Crisis Communication : Would You Bet On An Orange Or A Salami?


Crisis Communication – Case Study – *This is a true case study and all details are correct, except the names have been changed to protect the identities. Would you Bet on an Orange or Salami?

Frank* grew up on an apple and orange orchard in the Riverland where his parents owned a small fruit juice manufacturing plant. Antonio* grew up in the city where his parents ran a popular small goods shop selling their own meat products such as salami and prosciutto. Both men loved their family businesses, and both men went to University to gain qualifications to grow their burgeoning empires.

Image courtesy of Mark English Architects

Image courtesy of Mark English Architects

Frank attracted some venture capital to grow further and re-named the company ‘The Nipped in the Bud Fruit Juice Company’*. Antonio relied on family money to expand and his ‘Meat Me in St Louis’* brand attracted a big following. Both companies were very successful, and Frank and Antonio were proud of their achievements. They both lived in the same city, but didn’t know each other.

However, something was to happen that would affect forever the future fortunes of these two successful entrepreneurs. First one little girl got sick. Then another child and another and another. Many residents in an aged care home suddenly started falling sick with serious gastroenteritis.

Image courtesy of Pure Granite Rocks

Image courtesy of Pure Granite Rocks

Investigations showed that some people had drunk contaminated orange juice from The Nipped in the Bud Fruit Juice Company. Other investigations found that some different people had eaten contaminated salami and metwurst produced by ‘Meat Me in St Louis’. In total, 260 people were very sick, and then the ultimate tragedy occurred – a six year old girl died.

Representative image courtesy of Wigham Funeral Home (who has no relationship to this case study)

Representative image courtesy of Wigham Funeral Home (who has no relationship to this case study)

Frank and Antonio were devastated. Frank immediately called a media conference and expressed his sincere sympathy to all the families and promised that he would do everything he could to get to the bottom of this tragedy. He told the media, and therefore the public, that he couldn’t be sure the contamination came from his manufacturing plant, but he would leave no stone un-turned in finding the truth. He promised to report back his findings within 48 hours. Sales of his fruit juice plummeted.

React fast; time passes. quickly. Images courtesy of Portico Design Group and Shannon Malone

React fast; time passes quickly. Images courtesy of Portico Design Group and Shannon Malone

The media turned their attention to Antonio. What would he say? What would he do? He said nothing. He did nothing. Publicly. In private, Antonio was very upset. He told his family that he was very concerned about the family of the little girl who had died and everyone who had suffered from eating their product. He felt that if he said nothing publicly then maybe the fuss would die down. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He hoped another bigger story would soon come along and that people would forget about the contaminated products. crisis-communication-case-study5

A health department spokesperson said the factory would be thoroughly inspected. Was there reason to believe the factory didn’t comply with health regulations? Had an employee sabotaged the production line? Was the company operated by dishonest people? The rumor mill had started. All of the company’s meat products were withdrawn from sale.

The media themselves decided that maybe there was more to the ‘Meat Me in St Louis’ story than met the eye. Why wouldn’t the company talk? They must be hiding something. Maybe a disgruntled employee would spill the beans? Several reporters decided they might be on to a scoop and set about unearthing information. Antonio and his family were repeatedly contacted. But they remained silent, hoping the problem would just go away. crisis-communication-case-study1

Frank, however, reported back to a media gathering that the factory had been fully investigated and nothing improper could be found. He offered the media a guided tour of the factory and provided them with inspection reports, a diagram of the factory and it’s work processes, and provided a list of relevant suppliers. He even asked a government health official and the local Mayor to provide testimonials as to the company’s compliance and high standards.

Images courtesy of Smith & Vasant Architects and Arciform

Images courtesy of Smith & Vasant Architects and Arciform

After many weeks of open communication the sales of Frank’s fruit juice very slowly started to increase. Then it was revealed that the source of the contamination was from a batch of oranges sourced from another supplier.  The public trust surrounding Frank’s company gradually started to increase. More retailers than before wanted to stock Frank’s fruit juice because of the positive media that had been generated from the crisis. Two years later, Frank launched a new blended fruit juice and it was very warmly received; their best launch ever. crisis-communication-case-study7

Antonio never returned to his factory. All the meat products were destroyed and the factory was closed down. Antonio’s father died of what some people said was a broken-heart. The family business, and reputation, was destroyed. And the reason for the contamination was never revealed.

These are two different reactions to a very similar crisis, with vastly different outcomes. Frank had a Crisis Communication Plan; Antonio did not. Frank knew what he had to do to protect the image and reputation of his company; Antonio did not.

Do you have a Crisis Communication Plan? What are your crisis communication skills?

  • Would you know exactly what to say, to whom, and when?
  • Do you know it’s not just the media you have to deal with?
  • How will you investigate a crisis?
  • Or should you leave it to the ‘experts’.
  • How will you win back customers, and their trust?
  • Do you know why you NEVER let lawyers run your crisis communication planning?
  • Do you know what to give the media and what to hold back?
  • Do you know exactly how to retain the image and reputation of YOUR business without spending thousands of dollars?

We do. If you require small business expertise, please contact me at Insanely Clever Marketing. insanely-clever-marketingInsanely Clever Marketing is a small business consultancy that provides strategic advice & planning on all aspects of crisis communication, public relations,marketing, and social media.

Ph 0618+ 421 043 505 or e-mail ph.marketingmaven@gmail.com

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  1. […] also a real life case study on two businesses with similar crises. Read what happens when two businesses handle their crisis communication very differently. You’ll be shocked. […]

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