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What Not To Do When
Handling Crisis Communications

One reason we follow food safety issues closely is because there are many issues that apply to everyone regardless of which products they sell.

In food safety, one of those issues is communications. It is part of every crisis management plan yet very often exercised very poorly.

In the current crisis over pistachios, both Setton Pistachio and its affiliate Setton International are making the same mistake. Each has hired a PR firm as its representative. These folks are quick to answer the phone and great at promising to get back to you but, unfortunately, know virtually nothing about the company and so are unable to answer questions beyond passing out pre-approved statements.

They become, in effect, high-priced messengers.

Some may think it terribly clever to control information flow in this way, but we doubt it. By restricting information and not having knowledgeable people speak to reporters, the company does three things:

First, it arouses suspicion — what are they hiding? This encourages reporters to dig deeper and show more interest than they would otherwise.

Second, by withholding information the company literally increases the value of information about the company. It creates the possibility of scoops and exclusives and thus encourages the investment of investigative resources into the story that normally would go elsewhere.

Third, it drags the story out. These stories live on “new information,” so it really behooves companies to get the information out quickly. Like a fire without oxygen, stories without new information typically die.

So don’t think a line in your crisis management plan, saying “Have XYZ PR firm interface with the press,” is a solution to the problem. It just raises the question of who is going to be available to interface quickly and comprehensively with the PR firm.

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