The answer, as always, is, “it depends.”
Sometimes the situation warrants a simple response and other times it calls for a full-court press. There are also the occasions when not responding is the best method of quelling the matter.
Skittles simple response to Trump
On Sept. 19, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. shared a photo of a bowl of skittles candy which said, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”
Skittles strategy was not to negatively engage but rather, to give no credence to the correlation. VP of corporate affairs at Wrigley Americas, Denise Young, issued the public statement:
“Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”
PR week called Skittles statement “the best corporate response to the Trump campaign yet.” I concur. As a communications strategist who has been handling public relations and crisis communications management for more than two decades, this is one of those instances where less is more (and more and more given that the Skittles brand began trending on social media instantly. On Sept. 20, Digiday reported that according to Brandwatch, Skittles was mentioned over 243,000 times in two days. Not bad for a brand that simply issued one on-point statement.
Mylan’s need for ongoing full-court crisis media management
There are very few people who haven’t heard about Mylan’s price gouging with its EpiPen® emergency allergy treatment product. In Aug. 2016, the pharmaceutical company announced its price increase of 400%. There was immediate backlash.
Mylan issued various statements in response to the national outrage.
- 22, 2016: Mylan’s Commitment to EpiPen® (epinephrine injection, USP) Auto-Injector Access
- 25, 2016: Mylan Taking Immediate Action to Further Enhance Access to EpiPen® (Epinephrine Injection, USP) Auto-Injector
- 29, 2016: Mylan to Launch First Generic to EpiPen® Auto-Injector at a List Price of $300 per Two-Pack Carton, a More than 50% Discount to the Brand Product
The outcry has since led to its CEO, Heather Bresch, answering to a congressional committee which questioned the EpiPen price hike to $608, Mylan’s monopoly, the lack of movement by the FDA to approve similar products, and Bresch’s $18-million salary.
For Mylan, its investors and Bresch, there is no real end in sight. Even their PR efforts are being criticized as too little too late and as a charade. Many public relations practitioners agree that Mylan needs to stay out in front of this issue. However, Mylan should have thought of the backlash well in advance of its latest earnings report. It comes as no surprise that when a company has a monopoly over a product that affects 43 million Americans at risk of suffering life-threatening allergic reactions, and that company makes the only life-saving product unaffordable, that there will be fallout.
Online reviews – respond constructively or bury it
Then there are those online reviews and ratings that are sometimes unflattering. For instance, if you search Travelocity and find a hotel you’re interested in and it has only a few one-star ratings and hundreds of five-star ratings, it’s not worth making a big stink out of the minority. Very few people will even read it seeing that the greater percentage of people had a positive experience. This is not to say that the hotel shouldn’t send a private message as to how they can address the issue, but making a public stink will only draw attention.
The same holds true for lawyers and other service providers. If someone has posted a negative review, take it in stride and decide what is in your best interest. Participating in an online debate with a disgruntled client (or worse, a competitor who is posing as a client), provides no value. Rather, reach out to clients who you know were pleased with your service and ask them to post on the same sites. If you think the negative review is fake (such as one posted by a competitor), by all means, contact the platform and request that it be taken down.
Crisis planning and management
The bottom line is that deciding how, if at all, to respond to online comments, statements or attacks of a brand or individual requires strategy and forethought. Ask yourself if this issue requires an immediate response. If so, jump on it. If not, sit tight and decide your best strategy. Better yet, prepare a crisis management plan that addresses every type of scenario your company might face and have it at the ready when needed.