Many organizations, at some point or another, have to face a crisis situation. The way an organization communicates during a crisis situation is the key way to break through that crisis. A crisis can be defined as a situation where a company faces a problem due to their previous lack of attention or some mistakes. Crisis communication is very important, especially the communication between an organization and the public during or before the critical event, as such a situation is critical and not very easy to solve.
In late June 2006 Cadbury being one of the largest confectionary companies in the world had to recall seven of its branded products in the UK and Ireland, due to contamination of Salmonella Montevideo in their products as a result of a leak in a waste water pipe at the company’s Marlbrook plant in Herefordshire Wales. Salmonella is a small bug which is hard to be seen with our naked eyes and usually found in foods or chocolates which contains more sugar and fats. If consumed, it will cause food poisoning which will lead to severe stomach pain, cramps, and diarrhoea, which can last for days. Through research, it says that the company actually had known of the possible contamination around January 2016 but still ignored the fact and carried on with their business as if there was nothing wrong with their product. Cadbury actually found some traces of salmonella in their product in 2002 as well but they ignored the risk. The problem became severe in July when around 180 of the people got sick after consuming their product.
The issue first came into the front when an independent laboratory asked the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) for help, to check whether a sample actually contained salmonella or not.After HPA confirmed the result, the laboratory refused to identify their client and then HPA contacted the FSA to find out the client. Then only, Cadbury came forward and admitted that it was their sample. This also shows the lack of communication between Cadbury and the local authorities.What the Company did well.
The good thing about what Cadbury did is that, they finally came forward and admitted their fault though they had no intention of doing so at first. When they sent their sample to an independent laboratory to check if there was anything going wrong with their product, it actually shows that they didn’t really ignored the issue and was taking action. They also recalled their product and had to dispose of over one million chocolate bars in 2006, this also shows that they are admitting their mistake and starting to set up things right. The CEO also took the initiative to apologise to their consumers and also stated that if such issues occur again, regardless of its level, the product will be destroyed.
The company made sure that no product is sold unless it passes the negative salmonella test, and that it would be destroyed if any traces were found. After being charged guilty to nine health and safety charges including distributing unsafe chocolates to the general public, and failing to inform authorities, the company paid fine and also added that it had changed its production systems. The company managed to survive as it is one of the beloved brands in most of the countries and also because of the fact that this company had a reputation for social responsibility. This shows that they not only cared about profit alone but also about their employees and their customers.
What the Company do wrongThings that the company did not do well are; they ignored the risk several times when they found out about the possibilities of the contamination of salmonella. There were couple of opportunities that they could have doing things right when the issue arose in 2002 and in January 2006 but Cadbury acted only after being caught by the FSA. They ignored the importance of communication and maintaining the relationship with the government too and showed a lack of transparency. When they first found out about the problem they could have contacted the UK government instead of going for an independent laboratory. Even after the problem was brought to the front, they still argued that the level of salmonella was so low that there was nothing to worry about and that it did not possess a risk to their consumer’s health. This shows that they were talking with very little information on the issue and making another error. They did not show much care about their consumer’s health and went with their production as usual even after finding the traces of salmonella. There was a major difference between the company’s viewpoint and the independent health experts. When a journalist made a call to the company and asked how many chocolate bars one would have to eat to get into risk, the company’s spokesperson said 60 standard bars, which according to the independent FSA is untrue. The timing for recall was not appropriate as it was summer in the UK and Cadbury was already under pressure due to other issues in Nigeria. The HPA investigated all the salmonella cases occurring in the UK and found out that Cadbury’s brand was one of the brands that were linked in all cases. Cadbury failed to maintain a clear relationship with media as well, a lot of social media platform was starting to talk about the company and victims were coming up saying that they were also sick after consuming Cadbury product. News about the incident was spreading fast within a short period of time. Cadbury dropped from the third ‘Most Admired’ company in the UK to ninth, in 2006 and by 2007 they went further down to 47th place, this shows that they failed to keep the trust of their customers. Another problem popped up in 2007, where the company failed to warn people about the nut allergy on their packaging. This further damaged their reputation and added to the previous issue. The controversy affected the company badly.
What could they have done better
The company could have done things better by, acknowledging their mistakes right from the start when they had found out about the risk in 2002. First of all, they should have taken the issue into consideration and take an initiative approach that could stop it from turning into a risk. Acting quickly to any issue is the key factor to refrain risk from turning into a crisis. Demonstrating openness and transparency will show that the company is willing to negotiate. If they couldn’t stop the issue from turning into crisis then for that moment, the very right thing to do would be to admit their fault and for that come up with the right spokesperson for the turbulence that they have caused to the public and especially to their loyal customers. Making a crisis communication beforehand is also something to consider.
Secondly, sympathise and apologize to the victims and their family for causing such an issue and also to show that they care about them. Repenting for their actions and asking for forgiveness is one of the keys to not lose the public’s trust. Try to minimize the public panic by limiting media focus on the issue. For that, they should keep a good relationship with the media at all times, as media plays an important role in the daily lives of the people and people get influenced easily by what the media shows them. It is also important to work together with the government, as they will be the first ones who will get involved when something goes wrong with a company and the public.
They can take this crisis event as a lesson and learn through this to improve their business performance in the future. A company should always be ready to face any crisis by having the best team of crisis management at all times. Some other points to consider:
- A well-structured statement with a clear goal and not offensive
- Acting quickly as possible
- Using social media or advertisement is the best way to convey their message
- Connecting emotionally with their customers as they are one of the most important stakeholders
- Avoid negative publicity as much as possible.
Lessons learned from the scare
The Cadbury case study highlights several key issues surrounding crisis management and reputation management. It also highlights the importance of different stakeholder and their needs. Such as the consumers, the media, investors, local and national government agencies in this case study. When considering a crisis, the timing also plays an important role. There should always be effective strategic planning to face such a crisis. Gathering all the facts before responding to a crisis situation is very important and also, to consider the importance of media and their role during such a crisis. Having an efficient communication system is an important element of effective management. Hence, this case study highlights that a small issue in a company if not taken seriously or as a risk then it can lead to a bigger crisis in future and can damage the reputation of the company or completely ruin it. Therefore, it is very important to develop a better communication platform and strategy to handle such a crisis. The case study of Cadbury’s salmonella scares and its struggle to overcome that issue is a good example or a lesson to all the people and organizations, as it gives leverage to the interested people to observe and learn how an organization manages to cope up with such crisis.