PROJECT: CRISIS MANAGEMENT – KEEPING THE HEAT OUT!
AGENCY: THE MCONIE AGENCY – GREAT BRITAIN
IPRN Project of the Year 2013
The McOnie Agency works with some of the UK’s most recognised names in safety including manufacturers, distributors, industry bodies and professional membership organisations.
These companies’ reputation for providing expert advice and guidance and reliable products is something that their customers have come to rely on. Many are engaged in very high risk operations and wearing the correct protective equipment, that meet the correct Standards is crucial if they are to remain protected and able to work safely.
So the prospect of a very serious breach of quality standards for one of its manufacturing clients was very surprising and completely unexpected.
It was a quiet, warm, spring evening in June and at The McOnie Agency offices we were winding activity down ahead of a long weekend of Royal celebrations. A two-day public holiday had been declared to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the country was looking ahead to the street parties and family gatherings planned over the 4-day long weekend.
At 4:30pm a call came through from a journalist enquiring about a flame retardant jacket that was incorrectly labelled by the manufacturer and, in fact, held no fire retardant properties at all. This was putting the lives of those wearing the jacket in danger. This had all the potential of becoming a really critical issue for the client.
Crisis management is part of the media relations remit and sometimes keeping a client’s name OUT of the media is just as important as keeping its name in the forefront of the media. The McOnie Agency implemented its crisis management strategy immediately. Time was critical and we needed to respond effectively, professionally and within the journalists deadlines. The Agency’s role was to protect the client’s brand reputation and to prevent the story from developing further. We also had a responsibility to advise our client on how to manage the relationship with its own customer.
The immediate objective was to ascertain the facts, draft and agree a reactive statement from our client, minimise the potential damage to our client’s reputation and prevent any further media enquiries or coverage. We were extremely short of time, not certain of our ability to speak to the company spokespeople nor the availability of key contacts further up the supply chain – the supplier/manufacturer, the quality testing house etc.
Long-term, we also needed to establish how this situation occurred in order to prevent a loss of trust in our client’s expertise and also help our client to manage the relationship with its own customer.
It was late in the afternoon on the last day of business before a 4-day national holiday weekend, so contacts were in short supply. The first objective was to speak to our client’s director responsible for product procurement and sourcing.
Once we contacted him and the company’s marketing manager and had ascertained the basic facts, we quickly drafted a short ‘holding’ statement that was circulated to all those from the senior management team. The company initiated an immediate product recall and made contact with its customer to explain the situation.
The statement was issued to the journalist in a timely fashion, conveying a sense of assurance that the situation was under control. We made telephone contact with him and talked through the company’s key messages and emphasised its commitment to a swift investigation and resolution of the issue. The resulting piece of coverage – the only press coverage published during the episode – positioned our client as ‘in charge’ of the situation and in the process of putting things right.
There was no further media coverage, following the publication of the initial story.
The crisis management plan swung into action and The McOnie Agency was involved in drafting product recall notices, internal notices, reactive media statements, media Q&A documents, briefing documents for key spokespeople and customer letters.
This was an extremely critical situation, the outcome of which had potentially lethal consequences. People’s lives were at risk and it was important to act quickly both in terms of dealing with the media and assisting our client to instigate the product recall swiftly and effectively.
Media relations situations like these need to be dealt with as part of a robust crisis management plan that should be agreed and in place within the agency and the client.
The client is not always willing to engage with the media, would prefer to ‘brush things under the carpet’ so its important to gain their trust in your strategy and to demonstrate how having a plan in place will benefit the company and ultimately protect the brand.
Total number of clippings – 1
Our client continues to supply the customer affected and has developed an even stronger relationship as a result of the way it handled the crisis.
The relationship between The McOnie Agency and its client has strengthened considerably as a result of the way the crises was handled and this has led to being asked to advise on several other potentially difficult situations as well as expanding our media training and internal communication roles.