Food recalls and reputation damage

11 December 2015

Time will tell how damaging the three food recalls in the last two weeks will be to those involved, but it does highlight the need for any company to be ready for bad news.

First it was frozen berries, then smoked ham and now suspected under-cookedsmoked chicken. The responses from the companies at the forefront have been mixed.

Some important lessons can be learnt from these incidents. Firstly, it’s important to be prepared for them. It’s always a possibility, no matter how unlikely. My advice is to always have a message ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The first point in that message should be a statement of empathy. Even if you don’t think you are at fault, you need to empathise with those affected. Simply something like: “Our hearts go out to those who have contracted Hepatitis.” You have to show you care. This doesn’t mean you have to admit guilt.

The second point must be to demonstrate what you are doing to resolve the situation. People want to know you care and what you are doing to resolve the issue. The last thing you want to do is simply deny any wrongdoing. This is the best way to see your reputation plummet.  If asked that question, say that’s something that will come out after the investigation, but your focus is now resolving things.

My next piece of advise is to get on the front foot early. Make sure your message makes it into early media stories and post it on your website and throughout social media. You need people to hear it. By doing this, you can actually grow your reputation, rather than damage it. It shows you are a caring company that looks after your clients or customers.

My last point is the need for media training. While this may seem self promoting, so many leaders avoid the media like the plague because of fear. This causes major damage because it means media stories are all one-sided. If you’re very unlucky, there will be a sentence that says something like: “The company CEO refused to comment.” Then you really do look guilty.

If you complete a media training workshop, your fear factor will be greatly reduced and you’ll know how to get your points across and answer the tough questions.

The key to all this is being prepared. You need to be ready for these eventualities. Call it an insurance policy on your reputation. In the court of Law you’re innocent until proven guilty, but in the court of public opinion, this works in reverse.

For more on my media training or crisis communication planning workshops, contact or 029 200 8555.

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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