Crises and Crossing the Line

Crises are driven by perceptions, especially reputational crises (those crises whose primary effect is to damage a reputation).  Corporations have and still do cross a line (violate expectations for appropriate behavior).  We find this frequently in advertising where corporations pull an advertisement over complaints it is inappropriate, remember Motrin Moms in 2008.  See my earlier post about faux pas for Pepsi and Shea Moisture. 


Some faux pas are accidental while others are intentional and designed to attract attention to a brand or product. Calvin Klein purposefully offended people with ads going back to the 1980s and as recent as 2016.  During that time Calvin Klein has crossed the line and suffered a backlash.  Backlash is a risk and occurs when the negatives from the action outweigh the positives. 


Celebrity PR often claims there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Anything that gets attention is good.  There are limits to this saying because there can be a backlash.  Kathy Griffin is finding backlash from her controversial viral photo holding the severed head of Donald Trump.  If you know Kathy Griffin you know here comedy pushes the boundary.  But even she had to admit she had gone too far this time, along with controversial photographer Tyler Shields.  Kathy Griffin’s apology can be found at this link. 


From the posted reactions you can see her fans are often supportive.  However, there is backlash in the form of sponsors.  Squatty Potty and Unicorn Gold cancelled an advertising campaigns featuring Griffin.  Negative publicity is bad when it starts to erode revenue.  Kathy Griffin is seeing a hit to her revenue for this action. 


Questions to Consider


1.  What are the strong and the weak points of Kathy Griffin’s apology?


2.  How does her background of insulting people hinder the apology effort?


3.  How can Kathy Griffin draw upon fan support to weather the crisis?


4.  What other crisis communication strategies might Kathy Griffin use in this situation?


5.  How do crises differ for celebrities and for corporations?


BA: A Few Bad Days and a Few Million Pounds Later, Questions of Responsibility

BA has now recovered from its IT problem and flights are back to normal.  The IT problem was a stunning crisis for BA.  Flights from Heathrow were cancelled as the IT problem blinded BA and its customers.  Customers could not call up tickets on their devices and could not get on planes.  BA could not use most of its digital communication channels (still had Twitter) and had to hand write boarding passes.  The IT problem affected 75,000 passengers in over 70 countries and 170 airports.  Heathrow Terminal 5, you that is a BA hub if you have used BA there, was hit the hardest.  The one full day of canceled flights will cost BA about 30 million pounds.  The compensation to passengers (covering meals and hotels) is estimated to run in the tens of millions of pounds.  Moreover, BA stock prices did drop.


BA was trying its best to communicate was hindered by the limited access to digital channels.  Initial reports indicate there was no cyberattack but a power failure for its primary system and a failure of the backup system that created the problem.  BA did post information to Twitter (including an apology by CEO Alex Cruz, follow the link to view it), tried to answer questions on Twitter (very heavy volume of angry people), and worked hard to restore the schedule, get people where they needed to go, and provided compensation. There are rules for compensation in such circumstances.  Here is an overview, follow the link for more about compensation:


“Passengers are facing a third day of disruption as the airline deals with the impact of a worldwide IT crash.

There are EU regulations governing compensation for cancelled flights leaving from EU airports.

The amount of money reimbursed depends on the length of delay and whether it is a short, medium or long-haul flight.

A BA spokesman said:’”We have been giving letters to customers telling them how to claim under EU compensation rules and we will fully honour our obligations.’”

BA was trying hard to do the right things in terms of crisis communication.  There were calls for CEO Cruz to resign but those were rebuffed.  This case can be used to illustrate various crisis response strategies and a way to debate the usefulness of the strategies. 

However, it is important to look beyond the crisis response to how the crisis situation impacts BA.  Crisis communication is part of the way stakeholders judge an organization during a crisis but just part of it.  The crisis itself can impact the organization and management must take that into consideration when responding and planning future actions.  After the initial shock of the event, the media (tradition and social) turned to the cause of the crisis, the IT failure.  Questions began to emerge about why this happened and it BA was responsible for its own problem.  BA outsources its IT.  This is not uncommon as airlines are not IT experts but rely heavily on systems.  Hence, it is normal to hire experts to handle such complex matters.  But did BA use outsourcing as a way to cut costs and spend too little?  The idea is that BA was at risk for an IT failure because it hired such a low-cost firm to handle IT.  Follow this link for important questions for BA following the crisis.  A crisis can raise questions about operations and management must be ready to explain its previous decisions and implications of those decisions for the future.  A crisis is not just the response but is about the nature of the crisis and how the organization came to this point.  Responsibility is an important factor that managers choose to ignore at their own peril.  BA is feeling the presence of responsibility as the media narrative about the IT problems has been shifting to whether or not the crisis was avoidable.

Questions to Consider

1.  Why might managers want to avoid discussions of responsibility and just manage the immediate effects of a crisis?

2.  In terms of the crisis response, what did BA do well and not so well?

3.  Do the EU requirements for compensation lessen the potential positive effect of providing compensation in this case?

4.  How can a crisis manager identify a shift in the crisis discussion—the movement from crisis events to causes?


“Hidden” Dangers of Product Harm for Retailers

When we think of product harm crises, we tend to focus on the organization that created the product.  That is the organization is full crisis as they must recall the product and cope with the disruptions and financial burdens of the process.  Obviously, retailers are affected by a recall to some to some degree.  They must remove productions from the shelves, place notifications about recalls for customers (bulletin boards in stores and at web sites are common channels), and see that the product is returned to the manufacturer when need be.  But this is not a serious disruption because there are usually other brands with the same type of product on the shelves and the retailer is not the one liable for injuries and deaths resulting from the product harm.


Actually there are circumstances where a retailer can be responsible can be liable for some of the injuries and deaths from a product they sold but did not make or produce.  The SoyNut Butter Company filed for bankruptcy as a result of their E. coli outbreak linked to its I.M. Healthy brand peanut butter substitute.  The outbreak sickened 32 people and 26 of them are children.  The product was contracted through Dixie Dew Products and that company will soon file for bankruptcy.  The Food Safety News offered this report about the effects of the bankruptcies:


Seventeen of the victims are represented by Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has been practicing in the foodborne illness arena since 1993 when he represented victims in the Jack in the Box hamburger E. coli outbreak.

“The bankruptcy was not unexpected,” Marler said Tuesday. “We expect Dixie Dew to follow suit in the next 30 to 60 days.”

The action in bankruptcy court effectively puts civil cases filed by outbreak victims in state and federal courts on hold, Marler said. Insurance coverage that SoyNut Butter Co. and Dixie Dew Products have, assuming the manufacturer also files for bankruptcy, will total about $12 million and can only be used to compensate outbreak victims, not other creditors, Marler said.

If both SoyNut Butter Co. and manufacturer Dixie Dew Products go bankrupt, retailers who sold the implicated soy nut paste will be liable to outbreak victims, Marler said. Those retailers include Target and Amazon.

“This underscores how important it is that retailers pay attention to where they’re getting their products,” Marler said.

“If a responsible retailer would have looked at Dixie Dew and I.M. Healthy they would have seen what the FDA saw. You can’t just buy stuff and sell it without knowing where it comes from.”

A quick review of other legal sites provided similar information.  Retailers can be liable for recall damages, especially when the supplier or manufacturer is bankrupt.  Here is how one law firm phrases it:

In most cases it is the manufacturer that bears the responsibility and expense of a product recall. However, in cases where the manufacturer is out of business, in bankruptcy or is located in a foreign country (thus beyond CPSC’s jurisdiction), the US- based wholesaler-distributor may become the responsible party. The bottom line consequence to a wholesaler-distributor may be substantial since the net profit realized on a sale is a small fraction of the product’s sale price.

The wholesaler-distributor can minimize this liability exposure by exercising due diligence when selecting a supplier to assure that the company has insured against this risk and is likely to be able to fulfill its recall responsibility if required. It is also prudent for the wholesaler-distributor to consider buying product recall insurance coverage as part of the firm’s general liability policy.

Another law firm notes:

A manufacturer bankruptcy can leave the retailers in a lurch but it does not leave the retailer without recourse in all situations. It is important to note that the bankruptcy only applies to the debtor. If the manufacturer is a subsidiary business the bankruptcy filing should be consulted to see if the manufacturer is included in the bankruptcy process. If it is not, then there may be no bankruptcy issue. It is also important to know that the insurance policies that may apply to the manufacturer and retailer, as an additional insured, are not covered by the bankruptcy and may be available to the retailer for the purpose of providing both indemnity and a defense providing that there is coverage to the retailer and the aggregate has not been reached under the policy limits.


The takeaway is that retailers are at risk from the product they sell.  Retailers must show due diligence about product safety.  Retailers must stay informed about any recalls, review safety records of the companies they buy from, and keep careful records.

Questions to Consider

1. Does it seem fair retailers can be held liable for products produced by others?  Why or why not?

2.  What implications does this have for risk analysis and crisis communication planning?

3.  How and why would you explain this risk to your employees?


How Not to Do a Product Recall

Recently, the South Korea ordered Hyundai and Kia to recall 240,000 vehicles due to concerns over safety defects.  The car manufacturers had recalled over one million cars last year in the U.S. due to problems with the engines stalling. Recalling vehicles happens all the time and all over the world for a variety of safety and quality issues.  An earlier post noted the recalls by GM and VW that were media sensations.  What makes this recall special is that the recall was not voluntary.  Hyundai and Kia had resisted request to recall the vehicle causing the government to force a recall.


Involuntary recalls create a much worse crisis for the organization. Marketing research has shown an involuntary recall does much more damage to reputations and purchase intention than voluntary recalls.  Involuntary recalls create the appearance that the organization about customers because the organization shows no regard for safety or quality of its products. ( I have include some references below for more information on the effects of involuntary recalls).


If the involuntary recall was bad enough, the way the product defect was reported makes it even worse.  A former employee acted as a whistleblower who reported the defects to the government.  The whistleblower had worked at Hyundai for 26 years.  A whistleblower suggests the organization knew about the defects and tried to cover-up the problem.  In fact, the government is investigating whether or not a cover-up had occurred.  Knowing there is a problem and not telling customers about it increases the negativity generated ty the crisis.  Stealing thunder is a much better option when an organization knows it has a problem.  As noted in an earlier post about the stealing thunder research, being the first source to report the problem results in less damage being inflicted on the organization by the crisis. 


Questions to Consider


1. Why might Hyundai have decided against stealing thunder in this case?


2.  Do you think whistleblowing really adds to the damage of the involuntary recall or is simply having an involuntary recall maximized the damage the crisis could inflict on the organization? 


3.  What are the communication options now for the crisis managers in this case?





Siomkos, G. J., & Malliaris, P. G. (2011). Consumer response to company communications during a product harm crisis. Journal of Applied Business Research (JABR), 8(4), 59-65. Siomkos, G., & Shrivastava, P. (1993). Responding to product liability crises. Long Range Planning, 26(5), 72-79.

Vassilikopoulou, A., Siomkos, G., Chatzipanagiotou, K., & Pantouvakis, A. (2009). Product-harm crisis management: Time heals all wounds?. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 16(3), 174-180.


Fear and Energy Drinks: Too Much Caffeine for Children?

February 16, 2011 (original date now updated in 2017)

The recent death (May 2017) of a 16-year-old in South Carolina has returned the energy drink/caffeine issue to public attention.  The case shows the connections between crisis communication, issues managements, and risk communication.  Here are highlights from the news story:

Davis Allen Cripe collapsed at a high school in April after drinking a McDonalds latte, a large Mountain Dew soft drink and an energy drink in just under two hours, Gary Watts said.

The 16-year-old died from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia”.

He had no pre-existing heart condition.

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has warned against children and teenagers consuming energy drinks, saying their ingredients have not been tested on children and “no-one can ensure they are safe”.

It says they have side-effects including irregular heartbeats and blood pressure changes.

Most energy drinks contain a caffeine equivalent of three cups of coffee and as much as 14 teaspoons of sugar, the AAP says.

Davis may have consumed about 470mg of caffeine in just under two hours, based on statistics from the website

It says a McDonald’s latte has 142mg of caffeine, a 570ml (20oz) Mountain Dew has 90mg, and a 450ml (16oz) energy drink can have as much as 240mg.

In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority said drinking more than 400mg could lead to increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, tremors, nervousness, insomnia and panic attacks.


It should be no surprise to anyone that too much energy drink consumption is bad for a person, especially children.  But how much is too much?  And how is bad for a person?  It is not uncommon for young people to drink more than one energy drink to stay up to engage in a variety of activities from gaming to studying.  The issue becomes the risks posed from the energy drinks.  The problem centers on the high amounts of caffeine and other ingredients that provide “energy.”  In reality, those ingredients heart palpitations, seizures, strokes, and even death.  Caffeine is the central ingredient.  Energy drinks typical contains  four to five the amount found in sodas.  Physicians now argue that drinking four or five energy drinks per day can be dangerous for children. 

Here is a summary of a recent medical study

Energy drinks may pose a risk for serious adverse health effects in some children, especially those with diabetes, seizures, cardiac abnormalities or mood and behavior disorders.

A new study, “Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults,” in the March issue of Pediatrics (published online Feb. 14), determined that energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit to children, and both the known and unknown properties of the ingredients, combined with reports of toxicity, may put some children at risk for adverse health events.

Youth account for half of the energy drink market, and according to surveys, 30 percent to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks. Typically, energy drinks contain high levels of stimulants such as caffeine, taurine, and guarana, and safe consumption levels have not been established for most adolescents. Because energy drinks are frequently marketed to athletes and at-risk young adults, it is important for pediatric health care providers to screen for heavy use both alone and with alcohol, and to educate families and children at-risk for energy drink overdose, which can result in seizures, stroke and even sudden death.

Here is the name an link to the full report:  ‘Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults’

This is not an overreaction from a group of concerned parents or scare tactics from a group that does not like energy drinks.  This is a scientifically based study by trained medical professionals trying to understand the potential risk of a product.  Nor is the concern sudden.  In 2010, The American Association of Poison Control Centers began tracking energy drink overdoses and side effects nationwide.  Their findings:  677 cases occurred from October through December of 2010 and 331 have been reported this year (Feb of 2010).  One issue that Poison Control has is the failure of many companies to disclose the amount of caffeine in drinks.  In fact, the Poison Control Centers began issuing warnings about energy drinks three years ago.

If young people are a key target market, we would expect concern from the beverage industry about this new report.  Here is a statement from Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy at the American Beverage Association, an industry group, said the report “does nothing more than perpetuate misinformation” about energy drinks. The Association added: 

“Like all foods, beverages and supplements sold in the US, energy drinks and their ingredients are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration,” the ABA said. “When it comes to caffeine, it’s important to put the facts in perspective. Most mainstream energy drinks actually contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. In fact, young adults getting coffee from popular coffeehouses are getting about twice as much caffeine as they would from a similar size energy drink.”

Here is more from the Association’s news release

“It’s unfortunate that the authors of this article would attempt to lump all energy drinks together in a rhetorical attack when the facts of their review clearly distinguishes the mainstream responsible players from novelty companies seeking attention and increased sales based solely on extreme names and caffeine content.

Their review confirms that the amount of caffeine in mainstream energy drinks is, in fact, moderate. As a comparison, energy drinks typically contain half the caffeine found in regular coffeehouse coffee. Specifically, a 16-ounce regular blend coffee at a popular coffeehouse contains 320 mg of caffeine, while a comparable size mainstream energy drink contains about 160 mg (see graphic here: So those suggesting that energy drinks should require warning labels need to be aware of the slippery slope this would create: to be consistent, products at coffeehouses also would require such unnecessary labeling.

Furthermore, our companies market their energy drink products responsibly. It’s unhelpful to the public that the authors would combine certain extreme products with illicit or suggestive names with other more mainstream energy drinks in an effort to sensationalize and demonize the entire product category and gain exposure for their work.

Questions to Consider

1.  How would you evaluate the credibility of the study?  Why does credibility matter in issues management?

2.  How ethical is the charge of misinformation made by the American Beverage Association?  Explain your evaluation.

3.  Is it fair to say the reaction from the American Beverage Association was predictable?  Why or why not?

4.  Should the energy drink makers be worried about new regulations appearing as a result of this study?  Why or why not?

5.  How would you evaluate the American Beverage Association’s reaction from an issues management perspective?  From a crisis management perspective?

6.  How would you evaluate the risk this report posses to the energy drink makers?  How did you arrive at that evaluation?

7.  Why does the May 2017 death revive the issue?

8.  Would you consider this a paracrisis?  Why or why not?

9.  How does rick communication become relevant here?


Complexity of Cyber Attack Crises

Last week a ransomware attack occurred affecting over 75,000 computers in 99 countries.  The attack affected government agencies, schools, hospitals, and corporations.  The corporations affected included FedEx, Telecoms, and Renault.  Among the countries involved were China, the UK, Sweden, Russia, Indonesia, the U.S., Portugal, and Spain.  Ransomware is a type of malware that demands a ransom be paid or a computer system will be crippled.  This particular attack has been called WannaCry (and a few other names).  It is a worm that infects computers and not the opening of attachments.  WannaCry illustrates the cyber crisis risks faced by organizations.


Cyber attacks are complicated form of crisis for crisis managers.  Even a few years ago, a cyber attack would have been considered a victim crisis—the organization and its stakeholders suffer damage caused by an external agent.  Organizations were seen as having little control over the crisis, hence, attributions of crisis responsibility were low (See Situational Crisis Communication Theory for more information about the relevance of crisis responsibility’s importance).  The Target data breech in 2014 was a significant marker in the shift in stakeholder perceptions of cyber attack crises.  Public opinion data then showed people now blamed the organizations for the cyber attacks.  Stakeholders now felt organizations were not doing enough to protect their data from hackers.  The fairness of this new attitude can be questioned.  Target, for example, actually had exceeded requirements for cyber security.  Hackers simply ae ahead of the software used in cyber security.  New programs are being developed regularly that create new cyber risks for organizations and individuals.  The WannaCry attack was dubbed unprecedented in size by international law enforcement yet the individual organizations are likely to take the blame for any problems that arise from the crisis.  For instance, the Nissan facility in Sunderland in the U.K. was infected but production was not interrupted.  It is possible crisis responsibility will be low for WannaCry because of the scale and the effects being felt primarily by the organization.  Cyber attacks that compromise stakeholder data placing them at risk are want seem to draw attributions of crisis responsibility.  The point is that the communication demands for cyber attacks have changed and become more complicated.  Crisis communication research focusing on cyber attacks is just emerging and needs more attention to help unpack the specific communicative demands from this crisis type.  What we do know suggests that cyber attacks should be treated as preventable and not victim crises even though the true ability to prevent the cyber attacks is questionable.  It is easy to see have managers would be reluctant to treat a cyber attack as a preventable crises but perception and not facts frequently drive crises.


Questions to Consider


1.  How fair is it to organizations to assume cyber attacks are preventable?

2.  How effective might it be to tell stakeholders the level of security measures in place before a cyber attack occurred?  Why might this help or not?

Delta and Customer Service again: Life in the YouTube World

Appearing on YouTube does not make every ugly customer relations encounter a crisis, even if it is on an airplane.  The customer is not always right and often times do escalate conflict with those in customer service.  We should remember that customer service is a difficult job requiring emotional labor and dealing with some unpleasant people.  However, every effort should be made to de-escalate the conflict.  Delta had another example of an escalating conflict on a red eye flight.  A family had an older child take an earlier flight.  The father then argued that he still had the seat and placed his two-year’s car seat in the seat instead of being a lap child.  The man did not own the seat.  The seat he paid for left on an earlier flight.  Delta had every right to then use that seat for a standby passenger.  It should be noted this was not an overbooking situation.  The passenger refused to comply with the Delta person’s request to give up the seat.  Eventually the man did but Delta decided it was too late and he had pushed the situation too far.  That is where a judgment call comes into play and their is room for interpretation and picking sides.  The Delta employee supposedly said the person risked committing a federal crime and losing his children due to that.  The part about the child was over top and kept the conflict escalating.  But it is federal offense to not comply with crew member instructions however legal needs to determine what is covered in this situation.  The point is that the passenger instigated the situation that lead to the family being asked to leave the plane.  Their seats were then taken by standby passengers, not an overbooking situation.  Here is Delta’s statement:

Delta Air Lines issued the following statement today regarding Flight 2222 on April 23:

“We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta, and we’ve reached out to them to refund their travel and provide additional compensation. Delta’s goal is to always work with customers in an attempt to find solutions to their travel issues. That did not happen in this case and we apologize.”

One practitioner site has been highly critical of Delta’s apology saying it shows far too little compassion. And wrongly likened the situation to United and claimed it was another case of overbooking.  Neither point is accurate.  The question is how much compassion should you show for someone who started the problem and actively sought to escalate the situation even though the person’s fundamental point was wrong?  Airline employees have jobs to do that affect the lives of a lot of travelers.  They need to have some power to deal with people who are unruly and uncooperative.  The practitioner site state: “These are crisis lessons airlines needs to learn quickly because it is apparent passengers will be pulling out their mobile phone every time they feel they have been wronged.”  Does that mean any organization engaging in customer service must accepted inappropriate behavior simply because people have phones on their cameras?  I would hope not.  Delta will take some heat because of the lingering outrage over the United crisis (yes that was really a crisis) but it should pass quickly.  The situation has more to do with language choice (threat to lose children) than the actions.  There are times passengers are uncooperative and airlines need to remove them from a flight to do their jobs effectively and to even make a point. Time will tell if this case meets those criteria.  The media and others are quick to talk about a passenger’s bill of rights.  But what about passenger responsibilities?  Passengers in the wrong delay flights and can jeopardize the safety of other passengers.  There are times the airline personnel need to exercise their power, whether or not that are phones around and people think the policy is wrong.  It seems each side went a little too far in this case with their words.  However, passengers should now they can be removed from plane if they are a problem and cell phones will not be a reason to reward such bad behavior and inflated sense of entitlement.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Should you have to change how you perform your job if people decided to record and place your actions online for the comments of others?

Online Resources for Teaching Crisis Communication:  Emphasis on Chemical Accidents and Video



Video cases are an effective way to engage students with the material.  As some research has indicated, seeing the crisis can make it more powerful.  I have listed here a set of three resources.  The first two are about specific crises while the third is more general to chemical accidents.


BP and the Gulf of Mexico

Most people have heard of the BP crisis in the Gulf and the deaths from the Deepwater Horizon. Frontline did an excellent show about the crisis.  What makes it so helpful is the context the show provides.  It talks about how the safety or lack of safety culture at BP contributed to the cause.  The show reinforces the value of risk management for crisis managers.  The show even goes back to the deadly Texas City explosion in 1995.  There is even a PDF of the transcript for the show.  Here is the link:


Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is a very old case but shows how problems in the garment industry are not new. It is easy to link this crisis to more recent crises that have killed workers in other countries such as the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh.  The crisis claimed the lives of 146 workers.  There are number of videos of varying length for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory crisis.  Here are links to three of them:

43 minutes

8 minutes


4 minutes


Cornell University has an archive about the event:


PBS has a number of resources related to the 100th anniversary of the event.


Here are some links for Rana Plaza:


Has background details


Reports on the outcomes for the managers


Short documentary

U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Finally, here are links to the USCSB.  The cite has reports about chemical accidents and a video library.  Many of the videos are technical but have short segments that are helpful in class to show the effects and causes of chemical accidents.


Here is a description of the agency that appears on its web site:

“The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the agency’s board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The CSB conducts root cause investigations of chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities. Root causes are usually deficiencies in safety management systems, but can be any factor that would have prevented the accident if that factor had not occurred. Other accident causes often involve equipment failures, human errors, unforeseen chemical reactions or other hazards. The agency does not issue fines or citations, but does make recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry organizations, and labor groups. Congress designed the CSB to be non-regulatory and independent of other agencies so that its investigations might, where appropriate, review the effectiveness of regulations and regulatory enforcement.

The CSB investigative staff includes chemical and mechanical engineers, industrial safety experts, and other specialists with experience in the private and public sectors. Many investigators have years of chemical industry experience.”





McDonald’s, KFC, P&G and Odwalla: Crisis Resources for Clarifying Misleading Crisis Remembering

The other day Nadine sent me a link with a video about the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit.  It is a five-minute video that explains the real events behind the myth.  Here is the link:  The video clarifies how the lawsuit loss was a result of McDonald’s failure to manage risk.  There had been over 700 complaints of  hot coffee before the lawsuit.  And the victim did suffer serious injuries and did not get over a million dollars for the settlement.  Sometimes crises become urban legends.  For example, there never has been a rat served at a KFC.  The urban myth came back with a picture posted online in 2015 that was lab tested and was chicken.  Here is link for more of the debunking of the urban myth:  Other cases that fit with this theme would be the P&G and the devil with the man in the moon logo ( and the praise for Odwalla for the deadly 1996 recall it could have prevented (I list some references at the end).  These cases a mix of fiction and misremembered/misrepresented information about the crises. 

Here are some links that explain why the Odwalla case was preventable and how the company ignored the risk warning signs.  Their negligence is why the company lost an important legal case long after the media lost interest in the crisis.



Here are some examples of how researchers praised Odwalla without knowing all the facts. The first piece was too soon to know the court case and focused on the early use of the Internet for crisis communication.  The second piece was well after the court case.   

Thomsen, S. R., & Rawson, B. (1998). Purifying a tainted corporate image: Odwalla’s response to an E. coli poisoning. Public Relations Quarterly, 43(3), 35.

Reierson, J. L., Sellnow, T. L., & Ulmer, R. R. (2009). Complexities of crisis renewal over time: Learning from the tainted Odwalla apple juice case. Communication Studies, 60(2), 114-129.

Here are a few links to go with the McDonald’s video:            

Here are some academic pieces for the Kentucky fried rat and P&G and the Devil

Fine, G. A. (1980). The Kentucky fried rat: Legends and modern society. Journal of the Folklore Institute, 17(2/3), 222-243.

Hulnick, A. S. (2001). Dirty Tricks for Profit: Covert Action in Private Industry. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, 14(4), 529-544.

Kimmel, A. J. (2004). Rumors and rumor control: A manager’s guide to understanding and combatting rumors. Routledge.