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5 Crisis Communications Lessons from Kellogg’s

By Hinda Mitchell

It’s been said that a company’s behavior in the first hours of a crisis will shape the success or failure of the overall crisis response. The response by food giant and beloved consumer brand Kellogg’s to a recent undercover video release provides a strong model for other companies to emulate when faced with a crisis. While there are many more examples within the case, here are five crisis response practices Kellogg’s implemented that set them apart:
 

  1. Responded swiftly – even to an issue they could not have seen coming. The video of a worker on a plant assembly line seen urinating on various cereal products is believed to be more than two years old. It is hypothesized to be in response to what was, at the time, a union dispute between Kellogg’s and its workers. Because the union issue had long-since passed, there is no doubt the surfacing of this video took Kellogg’s by surprise. That being said, the company’s response was swift, and it was “first to define” the nature of the crisis; an essential element of crisis response.
     
  2. Connected with the emotions and values of the consumer – “outrage”. These types of videos are intended to evoke immediate, strong emotional, values-based reactions by the viewer. That’s why they then are certain to “go viral” and generate the most interest – and potential reputational damage – in a short amount of time. Kellogg’s North America’s President Paul Norman responded using similarly emotional words that communicated both the company’s and his personal values. Norman said he as was “outraged” and “shocked and deeply disappointed.” These words resonate with the emotions of many watching the video, who would most certainly share the same opinion. You can read the full statement here.
     
  3. Recognized the need to restore public confidence. Kellogg’s transparent and quick response, followed by a steady flow of communications and a willingness to speak on a less-than-desirable topic, will do much to protect their brand reputation. Indeed even in its response, Kellogg’s acknowledged the importance of its brand relationship with consumers, saying “we will continue to do everything in our power to maintain your trust." While that may seem like an obvious statement, that doesn’t make it any less essential. The company took responsibility – apologizing to its consumers, indicating its intent to fire the worker in question if he still worked there, and promising swift action, both from its own internal investigation and in cooperating with the FDA investigation.
     
  4. Encouraged engagement with the consumer – and then actually engaged. At a time of crisis, especially one with such significant emotional impact, all eyes are on the company involved. In particular, this type of sensational video generates a significant amount of online commentary and social media escapades. Instead of letting social media be the tool to punish it, Kellogg’s embraced an open strategy, encouraging consumers to go to its Facebook page and Twitter account for updates and to ask questions, where Kellogg’s promised to post regular updates. Most importantly, after telling people to go to those pages, the company engaged and responded, even to some of the more inflammatory posts.
     
  5. Acknowledged the real food safety concerns and worked to distance them. Because the video was two years old, there was little reason to believe the products would still be on consumers’ shelves. Nonetheless, the images themselves were difficult to watch and presented what would be considered by many to be a food safety risk. Norman addressed this concern head-on, saying, “While this behavior was disgusting and criminal, this type of situation is a food quality issue and does not present a food safety risk.” He then backed it up by reminding consumers of the company’s commitment to producing safe, quality foods.
     

The situation has yet to completely unfold, and federal authorities from the FDA now are investigating further how the acts in the video might have occurred. Are there other things you saw in the Kellogg’s response that you would highlight? Please share your ideas!

Category: Crisis Communications, Media Relations