Product Recalls and the Press Release: Crisis Tool and Opportunity

April 19, 2007

The recent spate of product recalls–from pet food to peanut butter–has me thinking about the role of press releases in the universe of crises. I’m not the only one.

Google noted in its Consumer Packaged Goods blog recently that for the first time in six years, a product recall placed in the #1 and #2 positions in top gaining Google searches.

Noting that “breaking news fuels online searches,” (REALLY?) Google detailed what companies should do during product recalls in the context of online search.

The search giant’s #1 recommendation: Ensure the official information is available by immediately routing searches to the press release and official statements the moment it is available online.”

The press release as foundation document will never go away. Hear that social media types beating the drum on the demise of the press release?

Those sharp enough to leverage that press release not only as media relations tools, but as search engine optimized, direct-to-consumer content pages will weather a recall better than those who don’t bother.

Meanwhile, savvy PR pros like David Muise of Full Spectrum Media seize the opportunity to take the offensive in distinguishing their brands from those tainted. Muise represents Life’s Abundance, an all natural pet food wholesome enough for people to eat.

On April 4, Muise ran a release on Business Wire and EON Enhanced Online News with the headline “Pet Food Recall Has Pet Owners Turning to for Safe, Holistic Dog and Cat Food Alternatives.” The story rated third most-viewed release on Business Wire that day and Muise’s NewsTrak access report reflected almost 1,000 views in the first 24 hours.

“My goal was to reach the consumer and let them know they could be educated and that they have options,” said Muise, adding that the press release distro resulted in more than 250 online requests for pet food samples. “The conversion rate on samples is between 65 and 70 percent,” says Muise. Dr. Jane Bicks, Life’s Abundance founder and a holistic veterinarian, was also tapped by scores of journalists as an expert on pet nutrition, which resulted in ancillary positive publicity and web traffic, “even though the press release had no hard news in it,” says Muise.

Recalls are challenging for PR practitioners and press releases will always be a great tool for managing such challenges. One company’s bad news may breed opportunity for competitors, but in a nod to Don Imus, we at Business Wire and EON: Enhanced Online News insist that clients be tactful. We reserve the right to refuse copy that is “blatantly opportunistic” as we do weekly, most recently with releases exploiting the Virginia Tech massacre.


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