Case Study: Cereal Companies Dealing with PR Concerns in Contrasting Fashions

top view of corn flakes in bowl with milk and silver spoon

A pair of cereal brands, General Mills’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Post’s Grape-Nuts, have been under the spotlight of late, by both the media and those on social media.

Although their situations are different, both brands have been hit with what many would consider a PR nightmare. Ultimately, both General Mills and Post were reminded that, when a brand’s reputation is at stake, transparency and prompt communication are key.

Imagine taking a bite of your breakfast cereal only to find, of all things, a shrimp tail in your bowl. That’s what comedian and writer Jensen Karp claims happened to him recently. According to Jensen’s social media posts, while pouring his Cinnamon Toast Crunch into a bowl, “Something plopped out of the box. “I picked it up, and I was like, ‘This is clearly a shrimp tail.’” He reached out to General Mills to report his findings, but the company’s CEO, Jeff Harmening, did not accept responsibility, saying it was highly unlikely that General Mills was responsible for tampering with the cereal, reported CNBC (March 24)

Meanwhile, Grape-Nuts lovers were recently faced with a different dilemma–a shortage of their favorite cereal due to the supply chain strain caused by COVID-19. Grape-Nuts fans were reportedly willing to pay as much as $120 for a box of the coveted cereal. Post, the maker of Grape-Nuts, responded to the shortage in empathetic fashion, offering consumers who paid $10 or more for a box of cereal a reimbursement, up to $115.

PR crisis management

Although these less-than-ideal situations may seem rare or unlikely, it’s certainly enough to raise the eyebrows of many consumer brands in the food industry. This poses the question, how can your brand best manage these types of PR issues, and furthermore, how can you prevent a PR nightmare from happening in the first place?

The following are suggested best practices for consumer brands and major companies when it comes to building and executing a crisis management plan:

  • Appoint a response team: If you don’t already have a response team in place for a crisis, it is crucial that you form one to ensure that the right people are speaking on behalf of your company.
  • Devise a strategy: Protocol is key in times of crisis, and it is critical that your response team understands their responsibilities and knows what approach to take with the media.
  • Craft your message: Once your team is briefed on the incident, agree on how you will frame the response, especially if you’re going to release a statement.
  • Identify and address affected parties: Be sure to address any and all individuals affected by the incident in a timely manner. This message can be sent in the form of an email and/or a press release.
  • Monitor the situation: Be aware of all incoming communication, so that you can address any questions or concerns. You may want to consider establishing a monitoring system for this purpose.
  • Own up: As noted in a recent article by Investopedia (March 27), perhaps the best way to tackle a PR nightmare is to admit that your company didn’t meet expectations. After all, ignoring a PR problem certainly isn’t going to make it go away. Owning up to a mistake, at the very least, shows that a company is honest and transparent, which can help restore respect among customers.
  • Make good: Another tip offered by Investopia: companies dealing with a PR problem need to ultimately show a commitment to fixing it. It’s even better when a company makes good on its actions without any public demands to do so, since that displays a social conscience.

Most important of all is that you and your company’s employees learn from the situation.

It’s not a bad idea to conduct a recap following the crisis to discuss what was handled well, and what could be improved upon for the future. Devise a strategy, execute it, and learn from it. When your brand’s reputation is at stake, be transparent and remember that communication and actions are key when it comes to a crisis.

It also never hurts to remember the words of Andy Gilman, president and CEO of Comm-Core Consulting Group, who once said: “The secret of crisis management is not good versus bad, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse.”