Sunday, December 17, 2006

Taco Bell Hell

I was watching the Redskins beat the Saints earlier today and during a commercial break I saw a pretty good example of crisis communications in action. It was paid TV spot from Taco Bell.

If you've been living under a rock, Taco Bell, the Mexican food chain, has been implicated in a recent E Coli outbreak. For the past two weeks, they've been in the news as more and more people got sick from eating at Taco Bell restaurants. I'm still sort of new to PR but I have learned that you generally don't want your brand featured in between shots of an FDA spokesperson and E-Coli B-roll.

This 30 second spot seems to do the job. It's newsworthy in that the president, Greg Creed, is announcing what the Centers for Disease Control had just confirmed: the outbreak is over and thus the crisis resolved.

The company first took stock of the problem and worked with the U.S government agencies. THEN, upon the conclusion of the investigation, they acknowledged the problem, citied their collaboration with the FDA and CDC and created closure by echoing what the agencies had determined: the problem is over.

I think it would have been an easy mistake to make had Creed pulled the trigger too early and ran paid national TV ads during the middle of the outbreak. With no news value to speak of, the company would only be turning up the volume on the crisis.

I'm not saying communicators should only engage with their publics until after the crisis, but I feel too many times organizations get up on a soap box via paid advertising with no real news to report and loudly declare that “we're working with [insert related affiliated organizations] to resolve [insert crisis]”. That sort of thing seems to only add fuel to the fire. Use the PR department in the midst of a crisis and usher the president around to the main news outlets but hold the paid advertising until you can point to a resolution.

I may be entirely wrong on this, especially if you’re a big company like Taco Bell with millions of ad dollars to spend. But somehow, at the end of the day, I think my theory holds water. I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on the timing of PR versus paid advertising throughout a crisis.

Anyway, the Taco Bell spot was a nice break from the diamond and Lexus commercials that run ad-nauseam late in year during NFL games; as the name of my blog suggests, I’m not quite ready for either…

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