When product safety issues arise, the company’s reputation recovery is not solely connected to the product failure itself, but also the assessment of whether the company took transformative, immediate, and consumer-centric action to make things right. A well-managed recall can improve a company’s reputation, build customer loyalty and minimize the business impact on sales and supply chain.

Here are our 7 Golden Rules for communicating a quality- or safety-related issue:

1. Keep in lockstep with legal and compliance

Since all public communications must closely follow federal guidelines issued by the appropriate regulatory body, communications departments must ensure their legal teams are aligned with their strategy and messaging. While there is always a natural tension between communications and legal departments, in product recall crises especially, communications should complement and bolster the company’s legal strategy.

2. …But don’t be afraid to go above and beyond regulatory communications guidelines

In today’s media environment, audiences are being divided into smaller and smaller segments, making it harder for companies to reach consumers. It’s not simply enough to put a press release on the corporate website and publish a few social media posts. Companies need to use a multitude of channels to reach consumers wherever they are most likely to receive information.

3. Keep affected consumers as your North Star

Companies must demonstrate that their top priority is their consumers’ safety. The communications strategy should be guided by an overarching objective of mitigating the impact of the recall to consumers and providing the information they need to ensure their safety. 

4. …But don’t neglect other stakeholders

Develop a holistic communications plan that considers all stakeholders; not just consumers and media, but also regulators, distributors, elected officials, investors, nonprofit partners and NGOs. And internally, employees need to be kept informed and well-trained on the recall communications protocol to ensure that company is communicating with one voice.

5. Be timely and transparent in communications

During a crisis, the quickest escape from a trust deficit is to ensure information reaches consumers. Consumers often complain that companies wait too long between identifying a safety issue and initiating a recall and have little appreciation for the time-consuming processes of fact-finding, sourcing and product testing.

6. …But ensure you are ready to communicate from both operational and reverse logistics perspectives

Companies must avoid publicly communicating about a recall until their corrective action plan is approved by the appropriate regulatory body and is confirmed to be logistically feasible. While companies should strive to announce a recall as soon as possible after receiving approval, they risk angering customers and extending the news cycle if they disclose it before they are operationally prepared.

7. Think long-term

While most attention and resources should go to triaging the recall cause immediately, companies must also assess how each action in the short-term will impact its long-term business strategy and brand reputation. Sometimes, companies may need to take a short-term hit to protect its long-term reputation.

Ryan Cudney is an executive vice president, Chicago.
Jared Nelson is an account supervisor, Chicago.