Lessons from P&G

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    P&G PR lead shares learnings from 2010 crisis

    Last year, Proctor & Gamble was plunged into crisis management as a result of negative backlash from the launch of a new diaper that gathered enough attention to spill over from social media to the mainstream. Luckily for us, analyzing the mistakes of others is perhaps one of the finest ways to learn how to better yourself, and it especially helps when those responsible for the mistakes are helpful enough to do that analysis themselves.

    In this quote from a iMediaConnection article by Lori Luecthefeld, Bryan McCleary, director of public relations for Proctor & Gamble baby care, gives his personal insights into mistakes P&G made, and how it could have done better:

    Don’t default to an apology
    After the crisis broke, interactive gurus called on P&G to apologize to consumers, McClearly said. But that’s the one thing the company couldn’t do. It had to maintain that the product was safe.

    That said, there are different ways of communicating safety, McCleary added. And the company’s first tactic — insisting that there were no examples to support allegations — came off as a guilty response. Quickly, the company shifted course. Its representatives communicated with parents on a personal level — as parents themselves. They noted that, as moms and dads, they’d be the first people to pull a product from the shelf if they believed there was any danger to their children.

    Arm your front lines
    Make sure your consumer relations staff has the resources it needs to respond. P&G was slow to do that, McClearly noted. Early responses came off as robotic, which only fueled the fires.

    Try to change the narrative
    The Pampers situation was irresistible to mainstream media: Pampers vs. moms. Thus, the company had to shift the story line by bringing parents and mom bloggers onto its side as well.

    Track, track, track
    Know where you stand, McClearly advised. Track consumer awareness and willingness to purchase throughout the process so you know if — and when — the conversations begin to turn.

    Repeat the Serenity Prayer to yourself regularly
    Know what you can influence. Know what you can’t influence. And have the wisdom to know the difference. For a company like P&G, which prides itself on remaining in control at all times, that posed a challenge, McClearly noted.

    Accentuate the positive
    Don’t exist entirely in a defensive stance, if possible. In the case of Pampers, the brand found it was useful to find something that it could apologize for: its initial corporate response to the allegations. And with that, the brand was able to turn the focus to education.

    Be human
    Consumers expect corporate-speak from a company the size of P&G — so Pampers had to break that perception. Instead, the brand engaged in a two-way dialogue and sought to put a human face on the people behind its product.

    What’s the underlying message behind all of this? Communicate.

    Communicate with the media, communicate with your staff, communicate with supporters, fans, critics and yes, communicate with the opposition. The turning point of this crisis was when P&G reached out to the concerned parties, in this case angry “mommy bloggers,” and involved them in fixing the problem. Not only did this remove the juicy angle the media was attracted to, but also gave P&G a reputation boost, demonstrating the company’s willingness to cooperate and learn from adversity.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]