By Rachel Gladwin

Food and drink PR comes into its own when a manufacturer has to recall one of its products.

While the law covers what businesses must do when there’s a case of contamination or incorrect labelling, responsibility falls on the public relations team to get that message out to as wide an audience as possible.

It’s a sad fact that the food industry sees one recall every week due to food safety concerns or mislabelling, and media relations is key to handling these.

There can be no hiding in these circumstances. A company has to be open, honest and contrite to avoid or limit lasting damage to its brand’s reputation.

It’s also on the food and drink PR experts to re-establish trust in the product once the initial burst of media relations activity subsides.

Getting the first stage of the process right is crucial to ensuring the success of the second stage.

Without careful thought and attention to detail, the bid to re-establish the brand’s reputation will be a fraught experience.

The first thing to remember if you’re in that situation is to stay calm. There’s a clear logical process to follow and no need to panic.

So get the news out. Your food and drink communications team will have to be very specific about exactly what product is affected by what problem. Batch numbers and use-by or best-before dates help ensure people know which foodstuffs or beverages have been affected.

This early notice should simply also inform consumers what they should do with the product and where they can get a refund on it.

Explain that the product is being stripped from shop shelves and replaced with items that have been scrupulously tested to ensure they meet the expected standards. Trace the source of the problem and explain that you have resolved it.

And the messages you put out on social media have to follow the same line you are using elsewhere. Remember, too, to stay calm in the face of trolling – ask yourself whether you really have to engage.

Don’t just keep consumers up to date – the message has to get through to the people working in the shops which sold the product. If they don’t know about the recall, how are they expected to deal with it? And it will reflect badly on your brand if they don’t. So be sure to get clear details of your replacement or refund plan out to retailers.

Remember that you’re putting people out with a recall. There’s a good chance they’ll be making a trip to a retailer that they’d never intended to make. You owe it to them to ensure that experience goes smoothly.

Also remember that this is the starting point of rebuilding your product’s reputation – consumers will be thinking, “If they can’t get this refund right, how can I trust them enough to put their product in my mouth?”

But if you remedy the situation professionally, keeping consumers informed with clear messages from your food and drink PR team and making sure they are not left out of pocket, then there are no such concerns.

Get media relations right, and there will be some negative coverage in the press – which is unavoidable in the circumstances –­ but the cause of the problem will be swiftly forgotten.

In the immediate aftermath of the recall, it’s important that any marketing, advertising or media relations activity strikes a careful tone.

While everyone admired KFC’s playful advertising and social media response to its chicken shortage earlier this year, that kind of jocular approach would not have worked had its chicken been contaminated.

In short, be clear, be explicit, be organized ­– and be aware that if you’re not, your customers may never come back.

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