Bad Eggs, Dangerous Eggs

August 23, 2010

By late August of 2010, over 1,300 cases of salmonella poising were reported in the U.S. and over 380 millions eggs were recalled.  The problem was discover when the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) began noticing increases number of Salmonella Enteritidis cases in a number  of states including California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Colorado.  California alone reported over 266 cases of  Salmonella Enteritidis.   The Source of the outbreak was tracked to two Iowa farms (    The Food and Drug Administration head, Margaret Hamburg, warned consumers on national television not to eat raw of runny eggs:  “no more runny egg yolks for mopping up with toast”(,0,3585038.story).

The primary Iowa farm in the recall is Wright County Eggs.  Here is part of their announcement:

“Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa is voluntarily recalling specific Julian dates of shell eggs produced by their farms because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis or arthritis.

Eggs affected by this recall were distributed to food wholesalers, distribution centers and foodservice companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. These companies distribute nationwide.

Eggs are packaged under the following brand names: Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps. Eggs are packed in varying sizes of cartons (6-egg cartons, dozen egg cartons, 18-egg cartons) with Julian dates ranging from 136 to 225 and plant numbers 1026, 1413 and 1946. Dates and codes can be found stamped on the end of the egg carton. The plant number begins with the letter P and then the number. The Julian date follows the plant number, for example: P-1946 223” (”

Wright County Egg is not a stranger to government investigators.  The government has investigates Wright County Egg for environmental violations, unsafe working conditions, and the harassment of workers ( 

A few news sources included a web link to  This site is operated by the Egg Safety Center.  They describe themselves as working “with egg producers to provide them with the most up to date information available and are dedicated to educating consumers on proper food handling to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness.”  The site updates a running list of the various brands involved in the recall at .

Their statement about the recall included these comments:

“All brands, plant numbers and Julian dates are listed in the Brands Affected document found here.

While this recall represents less than 1 percent of all eggs produced in the US, as always recommended by the Egg Safety Center and FDA, raw eggs should be handled and cooked properly with the egg yolks and whites cooked firm. Other egg brands that are not specifically in the recall list are not affected and should be safe to eat. Liquid, frozen, or dried egg products, because they are pasteurized, also are not affected by the recall and should be safe.

The chance of an egg containing Salmonella Enteritidis is rare in the United States. Several years ago, it was estimated that 1 in 20,000 eggs might have been contaminated, which meant most consumers probably wouldn’t come in contact with such an egg but 1 time in 84 years. Since that time most U.S. egg farmers have been employing tougher food safety measures to help protect against food-borne illness. Chief among these methods are modern, sanitary housing systems; stringent rodent control and bio-security controls; inoculation against Salmonella Enteritidis; cleaning and sanitization of poultry houses and farms; and testing” ”

The Egg Safety Center is operated by the United Egg Producers.  The United Egg Producers define themselves as “a Capper-Volstead cooperative of egg farmers from all across the United States and representing the ownership of approximately 95% of all the nation’s egg-laying hens.”  Their web site refers visitors to the Egg Safety Center for more information about eggs and food safety.  The American Egg Board ( , the egg industry’s promotional arm, has a link on their home page to the Egg Safety Center for recall information.  The Egg Safety Center represents the egg industry’s response to the product harm crisis and recall effort.

Questions to Consider

  1.  How does the information about past investigations of Wright County Egg change the crisis situation?
  2. How would you evaluate Wright County Egg’s crisis effort at this point in the crisis?
  3. What other recommendations would you make for Wright County Egg’s crisis response and what is the logic behind those recommendations?
  4. Why does the egg industry feel the need to make a statement through its Egg Safety Center?
  5. The Egg Safety Center message features minimization.  Why would the egg industry try a minimization strategy in this crisis?
  6. The FDA is part of the crisis response.  What is their stake in the crisis?
  7. Combined, do you feel the crisis responses to this point have shown enough concern for public safety?  Who has been the best at protecting public safety?  The worst?

Toyota Recall: Hit or Miss?

January 31, 2010

Without reading or watching any coverage of the Toyota recall, you can bet the critics will say Toyota reacted too slowly in the recall.  That is a safe criticism to make.  Hindsight is 20/20 so it is easy to argue Toyota should have recognized the signs sooner and acted sooner.  Sometimes the default speed criticism is valid, sometimes it is unfair.  Keep in mind that managers are evaluating a number of variables simultaneously including financial concerns.  Besides, the speed of the reaction is relative.  What we should be more interested in is what was communicated through words and actions.  Speed is a secondary concern as long as it was not so slow that it placed people at undue risk because the organize had a very good idea of what the problem was.

A quick recap is of the recall is warranted here.  The problem was that accelerator pedals were sticking or returning to their normal position.  Drivers are worried when cars accelerate on their own—unintended acceleration.  The problem was found in a variety of Toyota vehicles in the U.S. and China.  The cars manufactured and sold in Japan did not have any problems.  The initial diagnosis was that improper installation of floor mats was to blame for the problem.  A message went out customers about the floor mats on Nov. 2, 2009 in relation to the Sept. 29th recall.  On Jan. 21, 2010 another recall notice was delivered about the accelerator pedal itself followed by a suspension of selling the vehicles in doubt on Jan. 28, 2010.  It seemed both the floor mats and the pedal design were both to blame  The bigger issue is whether or not Toyota knew of the problem since 2007 and that the problem went beyond the floor mats and pedal design to its drive-by-wire technology (,0,1844374.story). The LA Times news story does seem to accuse Toyota of ignoring the problem for over two years.  Toyota disagrees:

“Today the Los Angeles Times published an article that wrongly and unfairly attacks Toyota’s integrity and reputation.

While outraged by the Times’ attack, we were not totally surprised. The tone of the article was foreshadowed by the phrasing of a lengthy list of detailed questions that the Times emailed to us recently. The questions were couched in accusatory terms.  

Despite the tone, we answered each of the many questions and sent them to the Times. Needless to say, we were disappointed by the article that appeared today, and in particular by the fact that so little of our response to the questions appeared in the article and much of what was used was distorted.

Toyota has a well-earned reputation for integrity and we will vigorously defend it.”

Here is a link to the exchange of questions and answers between the LA Times and Toyota:

Records show the NTSB has investigated eight acceleration problems with Toyota’s since 2003.  Six of the investigations were closed with no action taken while two did involve small recalls related to floor mats We should return to the point that the recalls affect cars outside of Japan including China, the U.S., and Europe.  The accelerator pedal has a different supplier in Japan.  Here is where Toyota makes some interesting communicative choices.  Toyota has the chance to scapegoat the supplier but provides this statement about the supplier:

“Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America (TEMA) has been working closely with supplier CTS on a revised design that effectively remedies the problem associated with accelerator pedals. Pedals featuring the revised design are now in full production at CTS to support Toyota’s needs. Meanwhile, we are also working with them to test effective modifications to existing pedals in the field that will be rolled out as quickly as possible.

“We commend CTS for working diligently and collaboratively to find a solution to the potential problem and in developing a new design,” said Chris Nielsen, TEMA’s Vice President of Purchasing. “CTS is a long-term and valued supplier to us.”

Toyota stands with the supplier rather offering them as the cause.  This statement shows Toyota’s willingness to take responsibility for any problems found in their vehicles even in the face of its largest recall involving millions of vehicles.  CTS made its own case saying the design they followed was from Toyota and that they are being unfairly linked to the recall.  Here are some CTS comments:

“”We are disappointed that, despite these facts, CTS accelerator pedals have been frequently associated with the sudden unintended acceleration problems and incidents in various media reports,’ said Dennis Thornton, CTS Vice President and General Manager of Automotive Products Group. Toyota itself has also publicly stated that this recall is separate from the earlier recalls which were done to remedy sudden acceleration in vehicles.”  CTS is having to address its own reputation issues but Toyota is not the one pointing fingers or implying responsibility.

In addition, Toyota took the unusual stand to suspend the sale of new vehicles:

“Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., today announced that it is instructing Toyota dealers to temporarily suspend sales of eight models involved in the recall for sticking accelerator pedal, announced on January 21, 2010.
“Helping ensure the safety of our customers and restoring confidence in Toyota are very important to our company,” said Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter. “This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized. We’re making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.”
Toyota announced it would recall approximately 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals on specific Toyota Division models. Toyota has investigated isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms in certain vehicles without the presence of floor mats. There is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position.”

Toyota had already recalled over million vehicles for the floor mat issue.  Toyota was willing to recall and suspend sales, both are corrective actions designed to reassure customers the vehicles would be safe once the recall changes were made.  Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda apologized to customers:

“’We’re extremely sorry to have made customers feel uneasy,’ Akio Toyoda told public broadcaster NHK on the sidelines of the Davos forum in Switzerland, in his first public remarks on the recall since it went global this week.

‘Right now, we are trying to establish the facts and preparing for giving an explanation so anxiety among customers would be removed as soon as possible’”

Toyota’s words and actions indicate a strong concern for customers and a willingness to protect its reputation.  Still, if the problem really was known in 2007 and goes beyond what has been disclosed, a serious problem still remains.  However, at this point the facts do not support the charges of a cover up of an even larger problem.  That is the dilemma in product recalls.  When is a problem isolated and when is it systemic?  There are no clear rules for answer that question.

Questions to Consider

  1.  How would you evaluate Toyota’s communicative response to the acceleration crisis?
  2. Why might it be fair to criticize Toyota for being slow?  Why might it be unfair?
  3. Why do you think Toyota directly addressed the LA Times story?
  4. Who seems more credible in the exchange, the LA Times or Toyota and why does that matter?
  5. What role does being slow to respond play in shaping stakeholder perceptions of an organization in crisis?
  6. How does this case illustrate the connections between reputation management and crisis communication?
  7. How would you rate the ethics of Toyota’s crisis communication given the facts reported in the case thus far?

Toys”R”Us uses Cash to help Find Dangerous Infant Products

August 30, 2009

Each year there are hundreds of product recalls in the US.  Examples include beef for e coli, laptops for battery fire hazard, chainsaws with missing guards, and cookies with nuts missing from the ingredient list.  The product recalls are a result of product harm—the product can hurt the consumers in some way.   The recall is designed to separate the product harm from the customer.  People return the product and it removes the risk.  The problems could be a result of a defect, a missing part, or an undeclared food allergen.  Infant furniture is common product that is recalled because the furniture can harm the child in some ways.  The furniture in question can include beds and chairs. 

So why highlight infant furniture?  One reason is the risk posed to helpless infants.  Another reason is the difficulty in recalling infant furniture.  Kids in Danger (  report that only around 30% of infant products are returned.  That means 70% stay in use and remain a threat to infants.  The risk is compounded by the secondary market for infant furniture.  People often sell their infant furniture at garage sales or online or simply give it to other people.   (It should be noted eBay has a policy against selling recalled products). The people buying the product on the secondary market probably have no idea of the product had been recalled.  In all likelihood the seller did not know that either.  Manufacturers are required to send news releases to media outlets about recalls.  The media may or may not use the information.  Recall information can be found at various web sites such as  and   Moreover, most companies involved with infant merchandise place the recall information on their web sites.  But consumers have to actively look for that information.   It is easy to miss that a product you own has been recalled.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

“‘The meager returns have spurred initiatives aimed at getting harmful products out of the public’s hands, including a Consumer Product Safety Commission e-mail program that notifies consumers about recalls.

Still, too often consumers never hear about a recall or “put it on their to-do list and never respond,’ said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the safety commission.

Last week, for instance, the agency reissued an August 2008 recall of about 900,000 Simplicity bassinets because two infants had died after becoming trapped between the product’s bars or in a pocket of fabric; the initial recall was prompted by the deaths of two other children.

‘We have said for decades at this agency that we do a very good job of getting dangerous and recalled products off of store shelves,’ Wolfson said. ‘Our greatest challenge is always getting those products out of people’s homes and out of circulation.’”,0,1722342.story


Toys “R” Us has announced a unique program for removing potentially dangerous infant product from the marketplace. 

WAYNE, NJ (August 26, 2009) – Toys”R”Us, Inc. today unveiled a national program that provides customers the opportunity to trade-in used cribs, car seats and other baby products in exchange for savings on a new item. The ‘Great Trade-In’ event is designed to call attention to the fact that, due to safety concerns, certain used baby products, such as car seats and cribs, are not the best candidates to be handed down or resold.

Safety experts have recently reported that sales of used products are on the rise and are warning consumers to be cautious about purchasing second-hand children’s items. The ‘Great Trade-In’ event places an emphasis on specific old or second-hand baby products that may be potentially unsafe, but are still in circulation.
During the “Great Trade-In” event, which begins Friday, August 28 and continues through Sunday, September 20, all Babies”R”Us and Toys”R”Us locations nationwide will accept returns of any used cribs, car seats, bassinets, strollers, travel systems, play yards and high chairs in exchange for a 20% savings on the purchase of any new baby item, in any of these product categories, from select manufacturers.”

The Toys “R” Us action is a proactive attempt to deal with the problem of recalled infant products remaining in circulation and being resold or given to others.  It will be interesting to see the level of response and what percentage of the exchanged merchandise had been on recall lists.  The actions by Toys “R” Us are supported by the CPSC and Kids in Danger.


Questions to Consider

  1.  How can this action be used to bolster the CSR for Toys “R” Us?
  2. How might this action help if/when Toys “R” Us has a crisis?
  3. Why is it important that other groups support the “Great Trade-in” event?
  4. What else could be done to help create awareness and action on recalled products?
  5. How would you evaluate the success of the Great Trade-in” event?
  6. What makes the Great Trade-in” event any different other efforts to make people aware of recalled products?

Continental, Express.Jet, and Mesaba deal with the overnight Tarmac Crisis

August 24, 2009

One defining characteristics of a crisis is a violation of constituent expectations.  In other words, things do not happen like they should.  For example, your flight departs then arrives, roughly on time.  We expect there can be some delays.  However, we do not expect to be held in a small airplane overnight for seven hours on the tarmac just 50 yards from the terminal.  Continental Express Flight 2816 for Continental Airlines left Houston at 9:23pm and did not arrive in Minneapolis until 11am the next day.  Thunderstorms caused the plane and its 47 passengers to be diverted to Rochester, MN.  Upon landing, the crew was told they could not deplane that evening.  The next morning, passengers were deplaned and then sent to Minneapolis after a 2 ½ hour wait. The US Department of Transportation has launched an investigation.  Here is a summary of initial actions and comments:

“The Transportation Department has sent Continental Airlines a letter asking who was responsible for the well-being of the passengers ‒ Continental or ExpressJet, the regional air carrier that operated the flight for Continental ‒ and why the flight remained on the ground as long as it did. Officials also want to know what procedures the two airlines have in place for deplaning of passengers on diverted flights if airport security personnel aren’t present.

Continental spokeswoman Julie King said the airline is cooperating with the Transportation Department’s investigation. She said the Houston-based air carrier adopted a policy earlier this year that no passenger should be subjected to a tarmac delay of three hours or more without being offered an opportunity to get off the aircraft provided that can be done safely.

A spokeswoman for ExpressJet, also based in Houston, didn’t respond to a request for comment.”

Here are some additional crisis responses:

“Continental is apologizing to passengers who were stuck on the tarmac for six hours when a Houston-to-Minneapolis flight was diverted because of bad weather.  Continental says the incident was ‘completely unacceptable.’
The airline is also offering refunds and vouchers. Continental Express 2816 was operated by ExpressJet Airlines,
which handles regional flights for Continental. It was diverted toRochester, Minn., and landed about midnight.
Passengers weren’t allowed to leave the plane until 6 a.m. Saturday.

ExpressJet says passengers couldn’t get off because security screeners had gone off duty. But officials at the Rochester airport say the passengers could have stayed on the secure side of the
terminal, and it was Continental’s decision to keep them on the plane.”

Continental referred calls to Express.Jet as part of its response. 

A preliminary investigation has assigned responsibility:

” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a preliminary investigation by his department found that ExpressJet, the regional carrier which operated Continental Express Flight 2816 for Continental Airlines, wasn’t at fault in the tarmac stranding.

Instead, blame for the incident, which has revived calls for greater consumer protections for airline passengers, belongs with Mesaba Airlines, whose representative incorrectly told ExpressJet that the passengers couldn’t be allowed inside the terminal because Transportation Security Administration personnel had left for the day, LaHood said.

Actually, security regulations allow for deplaning passengers to be kept in a separate ‘sterile’ area until they are ready to board, he said.

‘We have determined that the Express Jet crew was not at fault. In fact, the flight crew repeatedly tried to get permission to deplane the passengers at the airport or obtain a bus for them,’ LaHood said Friday in a statement.

‘There was a complete lack of common sense here,’ the secretary said. ‘It’s no wonder the flying public is so angry and frustrated.’

Mesaba was the only airline with staff still at the Rochester, Minn., airport that Friday night.”

Questions to Consider

  1.  If you were managing the crisis for Continental, what type of crisis would you label this event and why?
  2. If you were managing the crisis for Mesaba, what type of crisis would you label this event and why?
  3. How did Secretary LaHood’s comments change the crisis for Continental? For Express.Jet? for Mesaba?
  4. What role did the airport as an organization play in the crisis?
  5. How effective was Continental’s crisis response?  Justify your answer.
  6. How effective was the Express.Jet response?  Justify your answer.

How a Tweet Haunted Ketchum

August 11, 2009

When we talk about online public relations, social media has emerged as a key component.  Social media are the messages created and published by constituents.  Other terms for social media include consumer generated media and user generated media.  Online line it is easy for people to create messages and share them with others.  Important social media sites include blogs, social networking such as Facebook, and micro-blogging such as Twitter.  Organizations, both corporate and non-profit, have made a big push into the social media as a way to engage constituents.  CEOs and employees are blogging and tweeting.  One problem is that as people get comfortable with social media, the line between work and personal life becomes blurred.  Personal elements in social media posts can be viewed revealing and a way to connect with constituents.  By mixing in personal comments with business, it helps to create authenticity or a genuine feel to the messages.  Said another way, it does not seem like messages were created just to support the organization’s objectives.

There is a downside to comfort and injecting personal comments, people can become too informal and careless in both message creation and content.  Of course a vice president at a major public relations firm would know the dangers on inappropriate messages.  So why did  VP James Andrews from Ketchum tweet in Jan. 2009: “ True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I had to live here! 2:58 PM Jan 14th “

So Andrews is not a fan of Memphis.  If you check Twitter people have negative comments about many cities.  The problem is that Andrews was going to Memphis to meet with major client FedEx.  Twitters are public postings that can be shared a go far beyond the initial list of people who follow you on Twitter.  Ideally your clients follow you on Twitter so Andrews should have thought they would see the message.  FedEx employees did see the message and were not happy.   They sent it to executives at FedEx and Ketchum (  The incident became fodder for public relations bloggers taking Mr. Andrews to task.  The comments to such blogs just piled on with more criticisms. See the long response from FedEx at the end of this case.

An off-handed tweet became a point of contention and embarrassment for Ketchum.  A client is unhappy and constituents may question how clever the organization is with social media.  But it is an honest mistake that can occur when people are too comfortable blurring business and personal in their social media.  Public relations is strategic and that extends to all uses of social media.  Yes we want authenticity in messages but the personal interjections into social media must not harm the organization—some topics and thoughts should not be in a social media message that has a business element to it.  Consider that many people have multiple social media accounts, one for business and one for personal.  As blogger Oliver Marks at zdnet observed:

“For me the FedEx Memphis fiasco (no one comes out of this looking good) is a great example of the enterprise collaboration culture clash between the analog generation (cc’d dressing down email thread) and the digital one (airport bar style Twitter banter). The irony of James Andrews unintentionally demoing the power of digital media prior to his more formal presentation is great.”

The embarrassment trigger a chain of events that was followed closely in social media.  Nothing draws attention in the social media like a misuse of the social media.  Here is the chronology of events:

Andrews then apologized:

As many of you know there has been a lot of online chatter around a recent situation that has unfortunately spiraled. As an active practitioner in the space, I felt the need to both address the situation and offer my perspective on the practice of social media.  Two days ago I made a comment on Twitter that was the emotional response to a run in I had with an intolerant individual. The Tweet was aimed at the offense not the city of Memphis. Everyone knows that at 140 characters Twitter does not allow for context and therefore my comments were misunderstood. If I offended the residents of Memphis, TN I’m sorry. That was not my intention. I understand that people have tremendous pride in their hometown.

Ketchum then apologized:

Ketchum also called the incident a ‘lapse in judgment,’ in a statement. ‘We’ve apologized to our client… We greatly value this long standing client relationship. It is our privilege to work with them,’ the Ketchum statement read.

In later Twitter postings, the ‘keyinfluencer’ said he was ‘Having a great day with my new friends at #Fedex’ and apologized.

And Fedex said it was letting the whole thing go:

FedEx spokesman Jess Bunn said, ‘This is an unfortunate situation and demonstrates very poor judgment by Mr. Andrews. The reaction by our employees proves once again that FedEx takes great pride in our hometown of Memphis.’

‘This lapse in judgment also demonstrates the need to apply fundamental communications principles in the evolving social networking environment: Think before you speak; be careful of you what you say and how you say it. Mr. Andrews made a mistake, and he has apologized. We are moving on.’ “

It is amazing that one tweet can create so much of a controversy. 




FedEx Response:

Mr. Andrews,

If I interpret your post correctly, these are your comments about Memphis a few hours after arriving in the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith.


Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays Ketchum annually for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the globe. We are confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write.

Not knowing exactly what prompted your comments, I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors.

James, everyone participating in today’s event, including those in the auditorium with you this morning, just received their first paycheck of 2009 containing a 5% pay cut… which we wholeheartedly support because it continued the tradition established by Mr. Smith of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs.

Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.

Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.


Questions to Consider

  1.  What are some ways that social media can help an organization and constituents connect with one another (Chapter 7)?
  2. What does it mean to say all communication with constituents should be strategic (Chapter 4)?
  3. This incident seemed minor on the surface.  What made it such a threat to Ketchum’s reputation (Chapter 9)?
  4. It is a stretch to call this incident a crisis but apologies were issued.  How would you rate the effectiveness of the apology and what is the rationale behind your evaluation (Chapter 12)?
  5. What does this incident reveal about the power of the social media and its affect on the web of constituent relationships?
  6. What guidelines might an organization create for social media use to help prevent such lapses in the future?   How might such guidelines be viewed as a form of risk communication (Chapter 11)?

Hand-Desanitizer: Irony for Clarcon

August 10, 2009

A product becomes ironic when it does the opposite of what it should do.  Imagine a laundry detergent that made clothes dirty.  Such was the case for Clarcon Biological Chemistry Laboratory Inc. of Roy, Utah.  In June of 2009,  its hand sanitizer was found to contaminated and to cause infections.  An FDA inspection lead to the voluntary recall.  It should be noted almost all US recalls are voluntary as the US government allows the company to save face/reputation.  The FDA told consumers to just thrown the product out.  Here the specific concern from the FDA news release:

” Analyses of several samples of over-the-counter topical antimicrobial skin sanitizer and hand protectant products revealed high levels of various bacteria, including some associated with unsanitary conditions.

Some of these bacteria can cause opportunistic infections of the skin and underlying tissues. Such infections may need medical or surgical attention, and may result in permanent damage.

FDA finds the inspection results particularly concerning because the products are promoted as antimicrobial agents that claim to treat open wounds, damaged skin, and protect against various infectious diseases.

The inspection uncovered serious deviations from FDA’s requirements.

Consumers should not use any Clarcon products. Examples of these products include

• Citrushield Lotion

• Dermasentials DermaBarrier

• Dermassentials by Clarcon Antimicrobial Hand Sanitizer

• Iron Fist Barrier Hand Treatment

• Skin Shield Restaurant

• Skin Shield Industrial

• Skin Shield Beauty Salon Lotion

• Total Skin Care Beauty

• Total Skin Care Work”

In August of 2009, the FDA instructed the US Marshalls to seize all hand sanitizer at Clarcon’s Roy, Utah facility.  Marshalls seizing a product is an unusual move.  Here is part of the FDA statement after the raid:

“’The FDA is committed to taking enforcement action against firms that do not manufacture drugs in accordance with our current good manufacturing practice requirements,”’said Deborah M. Autor, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office of Compliance. ‘We will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect consumers from defective products.’”

As you can imagine, this was a perfect news story.  One news value is oddity (Chapter 6 Media Relations) and this is an oddity.  Rarely has the term irony been used so appropriately.  Here is a typical segment form a news story about the recall:

“The FDA said its findings, following a recent inspection of the Clarcon facility, are particularly concerning because the products are promoted as antimicrobial agents that claim to treat open wounds and damaged skin and protect against various infectious diseases. The inspection uncovered serious deviations from FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice requirements, the agency said.

Calls to Clarcon for comment Monday night were not answered.”

The online media enjoyed the recall as Clarcon was the subject of blogs and tweets.

 Sample tweet:  “drlawmom: @bretta75 Did you read that all hand sanitizer from CLARCON has been recalled due to dangerous bacteria.”

Sample post (from a registered nurse): “Clarcon claims to use strict quality control measures in their manufacturing process. In this instance, consumers are warned to discard the products, and do not use them under any circumstances because of risk of serious infection and complications that could cause permanent damage.”
Ideally this case would include material from Clarcon but there is hardly any comment by the company and their web site has down through August of 2009.

Questions to Consider:

  1.  In addition to oddity, what other factors make the Clarcon story newsworthy (Chapter 5)?
  2. From the short news story segment in the case, who seemed to be framing the event and what evidence supports that conclusion?
  3. What effect might the online comments have had on the case?
  4. If we treat this case a crisis, what communication recommendations would you have had for Clarcon and what is the rationale behind each recommendation (Chapter 12)?
  5. If you were to rate the reputation threat of this crisis on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the greatest threat, what score would you give it an why?
  6. How might the online environment been used to protect Clarcon’s reputation during the crisis (Chapter 7)?

Goddess + Meat Sandwich = Very Bad Communication Idea

August 6, 2009

The Hindu religion has a number of deities and all have importance significance for followers.  One of the deities is Lakshmi, the goddess for wealth and beauty.  Lakshmi is depicted as a female who has a golden skins, four arms, and sits on a lotus flower.  Her festival month is October.  Lakshmi is a household goddess for Hindu families and she is a favorite among women.  This is a very basic overview of Lakshmi informed by information from two webs sites:



Hinduism is an ancient religion and the third largest religion in the world.  Non-Hindus may know two things about the religion (1) karma, a principle of cause and effect and (2) it teaches vegetarianism.  Not all Hindus are vegetarian but many are.  Historically, US fast food chains have had difficulty in India because of a failure to appreciate importance the Hindu religion places on vegetarianism.  A few small riots occurred when people discovered a restaurant was not frying meat and vegetables in separate frying vats even thought that was the claim by the chain.  Put another way, the Hindu religion does shape culture in a country like India and should be respected.

Consider this recent advertising campaign by Burger King in Spain.  The add shows Lakshmi sitting on top of a meat sandwich.  Even if you have a  limited understanding of Hinduism, does this seem like a good idea?  Some people at Burger King did and protest messages were sent to Burger King.  Burger offered the following response:

“’We are apologising because it wasn’t our intent to offend anyone,’ Denise T Wilson, spokesman of Burger King said in an email when asked about the demand of the Hindu community that the company need to apologise for running an advertisement which its leaders said was offensive to their religion.

‘Burger King Corporation (BKC) values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone,’ Wilson said.

‘Out of respect for the Hindu community, the limited-time advertisement has been removed from the restaurants,’ Wilson said a day after the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in a statement asked Burger King to remove the offensive advertisement.”

There has been some speculation that the controversy was created on purpose.  Earlier in 2009 Burger King pulled an advertisement over complaints over how it was displaying the Mexican flag.  Some have suggested Burger King is purposefully creating controversial advertisements to generate publicity for the fast food chain.

Questions to Consider:

  1.  How does this case illustrate globalization and its effect on public relations (Chapter 14)?
  2. Some call the situation a crisis.  According to Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) and other principles of crisis communication from Chapter 12, was this an effective response?  Why or why not?
  3. What are the ethical ramifications (Chapter 2) for PR if Burger King purposefully offended people to create publicity?
  4. If you were in a Burger King meeting where the message was presented, what arguments would have made for not running the message?
  5. Which would be better and why:  having to apologize for a poor advertising choice or realizing a bad communication choice and not taking it?
  6. What actions could be taken to prevent a repeat of culturally offensive advertisements by Burger King (crisis prevention)?
  7. What possible justifications, if any, can be given for choosing culturally offensive advertisements as a PR strategy?

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