No two crises are ever the same, and new issues emerge regularly. Whether it’s controversial phrasing in advertising or reputation-damaging news, crises come in all forms, and public relations professionals are often tasked with damage control. Some organizations have successfully handled crises and are applauded for their tactfulness, while others suffer from a major crisis defeat. No brand or organization is immune from a crisis. All can learn from current crises by studying what is done well and what is done poorly, and the lessons can be applied to plans that can be prepared and ready ahead of time for use if disaster strikes.
In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five”– an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary – we look at current crisis events. Diet Coke’s questionable tagline, Under Armour’s Olympic-sized crisis management plan, Walmart’s bad meat situation and the Reddit post targeting major restaurant chains are all covered in this week’s post. We also look at a national fraternity’s “historic decision” that aims to save its reputation.
In a new Diet Coke campaign, Coca-Cola is using the tagline “You’re on Diet Coke,” causing many to question if the brand is making a reference to cocaine. Despite the brand’s denial that the tagline is a reference to the drug, many have taken to social media to post photos of the brand’s advertising –and to point out that the ads appear to read “You’re on Coke.” Coca-Cola issued a statement which denies that the tagline is a drug-related innuendo and explains the brand’s stance on drugs.
The statement explains that “this advertising is one part of the new campaign for Diet Coke, which is called ‘You’re On.’ It celebrates ambitious young achievers from all walks of life and reminds them that Diet Coke is there to support them in the moments when they are at their best… Diet Coke in no way endorses or supports the use of any illegal substance.” For the full statement and to view tweets about the campaign, visit the article.
Under Armour served as the apparel sponsor for the U.S. speedskating team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In collaboration with Lockheed Martin, the brand “create[d] what it trumpeted as the fastest, most aerodynamic speedskating ‘skin’ ever.” However, when the Mach 39 suits were worn by the speedskating team during loses at the Olympics, the skaters and critics laid the blame on UA and the suits. Despite the losses, the brand “unequivocally believed the Mach 39 gave Team USA the best chance to win.”
Because of their belief in their product, UA executives rolled out a crisis communication plan that included TV and print interviews with UA executives about the suits, and gave reporters access to the execs for comments. The brand arranged social media posts from “other UA endorsers” to “defend their sponsors’ technology on social media without directly mentioning the speedskating controversy.” The brand also publically announced the renewal of its sponsorship with the U.S. speedskating team through 2022. Visit the article for UA’s full crisis communication plan.
Walmart recently found itself in hot water when a Florida store sold steaks laced with LSD. The Walmart purchase caused a family of four, which included a pregnant woman, to become ill from eating the steaks. The family suffered hallucinations and shortness of breath, which were severe enough to require emergency assistance and hospitalization. While investigators found that this was an isolated incident, the case is being investigated on federal and state levels to solve how the meat became laced with the drug.
According to the article, “[Walmart] spokeswoman Dianna Gee intimated to Reuters that a supplier must be to blame. Meat sold at Walmart arrives pre-packaged, she said, so it wasn’t clear when the contamination occurred.” Although there are few comments on the store’s Facebook page about the incident, many of the existing posts blame Walmart for the contamination. More about the incident can be read via the article.
A recent Reddit post caused a “crisis communications sensory overload” for many major restaurant chains. In the post, a Reddit user posted the question: “Fast food workers of Reddit, what should we NOT order at your restaurant? Why not?” The post received thousands of responses from current and former employees of popular restaurants sharing details about everything from frozen ingredients, poor employee training and unhygienic practices. The article highlights employee posts about Panera Bread, Subway, McDonalds and other major chains, and many do serious reputation damage.
An example of the over-share posts is an employee account of the food preparation at Panera Bread. According to the post, “Mac & cheese is nasty. Everything else is decent, I’d say you’re being charged too much for the salads for the quality. Soups are premade and frozen. Paninis and sandwiches and bread are good though. Whatever you do, don’t order the steak & blue cheese salad or the lobster sandwich.” Visit the article for examples of the damaging posts or access the Reddit post here.
Deadliest U.S. Fraternity Abolishes Pledging for New Members (Bloomberg News)
Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is performing damage control after reports of hazing took a toll on the group’s reputation and ability to recruit new members nationwide. As a result of the recent hazing allegations, SAE announced that the fraternity will “eliminate pledging, typically a months-long induction period featuring secret rituals.” SAE’s pledging period encompasses the majority of the hazing behaviors, which were reported to be responsible for at least 10 deaths.
The fraternity’s decision to eliminate its pledging period serves to ensure the safety of new and current members. The new approach will teach the values of the organization through a structured education period versus a pledging period. According to the article, “Under the new plan, SAE chapters will still recruit new members and extend them a ‘bid,’ or invitation to join. Students accepting the bid will become full members almost immediately. All SAE members will be required to complete additional training, including alcohol education, during their college years.” For more about SAE’s bad PR and the fraternity’s “historic decision,” visit the article.
Faith Goumas is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.