It’s easy to think that your company won’t find itself in a PR nightmare. However, that’s a dangerous assumption, especially in today’s social media-driven world. It’s safe to assume your business – no matter how big or small – will face negative attention that will need to be dealt with in an appropriate manner.
The specifics of your situation will be unique. It might be an out-of-context comment made by leadership, a disgruntled consumer, or just a mistake made by your company that impacts one of its many shareholders. Whatever it is, it will happen and when it does, it’s important to have a plan and remember two important qualities: accountability and humility.
THP got a wake-up call about having a plan, taking responsibility, staying humble and showing concern in 2014 when we were accused of selling a drink with a fly in it. Being accused of selling adulterated products is just about the worst thing a fast-moving consumer-goods company can experience.
In this case, a man in Tien Giang province claimed he had found a fly in a bottle of our Number 1 energy drink. He asked us for VND1 billion ($44,100) to pay for his silence. He subsequently reduced it to VND500 million ($22,050) but threatened to release his complaint to the newspapers and TV if we did not pay up. We set up a meeting with the man and handed over the VND500 million ($22,050). What he did not realize is that the police were already investigating the case and he was arrested in the act of receiving the money. However, we did not win any plaudits for our actions. On the contrary, we soon found ourselves in the eye of a media storm. It whipped up very quickly and it continued for months. The words “THP” and “fly” quickly became the hottest ones across social media. Even though the bottle had been tampered with and it wasn’t our fault, how we responded failed us. The story gained a life of its own. Consumers did not like the fact that we had come down so hard on one man who had accused us of negligence. The public perception was that we did not seem to be playing fair with consumers, even though one of them had not played fair with us. The public perception is not what we considered from the beginning of the situation. In the end, it’s the responsibility of the company to make things right in the eyes of the consumer.
An article published by CNN Money spoke to the importance of having a plan and tapping into genuine concern. “Once a scandal breaks, crisis managers need to figure out a response, quickly…But you need to decide what to do, even if that means monitoring the situation.” Also, referencing Andrew Gilman, CEO and founder of the public relations firm, CommCore Consulting Group, “If you don’t demonstrate care and concern” for the people affected, Gilman said, “It’s like going to church and [not saying the prayers]. You notice it when it’s missing.”
You Can Get it Right No Matter How Grave the Situation
A popular US-based airline, Southwest Airlines, has experienced its share of PR challenges through the years and has always been able to bounce back. It had traditionally been considered one of the safest airlines, that is until it experienced its first in-flight fatality in 2018. Shortly after taking off from LaGuardia airport, Southwest flight 1380 had one of its engines explode which ripped open the plane resulting in a death. Southwest’s response was appropriate to the gravity of the situation. Because they had a plan in place, they were able to respond quickly and thoroughly. In the two days following the fatality Southwest did the following: the CEO made a heartfelt statement to all involved, advertising was pulled from social media, accommodations were covered, counseling was offered, monetary payments were made to each passenger, and its social media team was prompt and transparent about all information.
Their priority has always been the customer, and that’s the lesson to be learned in any difficult PR situation your company finds itself in. Regardless of how the situation occurred, it’s important to remember the end goal: keeping your current and future customers happy.
This example is different from THP’s situation, but the details of a crisis will be as different as night and day from company to company; the result can still be the same regardless. Media outrage and long-term consequences will depend on how you respond.
Since our wake-up call, we have tried to be much more open as a family. We realized that people knew THP well, but they did not know the family behind it. We want to show them that we are essentially no different from anyone else. We have our own strengths and weaknesses. We have also opened the factory to visitors so they can see our production standards first-hand. And then there is social media. We learned a lot about the harm it can bring, but now we are harnessing it to reach out and communicate with our customers directly. We are more transparent than we ever have been and are reaping the benefits of it with a strengthened relationship with our consumers.
PR challenges and negative press will happen; it’s how you respond that will determine your future. The key is to recognize this reality and be prepared to respond with accountability and humility – always. Tough times will pass but the way you demonstrate your leadership will be remembered. Learn more about THP’s journey and our products today.