Crisis communications lessons from Kellogg

Brand managers who excel under the pressure of handling a crisis are often looked upon as models in the industry. One PR pro offers crisis takeaways from the beloved cereal brand.

The way an organization reacts in the first hours of a crisis will probably determine whether it succeeds or fails in regaining public trust.

The way brand managers at Kellogg Co. responded to the release of a video depicting a disgruntled employee should serve as a model for handling a PR crisis.

When crisis strikes, here are five best practices to adopt—as exemplified by Kellogg:

1. Respond swiftly.

Kellogg’s crisis managers could not have seen this damaging situation coming. The video—which allegedly shows an assembly line worker urinating on various cereal products—was believed to be more than two years old at the time of its release.

The video apparently was in response to a union dispute between Kellogg and its workers. Given that the issue had been resolved, the video took Kellogg’s executives by surprise. Despite the shock, the crisis team’s response was swift: They were the first to identify the nature of the crisis. Getting out in front is essential when you’re responding to a reputational threat.

2. Align with the values of your customer.

This video is intended to evoke an immediate, strong and emotional reaction. That is why certain videos “go viral”—generating the most interest and potential damage in the shortest amount of time.

The language of Kellogg North American President Paul Norman’s response echoed the word choice of the public. He tapped into the brand’s primary audience and spoke to their personal values.

Norman said he as was “outraged” and “shocked and deeply disappointed.” These words helped to restore a public confidence in the brand because they resonated with the Kellogg consumer. The transparent and quick response, along with a steady flow of on-brand messages, helped to protect its wholesome reputation.

In its initial response, brand managers acknowledged the importance of its relationship with consumers and used key words such as “trust.” Although certain words seem obvious to use when you’re issuing an apology, they shouldn’t be considered any less essential.

3. Taking responsibility.

Despite its being out of their control, Kellogg executives took responsibility for the video’s release in several ways:

· Apologizing to valued consumers

· Expressing an intent to fire the worker in question

· Promising swift action from its own internal investigation

· Cooperating with a federal investigation

4. Following up with the consumer.

During a crisis, all eyes are on the organization. With video, a significant amount of online commentary and social media scrutiny usually occur. Brand managers in this case were prepared.

Instead of allowing negative commentary to punish the brand, Kellogg’s crisis team embraced an open dialogue and encouraged consumers to use Facebook and Twitter to look for updates and ask questions. For this to work, Kellogg’s social media managers had to post regular updates and be available to field public inquiries.

When some posts crossed the line or became inflammatory, social media managers responded anyway. They acknowledged all the public’s concerns and distanced the negative remarks from the brand’s wholesome message.

Ragan readers, what brands do you think have shown resilience during a crisis?

Hinda Mitchell is the president of Inspire PR Group. A version of this story first appeared on Inspire PR’s blog .

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