In the natural products industry, image is everything. Health and wellness organizations work very hard to establish themselves as reputable companies that operate with integrity and honor. But in a regulatory environment that includes increased FDA oversight and implementation of cGMPs (among other certifications), several natural products companies have recently had brushes with the FDA.
In fact, according to Forbes.com, a new study indicated that dietary supplements accounted for more than half of FDAs Class I drug recalls between 2004 and 2012. Class I is interpreted as supplements containing ingredients with a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death.
Of the 465 drugs subjected to a Class I recall in the U.S. between January 2004 and December 2012, 237 (or 51%) were dietary supplements. Not surprisingly, the three categories of supplements with the highest recalls were supplements for (1) sexual enhancement, (2) bodybuilding, and (3) weight loss where edgy marketing seems to entice consumers rather than legitimate science showing efficacy.
The supplement industry is robust, boasting 65,000 dietary supplement products taken by more than 150 million Americans. Rest assured, the FDA is very aware of these numbers and lies in waiting.Indeed, several natural products companies have had to deal with the unpleasant realization of product recalls. And this nasty scenario can undo years of image building and millions of dollars worth of marketing and branding.
How can a natural products company minimize the damage when confronted with this painful scenario? Well, in a word, your crisis management team has to be proactive. A public relations nightmare, such as an FDA product recall, can break your business.
The following are a few thoughts on how to deal with a public relations crisis:
Develop a plan: This will minimize mistakes. If a plan is not in place, critical mistakes will be made when trying to address the situation. Part of the plan includes prioritizing an immediate solution. From the very beginning, you must create a solution and communicate specific details. These actions will show your customers that they are truly the top priority.
NEVER go dark: Own your error(s) and take immediate responsibility. Not only is this the right thing to do, it gives your crisis team control of the media and ensuing storylines. A resolute conclusion of the problem will not only earn customer trust, but enhance it!
Do not lie: Deception will be your downfall. If you are caught in lies and deception (and you will be) you will see a disconcerting decrease in customers. And prospects wont trust you. In short, youll be finished.
Seek support from a prominent industry player. This is a good time to call in favors to industry contacts who are opinion leaders. Public support from these key players will go a long way toward minimizing a hit to your image.
Reach out to your customers: Your company must listen to and address its customers. The people who buy your products will make or break you moving forward. During a PR crisis, this is a 24/7 job. And if a customer engages you, a response has to be immediate.
Plan for post-crisis: The primary focus of post-crisis communications is ensuring the organization follows up with key groups to further cement a positive relationship going forward. The first step, however, is to make sure the crisis is, in fact, over. Moreover, even if the media is no longer inquiring about the crisis, the crisis management team must follow-up with reporters and editors to ensure they have all the necessary information. It is also important to provide any new details about the crisis. Proactively dealing with the media in post-crisis communications will help to establish trust with both the media and your customers, who will be reading these media reports.
In this age of diverse media platforms, including social media, news travels at lightning speed. Therefore, in the event your company should encounter a public relations crisis, be proactive. Develop a thorough crisis communication plan that will address this new, diverse media world. Saying it will never happen to us is not good enough.