There are two separate situations developing in Australia’s media spotlight this week and both are presenting significant reputational damage not only for the organisations involved.  Events have also provoked heightened government involvement  and calls for an industry-wide response.

The first is the greyhound live bait scandal involving several regulatory bodies across Australia.  The second concerns the health of Australian consumers and a wider fear surrounding food security, where frozen berries packaged in China have been linked to a growing number of cases of Hepatitis A.

Greyhound Racing

In 2013 a parliamentary enquiry into the greyhound racing industry and the practice of live baiting received submissions which were not followed up on by Greyhound Racing NSW.

This week disturbing images of rabbits, possums and piglets being used as bait for greyhound dogs aired on the ABC's ‘Four Corners’ programme.

Greyhound Racing NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Greyhounds Australasia have all denied any prior knowledge, saying they first became aware of the issue in the middle of last week when ABC’s Four Corners brought it to their attention.

As a result of the incident, the entire board of Greyhound Racing NSW has been stood down and two major sponsors of Greyhound Racing NSW have pulled out – Marco Meats Gourmet Game and Schweppes and more are expected to follow.

Questions are being asked at the highest levels whether the “$4 billion dollars a year” industry is able to both regulate and promote itself.

Pattie’s Foods

A number of hepatitis A cases have been linked to the consumption of several brands of frozen mixed berries including Nanna's Berries and Creative Gourmet Berries. Both are owned by Bairnsdale-based food company Patties Foods.

Potentially hundreds of students ate the berries and thirty-four government schools have advised the Victorian Education Department that some of their students have consumed the berries.

The number of hepatitis A cases linked to the consumption of Nanna's brand frozen mixed berries has risen to 14 at the time of writing.

Patties Foods issued a nationwide voluntary product recall of the product last Friday and the Department of Health and Human Services has been actively involved, including other agencies. 

Australia's packaged food health standards and packaged food labelling system has been branded a "disgrace" by the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union.

Amongst other things, the response may very well have been executed in accordance with a plan, however, the problem has been it is not clear to the public who is leading the recall.  This has been compounded by the perception of slow communications across the supply chain as the various stakeholders undertake action in silos.

Managing the Crisis 

Although perhaps obvious, it is crucial that organisations are prepared in advance of any such crisis response and preparedness is the key.  This is then reinforced with training and practice of selected personnel.  Sadly, some organisations often do not give sufficient weight to the importance of investing in the protection of their brand.  Consider it as insurance if you will.

The key to handling a crisis is not only to solve the problem, but it helps to understand the drivers of the public and other stakeholders reactions which typically follow these lines:

1.    How did this situation occur?

2.    What is your organisation doing to fix the problem?  This includes your plan for the future days and weeks or even months and years and in particular an honest commitment to ensure this never happens again

The ability to demonstrate what you are doing can be just as important as what you are doing and this can be more complex than some PR professionals are willing to acknowledge.  Increasingly, stakeholders are cognisant of “spin tactics” and recognise when they themselves are being managed, rather than the crisis.  However, if both crisis management and crisis communications are handled correctly it can minimise damage to your reputation and restore confidence in your brand.

Once that crisis arises, and before an organisation can devise a response strategy, they must conduct an honest assessment of the situation.  It helps to ask the tough questions:

·         What are the issues?

·         How is the issue being perceived?

·         How are we responding operationally / strategically?

·         What is our strategy to recover?

·         What is our media strategy?

·         Do our messages mirror our actions?

Once you have an honest (warts and all) understanding of the problem you can begin to formulate a plan to appropriately manage the response. 

Crisis communication and crisis management do complement one another, but be clear, they are entirely different disciplines: actions vs. words.  Both must align, which is not always the case.

- See more at: http://dynamiq.efront-dev.com.au/news-and-insights/berries-and-live-bait#sthash.0NbGdwuo.dpuf

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