by Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...” with due respect to Charles Dickens, the same intro could be applied to both Bueno Foods (Bueno) and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
Both organizations are established New Mexico institutions with a proven track record of success in the respective food packaging and nuclear repository arenas. Both organizations have recently faced situations that have dramatically kept them from accomplishing their organizational mission: a crisis.
As a reporter, I had the opportunity to go into the massive WIPP complex and down into the salt carved caverns. As a public relations professional, I’ve had the chance to work with Bueno and the New Mexico Chile Association on messaging concerning issues that are unrelated to the current situation.
As a crisis communicator, here are a few things we can learn from their respective crisis situations.
Bueno’s Voluntary Chile Recall
February 11, 2014, Bueno Foods announced a voluntary recall of its signature product, green chile. A link on the company’s web page, Twitter and Facebook pages provide the needed information. The news media covered the revelation and found a unique twist; that green chile was not available at University of New Mexico sporting events. Within a day, Bueno Foods moved on to promote a new tortilla.
The challenge with these type of “recalls” is not wanting to create panic. Bueno did a good job remaining calm and not feeding into a potentially frenzied environment. However, there are some lessons learned:
- Your customers customer is your customer – Because we have bought Bueno Green Chile from our local Smith’s store, using our “Smith’s Card,” we received two automated calls letting us know about the recall. Quite frankly, the calls freaked us out a little. Target stores also listed the recall on their website (as did a number of other recall-style sites).
- Don’t forget about your vendors – On February 24 I received an “official” letter from Bueno Foods. Initially I thought it was something about the voluntary recall. My goodwill toward Bueno dissipated when I saw it was an EEOC compliance letter. As I’ve stated before, customers and vendors should be some of the key audiences you address in a crisis. In this case, the vendors were forgotten.
- Engage your public – While this isn’t tied to the voluntary recall, over the last 60 minutes, there have been more than 23 tweets featuring the words “green chile.” Since the start of 2014, the @BuenoFoods Twitter account has only engaged other people or organizations four times. Not engaging fans of the product is a missed opportunity.
WIPP’s Nuclear Leak
According to Wikipedia, The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), is the world's third deep geological repository of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons.
So far, WIPP’s news release page for 2014 is a crisis posting center. First group of news releases and announcements focus on an underground fire. Days later the focus turns to a radiological event that contaminated the immediate area under the surface and 13 workers.
The Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck, wrote a strong piece about why these events generate attention and questions in his article, “WIPP radiation leak was never supposed to happen."
- Share information or share insight – Based on media reports of the external communications, there isn’t much information being shared. In the absence of information, share insight on processes and protocols. Don’t leave that job to the media because they will present only their perspective (which we will believe).
- Build a presence on Twitter even when you have nothing to say – Remember, the first incident was reported February 5, the second event was reported February 15. Their Twitter presence was established on March 6. Trying to build trust, consistency and transparency in the midst of a crisis is difficult. Good for the WIPP team to realize social media is a key to getting a corporate message out. Shame on them for not having something set up before now.