Crisis situations can be any public relations practitioner’s worst nightmare. In 2011, “public relations officer” was ranked the “second-most stressful profession in America” (Gladstone, 2011, p. 16) coming only behind commercial airline pilot. Crisis situations are not uncommon in the field of public relations, but how they are handled is what can either make or break professionals in the position, and at the same time can build or crumble corporations. It’s up to the work of the PR specialist to decide how to handle the relationship between the public and the organization in crisis situations (or in other words, they can be the lifesaver or they can sink the company). For this purpose, the example of the Odwalla Foods’ recovery of 1996 will be examined.
To sum it up, in 1996, Odwalla Foods’ apple juice was found linked to an E. Coli outbreak in Washington and caused the death of a child and 60+ people to become sick (Bhasin, 2011). The company pulled any products with apple or carrot juice, and the CEO promised to pay for any medical expenses of those affected. The way the media was handled was that “daily press briefings by Odwalla were used to update the public, along with full-page newspaper ads and a website explaining the situation.” Now, even though the company caused the death of a consumer and accepted responsibility, lost a large market chunk, and paid a $1.5 million fine, they stayed in business. “It focused on customer relations in the months following, attempting to rebuild trust. Odwalla fixed the contamination issue and improved its quality control and safety system.”
According to Satterfield and Squire (2012, p.70-71), the public relations specialists handled the crisis situation very well because they focused on four key “M” concepts: message, media, monitoring, and metrics. In the message, The CEO of Odwalla personally accepted responsibility for the incident to the media, and pled guilty to the charges filed by the FDA which resulted in the $1.5 million fine. They made sure to give daily updates to the public, informing them of the status of the situation and progress they were making in the efforts to get everything cleared up, something that a consumer wants to know because otherwise there is still reason for concern with any of the company’s products. The media was handled through those daily press briefings along with the full-page newspaper ads. In addition, the CEO coming out and handling the media himself personally was a strong move as the leader of a large company speaking to his or her consumers. Customer relations were monitored for the next two months, of which was crucial to ensure the market was still interested in buying product after the air had cleared. Metrics play where even though Odwalla lost a third of its market, the company rebuilt and continued its success until it was sold to Coca-Cola in 2001 for $186 million (Bhasin, 2011).
Now, according to the same Gladstone article mentioned previously, PRSA member Joan Gladstone mentions that she also has four key steps, but this time for how to approach and get ready to act on the situation: preparation, teamwork, perspective, and practice. Gladstone says that conducting these on a regular basis can not only reduce the stress of the job, but help keep all practitioners ready at any moment in case a crisis moment strikes. She suggests setting meetings with executives to learn about potential problems, keeping up with team cooperation, sharing thoughts or emotions with fellow PR coworkers to see different views on the subject and ease stress, and practice relaxation so as not to overreact when a crisis hits (Gladstone, 2011, p. 17). Even though it is not defined if the Odwalla PR management team followed these guidelines, they were able to accomplish their goal and acted in a quick, efficient manner.
Personally, I agree fully that the Odwalla management team handled the crisis situation very well. The company remained standing and successful, and faced a minimal penalty for the death of a consumer, in which could have folded the organization instantly. No extreme lawsuits were followed through with (minus the one from the FDA which was more than likely inescapable), and the team kept the media and the public up to date and “well fed” with information, as well as withholding a healthy relationship with its consumers.
Bhasin, K. (2011, May 26). 9 PR Fiascos That Were Handled Brilliantly By Management. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/pr-disasters-crisis-management-2011-5?op=1
Gladstone, J. (2011, October 1). Stress and Crisis in Public Relations Staying Cool on the Go. Public Relations Strategist, 17(3), 16-18. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=3af11d18-d593-416a-977e-5b5c5eedf35e%40sessionmgr4003&vid=1&hid=4101
Satterfield, J., & Squire, J., C.F.E. (2012, November). Coming through a public relations crisis successfully. Franchising World, 44(11), 70-71. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/1220744477?accountid=39473