Combatting negative publicity is perhaps the most difficult brand management task of all. There is no stronger test of a brand than a publicity crisis, and it can happen to the best of brands.
Negative publicity can destroy a brand. Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of 24/7 cable news channels, this can happen overnight. Some of the most expensive and disastrous brand problems have occurred because something a company takes for granted suddenly stops working: a quality control process, a safety policy, a communication strategy. Once a crisis happens, there is no time for planning. That is why it is important to have a crisis management plan in place before a crisis occurs.
E. coli and Salmonella have a lot to teach us about brand crisis management. These two malicious bacteria have ravaged major food brands in recent years. Nothing, it seems, is safe from them—beef, pistachio nuts, spinach, strawberries, peanut butter products. Yes, microscopic bacteria has dinged the reputations of such stellar household names as Kellogg, Keebler, Peter Pan and Dole–not to mention the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Remember the infamous 2008 Salmonella contamination case of peanut paste supplier, Peanut Corp. of America? For over a year, this company knowingly continued to ship Salmonella-tainted peanut butter products that. By early 2009, they were fleeing the brandscape through bankruptcy protection and trying to figure out how to escape federal criminal charges.
If a near-invisible microorganism can destroy decades-old brand equity, all brands are at risk. But when crisis strikes, the difference between a sustainable brand and a dead brand is good brand management.
It’s all about how you handle the crisis.