Every time a commercial product ends up killing people (with some exceptions), flacks like to refer to the 1982 Tylenol recall as a textbook example of crisis communication. We all like to tell the Tylenol story – heroic flacks convincing upper management to recall the whole stock and rapidly establishing new safety features, thus restoring public confidence in the product and saving the shareholders from financial hardship.
I was thinking about that as Maple Leaf Foods recalled 220 meat products today. They’re obviously following the Tylenol case study: take everything off the shelves, get your CEO in front of the cameras, engage the media in the face of massive coverage, protect the public. They’re even using YouTube. I bet that when they reopen the Toronto plan in six months, it will be the cleanest plant in North America, with bacteriological analysis every step of the way. Eh, the food irradiation debate might even come up again.
So – good, solid PR work. I hope they write a book about it some day, or at least participate to a CPRS panel discussion.
There’s just one thing that bothers me with the Tylenol model. Back in 1982, people died because some murderous rear-end tampered with the product. Nobody could point the finger at the company and say “you killed those people”.
If the investigation shows the meat was contaminated when it left their plant, I don’t see how Maple Leaf Foods can protect itself against that accusation.
AUGUST 26 UPDATE: See also the comments, as well as PR Ninja’s take on Maple Leaf’s PR efforts.
AUGUST 28 UPDATE: Well, I was wrong about one thing and right about another in my second paragraph. Maple Leaf Foods did not wait six months before reopening the plant and make it the safest in North America – they’re just glad to be back to business as usual as fast as possible. And it turns out my hunch about irradiation was right. Make enough predictions and a few will end up being right.