Who were the stakeholders in this case, and what tactics were used to reach them?
Read “Flying Against the Wind” case study on pages 214 and 215. Who were the stakeholders in this case, and what tactics were used to reach them? Remember to respond to a peer by Saturday at 5 p.m. Forum responses should be at least 250 words minimum.
QuickBreak 12.4: Hard to Say I’m Sorry
The year was 1982, years before many readers of this book were born. The rock group Chicago was topping music charts with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” The song was part rock, part ballad, and all about the use of apology to mend fractured love. Although the music might seem outdated to today’s college students, the sentiment of the song—the use of apology to salvage an important relationship— remains a strategic option for crisis communicators.
In fact, apology is just one of the strategies
in apologia, which has been defined as “the speech of self-defense.”50 However, it should not be confused with apology, although it may include one.51 Organizations engage in apologia as a way of presenting their side of the story in the face of negative events or to repair damaged reputations and limit losses.
Crisis communications experts don’t agree on exactly how many apologia strategies exist. One of the dominant theories is known as Image Restoration Discourse, developed by communications professor William Benoit. He identified five apologia strategies: denial of wrongdoing; evasion of responsibility; reduction of
The April 2010 explosion and sinking of the BP-
licensed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11
people. Federal officials estimated that 4.9 million
barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico before the
leak was plugged. The crisis was an environmental
and economic disaster for the Gulf Coast. It was also a
public relations nightmare for BP, which often came
across in public statements as defensive and callous.
the perceived offensiveness of the act; promise to take corrective action; and mortification, when one admits responsibility and seeks forgiveness.52
Benoit also notes that an apologia can involve more than one of these strategies and can progress from one strategy to another as events change. We saw that in the first Tylenol-tampering incident in 1982—the same year Chicago was singing its apologia tune. Although Johnson & Johnson was not responsible for the lacing of Tylenol capsules with cyanide, the tampering incident could have had a catastrophic effect on the company’s financial stability (see QuickBreak 12.1).
CEO James E. Burke moved quickly to counter the damage, using two apologia strategies: by denying any wrongdoing and taking corrective action. Going against the government’s advice, the company pulled 22 million bottles of Tylenol off store shelves. “We value that trust too much to let any individual tamper with it,” Burke said in a television advertisement. “We want you to continue to trust Tylenol.”53 At another point in the crisis, Burke erred when he told reporters that there was no cyanide in company manufacturing plants. In fact, cyanide was used in the quality control process. After learning of his error, Burke employed
the apologia strategy of mortification and admitted he had misspoken. In the end, these strategies helped save the Tylenol brand—and possibly the company.54
Apologia as a strategy has its risks. Although a well-framed apologia can moderate stakeholders’ anger, it can also strengthen negative associations between the company and the problem. Because of the diverse composition of an organization’s stakeholders, not everyone requires an apology or an explanation.55 “An admission of guilt could exacerbate legal difficulties stemming from the offensive act,” said Benoit. “But I cannot recommend that an organization attempt to deny an accurate accusation.”
He added, “Tylenol’s response to the poisoning was exemplary.”56
Social Media Apps: Pink Slime
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name?” The folks at Beef Products Inc. might tell you, “Everything.”
BPI is a leader in producing lean finely textured beef (LFTB), a product created by extracting lean beef from meat scraps that otherwise might have been discarded and blending it with conventional
ground beef. The mixture produces a leaner and less expensive product. It was estimated in 2012 that 70 percent of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets included LFTB.57
When ABC News ran a series of reports on LFTB, calling it “pink slime,” in March 2012, the Twitterverse exploded with negative comments about the “yucky” product. Although the report did not suggest there was anything illegal or unhealthy about the product, BPI’s sales dropped by $130 million, and it was forced to shut down three of its four plants.58 However, the company reopened its Garden City, Kansas, plant in August 2014.59 As of early 2015, the matter was still in litigation.
The story of BPI and “pink slime” is a cautionary tale about the need to develop social media crisis plans. “Social media is almost always spoken of in consumer-oriented companies as a great new marketing opportunity. But that’s the sunny side,” wrote USA Today columnist Todd Pitt. “Every company—or institution, or individual, or politician—has to be on guard if not entirely paranoid about the social echo chamber, or God forbid, a negative viral tsunami.”60
Everbridge, a California-based agency that helps companies make emergency notifications through traditional and social media, reports that 58 percent of the 400 public and private organizations it surveyed do not include social media as a part of their crisis communications plan.61 Many companies wait until crises hit to engage in social media.
Kevin Dugan, director of social marketing for Empower MediaMarketing, said this was one of British Petroleum’s biggest mistakes in responding to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010:
“While they turned their website into a deep resource for information, it didn’t matter. Conversations were already taking place on Twitter, Facebook and other social sites.”62
The challenge facing today’s crisis planner is to learn about, plan for, and engage in social media before the pink slime hits the fan.