, create a plan that covers all the possible scenarios and how likely they are.

Remember, there are two kinds of crisis: uncontrolled crises (food recalls, fire, employee injury, deaths) and controlled (layoffs, closures, major product changes). So plan for both.

Decide who will do what in each scenario and who will talk to the media. So assign authority and responsibility ahead of time. Build the crisis response team, media train the appropriate people, prepare draft statements and tweets for different situations and make sure you have a crisis run through. Don’t forget to review the plan at least every six months, as possible scenarios change all the time.

Act quickly when a media crisis hits.

Employees, the media, customers and the public want to have as much information as possible. Some general external communication guidelines always apply in times of a crisis:

  1. Take the initiative
  2. Be open, be honest and be human
  3. Be careful and consistent with your information
  4. Personalise communication towards all your target groups
  5. Have a clear communications goal in mind
  6. Don’t forget internal communications
  7. Indicate the right frame of reference
  8. Find allies to support you.

In case of a media interview, some golden rules should be followed:

  1. Select your spokesperson carefully (don’t send the general to the battlefield first)
  2. If possible have an arrangement to check press information before it is published
  3. Have a tape running to record media interviews
  4. If possible, choose a place for interviews where you feel comfortable
  5. Have confident body language
  6. Think about an appropriate appearance and dress code
  7. Ensure your spoken word is measured, sincere and practical.
Pelican Communications are specialists in the environmentfood and drinkoutdoor and leisure and packaging sectors and offer a range of services such as media relations, brand management, event management and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.