Crisis Communication Reflection
Find a current event, within the last year, with a crisis or scandal and give a brief synopsis of the company and the issue.
On April 4, 2017, PepsiCo released a two-and-a-half minute ad featuring, Kendall Jenner (famous model). The commercial depicts Jenner curiously observing a protest march as it’s passing in front of her while posing for modelling shoot wearing a blond wig. Others also start out with activities and decide to join the protest march. Jenner removes the wig and independently walks up to a police officer in a barricade formation and hands him a can of Pepsi. The officer drinks the soda, and everyone cheered portraying a successful union of happiness and relief. Jenner symbolized bringing together police and protesters through a single of a can of soda.
Social media is a gateway to actual happenings around the world. According to Jack Welch, “no one has to stand between you and the public” and the advantage to Social Media is you can “speak for yourself.” (Welch and Welch, 2015, p. 117) Speed and authenticity is the key according to the Welch’s. Backlash ignited through social media upon release of the Pepsi commercial early in the day, turning into a negative “avalanche” (Torossian, 2017, p.1) the late afternoon. The expressed opinions of the world are from people who feel a certain way and express those feelings to each other globally. People shared their impressions of the commercial being politically influenced, and a motive to sell soda mocking the Black Lives Matter movement. (Monllos, 2017, p.1)
What was the company’s communication approach to the crisis?
PepsiCo’s “fight” communication approach in response to the crises and “breadth” of assumptions to underlying cause of the crisis with a general statement showed, bias, arrogance and an assumption of “duration”(Hutson & Johnson, 2016, p.3)
PepsiCo quickly responded with an official press release online addressing the ad as a “global message of unity, peace and understanding” (Torossian, 2017, p.1) and claimed the commercial was not meant to belittle the Black Lives Matter movement. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter Bernice King responded, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” ( p.1)
PepsiCo’s communication approach to the crisis failed as they were unable to shift their “mind-set” in a crisis from “reflexive cause-oriented thinking to active cause-oriented thinking.” (Margolis and Stoltz, 2010, p.6) They responded by defending their commercial first then retracting and apologizing directly to Kendal Jenner while remaining aloof and unsympathetic to the public’s reaction. Instead, PepsiCo justified their intent again showing superiority and a general apology to “make light of any serious issue” (PepsiCo, 2017, p.1)
PepsiCo was ineffective by focusing on identifying factors beyond their control when the crisis hit. They did not search for ways to improve immediately and could not change their mindset to “active, response-oriented thinking.” (Margolis and Stoltz, 2010, p.3)
Later the same day, PepsiCo replaced the first press release response with a replacement statement claiming “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.” (Pepsi, 2017, p.1)
PepsiCo “trying” message was aimed to “building relationships” instead of being proactive. PepsiCo should have focused on understanding and more on solutions ensuring the crisis “never happens again” (Lecture One, 2018, p.8)
Do you feel the company’s communication approach was effective? Why or why not?
PepsiCo was ineffective because of several reasons. The “speed” in initial and second “communication” “hid” ownership of their part of this crisis and verified bias by not acknowledging those hurt directly. Their “communication” lacked “integrity” and “authenticity”. (Lecture One, 2018, p.5) By failing to “communicate” PepsiCo failed to “understand the problem” in this crisis.(p.5) They did not “own the problem”(p.5) and offer “genuine regret” or “solutions”(p.6) showing that their “employees” and customers “come first.”(p.6)
What would you have done the same and what would you have done differently?
I would not have handled the situation the same at all. If I were the CEO, this commercial would have never made it past the proposal stage. However, “at the onset of adversity”, I would have shifted from “cause-oriented thinking” to “response-oriented” keep my “focus strictly forward.” (Margolis and Stoltz (2010, p.3). To be effective, however, I would need to shift my perception through the four lenses suggested by Margolis and Stoltz (2010), which are control, impact, breadth, and duration. Taking a hands-on approach to better understanding details involved in this crisis gives the opportunity place myself in someone else’s position. By doing this, I gain insight and understanding leading to thoroughness and new long-lasting processes avoiding future crisis situations.
To build “high levels of resilience” in myself and my teams I need to take charge of how I think about adversity. Resilient managers move quickly from analysis to a plan of action (and reaction). I would make an impact by being accountable and personally giving immediate, authentic public apologies to Black Lives Matter. I would share authentically the pain our ad caused and work diligently toward a solution to have a chance for recovery, I need to “make sense of events” in to move from “what just happened?” to “what do we do with what just happened?”(Hutson and Johnson, 2016, p.3)
By listening and identifying I show authenticity. The next step is taking vigorous action to rebuild trust. If PepsiCo took the time to efficiently manage this crisis by identifying “the four lenses “control”, “impact”, “breadth” and “duration” techniques they could efficiently have handled this crisis. They’re response led to more backlash and away from long-term solutions preventing a future crisis. For example, could have more effectively managed their crisis by telling a story about how Pepsi started in 1897 in North Carolina. PepsiCo’s ineffective response to the crisis was through “someone else’s news report” (Hutson and Johnson, 2016, p.4) and failed to be compelling and legitimate. They had “not taken to heart”(p.4) the impact the commercial had on others.