5 crisis lessons from Crock-Pot and ‘This Is Us’

When the popular TV show sent simmering viewers flocking to Twitter to bemoan a fictional appliance malfunction, here’s how the manufacturer responded. Spoilers ahead.

At the end of season two, episode 13, we finally get a glimpse of how Jack dies. The Crock-Pot, or more accurately a slow cooker, catches on fire—and the internet is freaking out.

For the past week, Crock-Pot has been working day and night to reframe the conversation, protect its brand, do some serious damage control and throw in some humor at the same time.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has not recorded any injuries or fatalities due to faulty slow cookers, but that hasn’t stopped the whole world from blaming Crock-Pot for killing their favorite TV dad.

An issue versus a crisis

The difference between an issue and a crisis is the latter affects stock price, revenue or reputation in a way that’s hard to come back from.

What makes something an issue, only:

  • It is not harmful to an organization’s reputation.
  • It does not affect the bottom line.
  • It can almost always be avoided.
  • It can escalate into a crisis, if not handled immediately.
  • It’s a blip in the 24/7 news cycle.

What defines a crisis:

  • It has long-term repercussion on an organization’s reputation.
  • It precipitates a loss of money…usually a big one.
  • It can be managed if there is a swift response and quick action.

As people took to Twitter to knock the brand, its stock plummeted and it begged for “This Is Us” to help properly educate fans.

In a statement they released the very next day, it asked for help in spreading the truth about the product’s safety:

Our hope is that the team at NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ will help us spread factual information regarding our product’s safety. While we know their primary mission is to entertain—something they have continued to excel in—we also feel they have a responsibility to inform. Just like many fans, we will be watching next week’s episode to see how Jack’s story progresses and, regardless of the outcome, we want consumers first and foremost to know they are safe when using their Crock-Pot.

That’s not the only thing it did well.

Here’s a look at what it’s been doing since January 23 to protect its nearly 50-year-old brand and 5 takeaways for communicators of all stripes:

1. A swift response and quick action

Though it’s awfully strange the brand didn’t already have a Twitter account, they quickly created one to respond to the concerns of crazed fans. Using the hashtag #crockpotisinnocent, it was able to respond to people who were throwing out their Crock-Pots—and to those who had real concerns about the product’s safety.

It also posted this message to Facebook, complete with broken heart emojis and a photo of a Pittsburgh Steelers-branded Crock-Pot:

THIS IS US SPOILER ALERT. We’re still trying to mend our heart after watching This Is Us on Tuesday night. America’s favorite dad and husband deserved a better exit and Crock-Pot shares in your devastation. Don’t further add to this tragedy by throwing your Crock-Pot Slow Cooker away. It’s hard to pass something down from generation to generation if you throw it away (grandma won’t be too happy). Spending time with his family while enjoying comfort food from his Crock-Pot was one of his favorite things to do. Let’s all do our part and honor his legacy in the kitchen with Crock-Pot.

2. A key display of empathy

The person in charge of responding to the masses both knows what he or she is doing and watches the show.

It’s what created the empathy used in these responses:

Sympathy is great in a crisis; empathy is better.

In the Crock-Pot crisis, empathy is winning.

3. A follow-up with facts

In the above responses, you can see Crock-Pot empathize and then follow-up with the facts:

Since the ’70s we’ve been providing families with quality & safe products.

We’re committed to safety & you can continue to use our products with confidence.

It also distributed a news release—combining both traditional and digital methods to make sure everyone knows the facts.

For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.

In addition, and most relevant to the concerns consumers are having after watching the recent This Is Us episode, our Crock-Pot slow cookers are low current, low wattage (typically no more than 200 or 300 watts) appliances with self-regulating, heating elements.

4. A plan that preempts your vulnerabilities

Though Crock-Pot did nothing wrong, it’s a great case study on what can happen when you’re caught in the middle of something you didn’t know was coming. The Crock-Pot crisis was no fault of its own—it’s not like its executives were caught with high-school girls or were falsifying accounting reports. A fictional character on one of the best shows on television died, and the company took the brunt of the blame. It just goes to show that you must have a plan.

This might provide you with a great reason to speak with your leadership team or your clients about having a crisis planning meeting.

You must imagine the worst-case scenarios (and now you can add this as one of your examples) and devise a plan for how you’ll respond. Are you already on social media and monitoring the conversations daily, or, like Crock-Pot, will you have to play catch-up when something unexpected happens?

Don’t play catch-up. Have a plan.

5. A perfect time for advocates

During the Crock-Pot crisis, brand managers were not shy in talking with celebrities and asking for help from “This Is Us.” Some of their biggest advocates have been Stephen Colbert, Milo Ventimiglia himself, and Dan Fogleman, the show’s creator. They used Twitter to reach those people very quickly, and the results speak for themselves: mentions on “The Late Show” and a Super Bowl Sunday Crock-Pot promo, free of charge.

It was all PR—and it was priceless.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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