Crisis Management: Pink Slime – What PR Bomb do you have ticking?: Crisis preparation
Is a PR bomb ticking in the lap of your organization with no one taking action? Something like the pink slime flare-up, for instance? Think about this.
You’ve heard of the beef industry nightmare over “lean finely textured beef,” a gooey conglomeration of blended left-over meat products added as filler to ground beef. News media showed it, questioned it, and called it “pink slime.” Many consumers were revolted by seeing the gunk, learning they’d been eating it, and realizing no one had told them.
The hitch was that the product was safe and USDA-approved. Whatever its name and appearance, pink slime was simply unused cow parts analogous to the content of hot dogs.
Nevertheless, it became a serious PR mess. Mentions on Twitter jumped from near zero to 100,000 in three months. The product alarmed sufficient consumers to compel schools, restaurants, grocery chains, and others to ban it. Public recoil closed processing plants, cost jobs, and triggered one bankruptcy. Removing this filler could also raise the cost of ground beef and increase the number of cows slaughtered.
Cattle state politicians and the beef industry blamed a hyperbolic misinformed media plus social media for sounding a needless and harmful siren.
However, and this is why leaders should take note of this crisis, the beef industry knew this was a potential problem and didn’t head it off.
Three years ago the beef industry and the USDA were already butting heads over “lean finely textured beef.” The New York Times was doing stories about it, and – get this – a USDA microbiologist in 2009 called it “pink slime.”
Part of the reason the industry and USDA were arguing was the feds were wondering whether lean finely textured beef ought to be identified as a separate product in ground beef and added to the label. So, the industry and supporters shouldn’t have complained about media madness when they themselves ought to have seen a possible uproar on the horizon.
In a perfect crisis PR world, the beef industry should have taken at least two steps in 2009: 1) decide how to inform the public of this gross-looking product in the most palatable way, and 2) draft a contingency communication plan for what to say should the USDA-named pink slime become a public issue before it was revealed and explained.
The beef industry is relabeling lean finely textured beef now. Wouldn’t it have been better to have avoided this distress altogether?
It’s the kind of calamity that can happen if leaders don’t address an issue when they first learn about it. I place it as number 2 on the list of crisis management principles: Fix the Problem – when did you learn about it and what did you do about it? This also illustrates the documented fact that up to three-fourths of crises are self-inflicted.
So, do yourself a favor. To avoid a slimed reputation, when a problem or potential problem starts ticking, defuse it and/or plan for it before it explodes!