Crisis Communication

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After Dominos employees made a video of them tampering with food, it was posted on YouTube. Before the video was removed, it had received almost one million views.

Although the employees claim none of the food they tampered with was served, the video and media coverage caused damage to the company. The president of the company posted a YouTube response:

In the video, he reassures customers and tells people exactly what is being done to make things better. There also is a very active Twitter account, linked to the YouTube page of the video, which was used to respond to customer’s concerns.

Due to social media, corporate responses need to be immediate. According to AdAge, it took the company about 48 hours to be fully responsive. The company’s first strategy seemed to be “wait and see,” with hopes it would blow over.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the president of Levick Strategic Communications, Richard Levick, “gives an F to Domino’s response for the first 24 hours, but an A for everything after.”

In AdAge, Levick suggested companies do several things to prepare for a crisis; (1) Identify who you need during a crisis, from PR to HR, (2) Be prepated for worst-case scenarios, (3) Own SEO keywords you may need in a crisis, (4) Be connected online, (5) Respond as soon as possible.

I’m not sure if it was a strategic move or not, but I’ve realized a lot of the negative coverage has been replaced with news releases and stories about Domino’s new pasta bowls. But, Time suggested they take a “commercial break” to let things cool down.

What I think

The biggest mistake Domino’s made was that they waited to respond. I also wonder if they had a crisis plan in place for a situation such as this. Food tampering is a common enough occurence, but it seems that many companies still have not grasped how much social media can affect a crisis situation.

I think the YouTube video response was a good idea. Many people still searched for the video and this was at the top of the results. Having the president of the company respond and tell exactly what the company was doing also was effective.

I agree with Todd Defren that having a social media presence before the crisis would have bought the company more credibility and time. Domino’s started a Twitter account after the video had been aired. Had a Twitter account already been set up, they probably would have been alerted to the video much more quickly and already had followers to respond to.

Domino’s has probably realized that they need to monitor the Web much more closely. It’s actually very simple. I have a Google Alert for my name that is delivered to my Reader daily.



Looking at the news today, one crisis situation sticks out the most to me: Murder-suicide at college.

My first thought is that all colleges are affected by situations like this one. As a college student, my immediate thought is “this could happen here too.” I can’t imagine how a parent might feel.

A student was shot at Henry Ford Community College last Friday. The shooter then shot himself.

The school quickly used its emergency cell phone and e-mail system to alert students. Classes later in the day were cancelled.

Having worked for a university’s public relations department, I know how important student safety is. Central Michigan University has an emergency alert system that students can sign up for to receive e-mail, text or a phone call in the case of an emergency. At the beginning of the fall semester, we had computers in the university center and encouraged students and their parents to sign up.

The front page of the HFCC Web site. The first two paragraphs conscisely explain what happened. Below it is the “important information” section about classes resuming, grief counseling, the closing of the building that the shooting took place in, and information about contributions to the funeral. This is followed by a two-paragraph message from the president.

At the 2008 PRSSA National Conference, I sat through a session with Jeffrey Douglas, who handled the Virginia Tech shootings and have written a blog post about it.

Although this is a much smaller event, I recall Douglas’ discussion about the school’s Web site. It was one of the most important places to have information available for the students. I think this school has done a great job with it.

I haven’t been able to find much additional information about the crisis yet. It seemed to have been handled efficiently at HFCC. But, I think other schools are going to be doing their own crisis communication to reassure students and parents that their campuses are safe and that there are systems in place in case of emergency.

The chairman and CEO of Mattel, Inc., Robert A. Eckert, speaks at the University of Arizona about his crisis communication with toy recalls in this recorded lecture. I think it gives an interesting view on how companies handle crises.

First of all, skip to 5:12 (unless you want to hear the dean speak and then hear about the speaker’s summer vacation).

Lead paint and powerful magnets are two things that have caused dangerous problems to children in the toy industry.

If you don’t want to watch the entire lecture, below are the subjects and times. If anything, at least watch 29:00 to 33:25 about the lessons Mattel learned about the recall crisis.

  • About the failure of a routine lead paint test and what they did (12:50)
    – Recalled 83 toys
    – Followed by another recall two weeks later
  • Recalled magnet toys that did not meet standards (15:20)
    – Newspaper ads, letter from Eckert to reach publics and video from Eckert
    -The media coverage about the 9 million toy recall (18:40-25:15)
  • Regulators and Legislators (25:16)
    – Public hearing conclusion by Senator Durbin (27:05)
  • Scope of the situation (28:25)
  • Lessons learned (29:00-33:25)
  • Results  (33:26)
  • Q&A (35:10)

Check out this short video, Corporate Advisory Insight: Crisis Communications, by Thomson Reuters for tips and pointers on handling a crisis.

Here are a few points I learned from Arzu Cevik :

  • Be proactive
    Know how things work within your organization and start building relationships with the media before a crisis hits. Also, have a team of people ready to delegate important tasks to.
  • Know what is going on
    What is actually happening? What can we tell people? How does this affect the public and other stakeholders?
  • Be consistent
    Convey one simple, consistent message and be prepared to answer the tough questions.

WebMD article

LA Times Blog

Genentech could have a possible crisis on its hands due to the recent public health advisory for its drug Raptiva, which treats psoriasis. The company appears to be handling it well.

WebMD says, “According to the FDA, there have been three confirmed and one possible case of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in people taking Raptiva; three of those people died.”

The FDA issued a warning about Raptiva last October.

There is not yet much information about this. In the articles I have come across have responses from spokespeople, who assure readers that Genentech is working with the FDA.

I think this could evolve into a problem if Raptiva is found to be the cause of PML, and if more people die from the drug.

Facebook’s about face

Facebook backs into a “Bill of Rights

Controversy followed the reorganization of Facebook’s terms of service last week.

I recall seeing several posts on Twitter about “Facebook TOS.” There also were many blog posts and coverage in traditional media.

Facebook handled this crisis well. As criticism became apparent, Facebook polled users and then evaluated the options. Further work could be done to clarify the new terms of service, or, Facebook could return to its previous terms of service.

I think returning to its previous terms of service was the best choice. Facebook let its users know that their concerns were heard. Facebook also found ways to take action. It is inviting users to contribute to the next terms of service.

Lastly, the Facebook founder and CEO was visible. He wrote a blog post about the concerns of the users.

Crisis in the News
Facebook status gets public school employee fired

What’s in the news

What you say isn’t as private as it used to be, especially with the use of social media.

In December, Morgan Wyhowski updated her Facebook status to say: “Morgan wants to kill her ninth grade flute player who stole the school’s $900 dollar piccolo, and is denying it.”

Wyhowski, the band director for grades six through 12, resigned from Bangor Public Schools after being placed on administrative leave. Criminal charges are not being pursued.

The police chief said it was not an actual threat.

See the entire story here: Bangor band director resigns after posting message on Facebook page she wanted to ‘kill’ student

Crisis communication perspective

Wyhowski, who is 23 according to Wood TV 8, resigned from Bangor Public Schools. This was probably best route for both her and the schools because:

  • It stopped the situation from becoming a crisis
  • It avoided them having to terminate a teacher
  • She will likely be able to find another job
  • The crisis will likely evaporate because parents won’t be arguing that the teacher should leave

Millenials, like Wyhowski, use social media to communicate with friends. I’m sure Wyhowski did not expect that anyone, other than friends, would see her post. For this generation, posting a Facebook status in an everyday activity.

Unfortunately, school employees getting fired due to their Facebook postings isn’t unusual. One teacher faced termination after posting “teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.” The Washington Post reported on several teachers who had derogatory and inappropriate things posted on the MySpace, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

The best route for schools and other employers to go in the future is the provide warnings to all employees about what is and isn’t appropriate. It might also be suggested that employees place all of their social networks to a private setting if they might post something inappropriate.

Perhaps there should be a “social media” section in the employee handbook. Some argue that workplace life and social life are two separate places, but even outside of work an employee is a representative of their employer.