Bush Brothers Show the Way to Handle a Product Harm Recall

Product harm crises common but serious issues for organizations.  Product harm crises can place customers in danger.  Hurting consumers is a serious risk for any organization.  In the food industry, product harm crises are often called food safety crises.  People are most concerned about products they consume or place on their skin making food safety crises potentially a massive problem.  Again, food safety crises are common with hundreds per year in the U.S. alone.  Any firm involved in the food industry should be prepared for a food safety crisis.


The number one priority during a food safety crisis needs to be the consumers.  Harming consumers is a horrible form of negative publicity for a firm.  The crisis communication must feature instructing information—telling consumers how to protect themselves from the danger.  A food safety crisis is one of those crises where people really want or need the crisis messages because they could be at risk of harm.  Not all crises, especially reputational crises, create such stakeholder demands/needs for information.


Oddly, the data finds that food companies are hesitant to use their won social media channels for communicating recalls to consumers.  Around 10% for food companies will place recall information on their Twitter feeds or Facebook pages.  This reality runs counter to industry and governmental recommendations to food companies to use their digital channels during a recall (food safety crises demand a recall).


Recently, Bush Brothers & Company had to recall certain types of their baked beans.  Can seems in certain batches could be defective so the recall was initiated to protect consumers from the potential danger.  The risk was discovered internally and there were no known illnesses at the time of the recall.  Below is the text of the full message.  The Bush Twitter feed and Facebook page announced the recall and provided a link the message below.  People are told the exact product with the problem and to throw the product out (instructing information).  Bush Brothers added an apology for the inconvenience caused by the situation.  Their words match their actions—the firm is showing concern for consumers.


Text of the Recall Message:


A Message For Our Customers July 22, 2017


For more than 100 years, Bush Brothers & Company has been dedicated to producing the highest quality products for our valued consumers, customers and their families.


On July 22, 2017, we announced a voluntary recall of certain 28 ounce cans of BUSH’S® Brown Sugar Hickory Baked Beans, Country Style Baked Beans and Original Baked Beans due to potentially defective side seams on the cans. This recall was initiated after our internal quality assurance checks identified the issue. Subsequent investigations indicated a temporary quality issue from one of our can suppliers. The problem was corrected and no other product is affected.


As a fourth generation family owned business, we are guided by our values of integrity, caring, responsibility, and trust and we apologize for any inconvenience or concern this situation may cause. It’s important to note that, to date, no illnesses or other adverse consequences have been reported in connection with this voluntary recall; however, we urge you to dispose of these affected products immediately even if the beans do not look or smell spoiled. We are working with our retailers to ensure timely removal of affected product from their warehouses and shelves.


To view the affected Lot Numbers and Best By dates, please see below. BUSH’S® Consumer Relations is available to answer any questions you may have by calling 1-800-590-3797 Monday-Friday between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. Information may also be found on our website at http://www.bushbeans.com.


Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through this issue. We appreciate your continued loyalty.


Questions to Consider


  1. Why would food companies choose not to use their social media channels to communicate information about a product recall?


  1. What is the danger of not using social media channels during a food safety recall?


  1. How did the message from Bush Brothers go beyond just instructing information and how might that further help the company during this crisis?

Qatar Fifa 2022:  New Twist to False Information


Organizations have always had to be concerned about false information circulating about them that could damage reputations.   P&G, for instance has battled false claims its founder sold his sole to the devil for decades.  Starbucks and McDonald’s have also had to fight damaging, false information. We might call these situations rumors or even fake news.  The key defining characteristics is the information is false and threats to damage an organization’s reputation.  Fake news is an ambiguous term but I am using it here to denote false information presented to appear as real news. 


Qatar has many problems with the current sanctions by neighboring countries.  There has been a number of controversies surrounding their hosting of Fifa’s 2022 World Cup.  A few days ago a story appeared on the web site of what seemed to be the Swiss news publication The Local.  The story claimed six Arab nations would boycott the 2022 World Cup.  There was even a quotation from Fifa president Gianni Infantino.  The web site was a copycat of The Local.  Management of The Local claimed the news publication never ran such a story and Infantino denied the words were his.  However, several major news outlets carried the story thereby giving credibility to the false information.


Organizations must now monitor their environments for false information being disseminated as news (fake news).  We can add one more liability created by the Internet and one more appropriate application of denial during a paracrisis or actual reputational crisis.


Questions to Consider


1.  What are some of the problems when trying to use the term fake news?


2.  How does this case illustrate the potential damage fake news can inflict on an organization?


3.  Even with denial, does fake news create a lingering effect for organizations?  Why or why not.

Sharing Economy also a Risk Economy: Airbnb and Racism

We now see a variety of companies the reflect the sharing economy (aka collaborative economy).  The basic premise is that people own less and share more.  You use Uber instead of owning a car (or owning less car) and use Airbnb rather than having a vacation place.  The companies I just mentioned are making it work but also reveal how the sharing economy creates great risk.  (See other posts about Uber).  Airbnb is great example of increasing risk through a sharing economy.  Airbnb relies upon individuals to offer and to rent places through their system.  And this involves a lot of people.  As the company’s slogan says:  “Book unique homes and experience a city like a local.” 


We can debate if legally or technically the people renting the places (hosts) are employees of Airbnb, that is not the point.  The point is the actions of the hosts reflects upon the organization—for those renting a place that person is Airbnb.  So, when the hosts treat the clients badly, it reflects negatively on Airbnb.  The company has had problems with people who rent their properties (hosts) discriminating against those seeking to rent places.  There is data from multiple sources that indicate the system has problems with racial discrimination and renting.  Racial discrimination is a powerful social issue that can taint a company’s reputation and may be either a paracrisis or a reputational crisis.  A recent case brought the discrimination risk to light in the media once again.  Here are the basics of the case:


“An AirBnB host who made a racist comment to an Asian guest has been fined $5,000 – and told she must attend a course on Asian-American studies.

Tami Barker cancelled Dyne Suh’s booking, telling her in a message: ‘One word says it all. Asian.’

The fine was imposed due to a new agreement between AirBnB and California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

It lets the DFEH examine hosts that have had discrimination complaints.”

We see a governmental agency getting involved in the case rising the media attention to the incident.  The DFEH levied a fine and is requiring other remedial action from the host.  The host expressed regret for her actions and hoped there would be a positive resolution to the situation. 

Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky seemed to anticipate the risk issue when he gave the following comment in a BBC interview in 2016:  “We started this company with the belief people are fundamentally good. Mostly everyone is really good, but when you have 100 million people, there are some who don’t believe in what you believe in.”

There is little reason to believe the racism issue is now settled for Airbnb.


Questions to Consider

1.  Would you consider this a paracrisis or a crisis?  Explain your decision.

2.  What seems to be effective and ineffective about the response to this paracrisis/crisis? 

3.  What actions might Aribnb take to reduce the racism problem in the future?

4.  What are the advantages and disadvantages or Airbnb seeming to place the blame on its host when such incident arise?  Is it a sustainable strategy as incidents continue to occur?  Why or why not?


The Renault Spy Scandal: When a Speedy, Decisive Action Hurts

Speed is a double-edged sword in crisis communication.  Organizations are told to respond fast.  The sooner the better it would seem.  But speed can produce errors and be based on incomplete and misleading information.  A quick reaction that is decisive projects the image of managers that are control of the bad situation.  If we go back to the 2011 Renault Spy Scandal we find a case were quick a decisive action hurt the company.


Dominique Gevrey, a security chief at Renault and former intelligence officer, brought forward evidence that three executives had sold secrets about Renault’s electric car strategy to unknow foreign agents.  In a quick and decisive move, Renault fired the three executives immediately though each proclaimed their innocence.  Of course many guilt claim tom be innocent but that was not the case here.  Two months later, Dominique Gevrey was arrested as he tried to board a plane leaving the country for Guinea in west Africa.  Other investigations found there were no secrets sold.  The story was a fabrication.  Gevrey was accused of fraud and was believed to have keep the over $200,000 given to a secret source who provided the information.  Renault apologized to fired employees and offered them their jobs back. Of course the apology was not embraced as the executives were suing over wrongful dismissal.


The scandal had gone from a little bad to very bad with Renault being called paranoid and dysfunctional in the media and calls going out to fire its current leadership that allowed such a situation to unfold. 


Questions to Consider


1.  How can managers balance the need for speed and action against correct decisions when allegations of wrongdoing are launched against other managers?


2.  Why would Renault act so quickly and not just wait for an investigation?  What are the pressures to act?


3.  What unique features of this case limit the conclusions we can draw from it?

Crisis Communication is Rocket Science: A Time Dilation View of Crisis and Reputation

In physics, there is a concept known as time dilation.  It is often used in the plots of science fiction stories but is a real concept derived from the work of Albert Einstein.  The basic principle is that time slows with speed.  The common example is to consider two identical clocks ticking.  One is on a speeding jet for two hours and the other is stationary on the ground.  When the clock in the jet lands, it will have ticked slightly less time.  The speed of the jet causes the one clock to experience a different rate of time flow than the stationary clock.  The example highlights how time is relative because it depends upon a point of reference.  Essentially, as an object moves faster, it experiences a slower time flow.  On a space craft, time flow can be slower near a gravitational mass because the gravitation field will cause the rocket to accelerate.  Science fiction stories like to note how time slows near black holes (a gravitational mass), for instance. 


What we commonly call rocket science is really the application of physics and engineering principles in space.  Physics informs us that a planet’s gravitational mass can be used to either slowdown or to accelerate an object moving through space.  This process is known as a gravitational assist maneuver or a gravitational slingshot.  The principles are used regularly for satellites (space crafts) sent to probe our solar system.  If an object approaches the planet and flies with the movement of planet, it can increase speed (slow the time flow).  If an object flies against the movement of the planet, its speed can decrease (quicken the time flow). 


But you are managing a crisis not writing a science fiction story or deploying a space craft so why talk of time dilation and gravitational slingshots?  I believe we can use the principles of time dilation and gravity assist maneuvers to understand how theory can inform the ways crisis communication affects the time variable in a crisis, what I will call the crisis clock.


Time is an underused variable in crisis communication.  Yes, there has always been the advice to respond fast to a crisis.  And stealing thunder informs us that if the organization is the first to release information about a crisis, the crisis inflicts less damage on an organization.  But these two applications are really timing (controlling when something is done) and so much about time itself.  When a crisis begins so too does a crisis clock.  The crisis clock runs during the lifespan of the crisis and denotes the time in which the crisis affects the organization and its stakeholders, typically in a negative fashion.  The effects of a crisis can linger well past when operations have returned to normal meaning the crisis time can still be running or can end before the return to normal operations.  The crisis clock stops when most stakeholders have forgotten about the crisis and return to normal interactions with the organizations.  Consider how automobile customers eventually forgot/no longer actively thought about the brake crisis allowing Toyota to return to its market position about a year after the crisis began.  As with issues, a crisis has an attention cycle that will run its course.  Solid organizations will survive the crisis and benefit from the passing of time and the end of the crisis attention cycle.  Essentially the crisis clock counts the time it takes for a crisis to move through the crisis attention cycle. 


Imagine an organization is a spacecraft moving through space.  A crisis is a mass in space that emits a gravitational field and radiation that can damage the space craft.  The crisis can vary in mass meaning some crisis exert little force and damage on an organization while others can exert a great deal.   The crisis attention cycle represents the time during which the organization experiences negative effects from the crisis mass—when the crisis clock runs. Ideally, the organization wants to pass through the crisis attention cycle as quickly as possible—time should move as fast as possible.  However, time dilation causes time to slow down when our organization is under the gravitational pull of the crisis mass.  Time passes more slowly as the organization speed up during the encounter with the crisis mass because actions are now time sensitive.


Crisis communication can be used to adjust the trajectory of the organization thereby influencing time dilation for the crisis clock—how long the organization experiences the crisis attention cycle.  We can draw a distinction between aggressive and passive crisis responses.  Aggressive crisis responses tend to be accommodative and quickly seek to address the concerns of the victims.  Passive crisis responses are less accommodative and seek to take as little action as possible.  Apologies and compensation are aggressive while denial, scapegoating, and excuses are passive.


An aggressive crisis response initially moves the organization closer to the crisis because managers are acknowledging the crisis.  Hence, the initial crisis communication can speed up the organization and slow the movement of crisis time while enhancing the negative effects of the crisis on the organization.  This may seem bad but is part of a larger process designed to change the crisis clock in a positive manager for those experiencing the crisis. The initial crisis response begins a gravity assist maneuver.  The question is what differentiates between a gravity assist maneuver that increases or decreases the organization’s speed.  Ineffective crisis communication will increase the speed of the organization from this encounter while effective crisis communication will decrease the speed of the organization.  The goal is to decrease speed because a decrease in speed permits the crisis clock to move faster. 


The critical question is how do we know what is effective and ineffective crisis communication?  Space craft rely on theories of physics to determine increases and decreased in speed from a gravity assist maneuver.  Managers can rely upon crisis communication theory to determine the outcomes from their gravity assist maneuvers.  In physics, speed is reduced by moving against the movement of the gravitational mass.  This is accomplished by moving in front of the gravitational mass.  Passing behind the gravitational mass will, on the other hand, increase speed.  To fly against the crisis mass, an organization must address stakeholder concerns and engage in other positive actions.  The crisis mass is negative, hence the need for positive actions.  Ineffective crisis responses contribute to the negative force (unfavorable reactions by stakeholders) and move with crisis mass.  For instance, denying a crisis when the organization has some responsibility, blaming others to avoid responsibility, or criticizing those trying to help with the crisis are all negative responses that will increase the speed of the organization thereby slowing the crisis clock and the crisis attention cycle thereby increasing the damage a crisis will inflict on an organization.