Crisis Communications Case Studies

Article excerpt

When a Seattle television station reported in 1993 that a syringe had been found in a can of Diet Pepsi, the company implemented a crisis response plan that had been developed, tested and refined for more than 10 years. The same day the story broke, the Seattle bottler began investigating the incident, granted interviews at the plant, allowed local TV stations to film the high-speed canning line and issued news releases saying the problem would be solved. As unfounded copycat complaints turned the incident into a national crisis, Pepsi responded with interviews, news releases, bottler advisories and employee bulletins to assure consumers that the company was addressing the problem. Video news releases featuring company executives and plant footage were distributed by satellite across the country, and Pepsi CEO Craig Weatherup appeared on every major network news program to declare the company was "99.99 percent certain" the alleged tampering was not happening in Pepsi plants. The company's media relations staff handled more than 2,000 calls from print, radio and television reporters while 64 employees answered tens of thousands of consumer calls. Advisories were faxed twice daily to Pepsi's 400 bottling plants, and six people counseled bottlers on local angles to the national crisis. Overall, the company spent approximately $500,000 on its crisis response.

Within a week after the first report appeared, the syringe scare had died down and Pepsi's response had been praised by the media and consumers. By answering media questions, providing information and videotape and cooperating with local and federal authorities to investigate the problem, Pepsi retained consumer confidence in its products and avoided a costly national recall.

Advance planning also paid off for Florida Power & Light (FPL) when Hurricane Andrew slammed into the utility's 3. …