Recall Preparation

A food or beverage product is recalled every day in some part of the United States and around the world. Sometimes the reason for the product recall is because of salmonella or E. coli, which are very serious, and other times it is for undeclared ingredients or something that is not necessarily life-threatening.

Whatever the reason for it, a recall is serious business for a company and it must be prepared to properly handle the situation. 

Tellem Grody PR Inc., based in Los Angeles, developed the “10 Commandments of Recall Crisis Management” to minimize damage to a brand. Of course, the Food and Drug Administration has its own rules that must be followed by companies as well, but those are to protect the public more than the brand. 

Being Proactive

As soon as a recall happens that impacts your company you should call its lawyer, insurance company and PR/crisis firm. 

The list of 10 commandments below should also be kept handy to ensure the brand is kept intact during the crisis.   

1. Rapid response will help minimize brand damage. The minute you smell a rat, don’t shrug and say, “It’s only a tiny rat.” Be prepared by having ready lists of key people within the company and by mobilizing the staff.

Routinely rehearse the company’s crisis response so everyone knows what they are supposed to do and when.

2. Keep the company’s product recall plan on-hand. It is not good business to “wing it when it happens.” Policies should be reviewed at least once per year – if not more – because communications pipelines are always changing. Social media has turned response time on its head. Policies should cover operational, legal and public relations components internally and externally.

3. Follow the lead of federal authorities. The FDA has specific guidelines for communication that includes which media outlets must be notified and what language must be used.

4. Train, train and train again.  The company should train two teams so that one is focused on corporate managment policies and the other understands manufacturing protocols. The spokesperson should be media-trained and be prepped by holding on-camera rehearsals and reviewing message points.

5. Backup your systems. Assume that the company’s computer systems will not work and your crisis team is not available.

6. Notify stakeholders because the rumor mill can run rampant.Debunk rumors by making updates available to vendors, the media, shareholders, employees, retailers, distributors, sales and consumers. Stakeholders can be notified through the use of a slideshow, email blasts, social media updates, press releases and statements. 

7. Develop special communication for highly disgruntled customers and distributors. In this Internet age and litigious society, a few angry people can make waves completely disproportionate to their numbers or even to the injury suffered (if any). The recall process should include an “escalated cases” team to focus on such complaints when received.

8. Make sincere apologies and be open and transparent. The nature of a recall means that all information will eventually be shared publicly. Don’t say, for example, that you’re committed to safety if you just poisoned 200 people. 

9. Media relations are key. A firm or industry that is not forthcoming with information of who knew what and when will experience loss of trust from its customers and consumers. During a crisis it is necessary for a company to talk about the science, risks, what is known, and what is unknown. The ability to be nimble is essential. Stonewalling and saying “no comment” does not work. Lack of engagement is passivity, which invites media frenzy. 

Satisfy the public’s right-to-know without compromising case or victims’ rights. Alleviate media overload with printed statements as handouts and don’t be anti-social in a crisis. Social media involvement is key because it offers an affordable method for connecting people during a crisis. 

The company should: 

> Listen to what the audience is saying about the brand;

> Keep a close watch on those who complain; 

> Provide a fast way to dispel misinformation regarding the details of the recall;

> Develop the company’s voice and distribute it through a variety of channels, including a blog, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube;

> Update social media regularly;

> Use video to portray the human element;

> Maintain control of the company’s message; and

> Promote the use of a recall apps for further information.

10.The company should also start a recovery phase as soon as the problem emerges. Establishing dialogue with stakeholders to demonstrate its openness and commitment to public safety and health can be a great start.

Moving past a recall crisis, the company should plan internally for reentry into the market by preparing its logistics and determining how its new risk management strategies will influence other business activities. Also, if there was media attention around the crisis event, the one-year anniversary will often spur further coverage – be ready. 

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