Category Archives: Crisis Communication

Crisis Communications Tips / Readings

3 Crisis Communications Mistakes to Avoid

10 Steps of Crisis Communications

Crisis Communication Plan: Nonprofit Toolkit: from the Colorado Nonprofit Association (pdf)




Crisis Communication Case Study: Tesco/Horse Meat

Here’s an excellent PowerPoint on the recent PR crisis involving Tesco sale of products containing horse meat. Please review the PPT and the articles listed below and be prepared to discuss next week as we move into the final 2 weeks of class.

Background and related stories:

Stella Liebeck spills Hot Coffee

A few years ago, I remember hearing about the media scandal of “Hot Coffee.”  My reaction to this old woman, Stella Liebeck, spilling coffee on herself seemed to be a dramatic approach to a story.  To me, it seemed that this old woman was a little clumsy and looking for some extra cash.  

My viewpoint on this specific story remained constant until I was able to watch the documentary, “Hot Coffee,” in class.  Stella Liebeck’s true story was revealed through visuals of her burns.  I was shocked.  This McDonald’s coffee circumstance that I had always thought was a scheme was in fact real.  After the visuals were shown, my stance on this case completely turned around.

My understanding of the situation was broadened through this film.  I quickly understood the role that the PR companies had in covering up this McDonalds crisis.  I was educated on tort reform, which is the protection that big companies have for getting sued for matters such as this one.  Through this documentary, I have learned how hard it is to sue large companies such as McDonalds because of these policies.

If I learned one thing from this documentary and the story surrounding “Hot Coffee” it would be that a PR firm needs to have moral boundaries when engaging with a company.  Looking into the future, I need to be detail oriented while looking into a PR company.  I want to be sure of a PR company’s standards, no matter what amount of money is thrown their way.  Is that agency ready to be held to their standards or are they ready to cover up company’s mistakes?

After watching the “Hot Coffee” documentary in class, we were able to promote this film as if we were working in the field of public relations.  Our goal was to

inform the students of Samford University about the film “Hot Coffee” that was going to be shown on Tuesday April 17.

The class was split up into different sections to reach various areas on campus.  We were able to use individual strengths in the midst of the classroom to prepare visuals, such as posters and brochures.  Also, social media was used through Facebook and Twitter.  It was great to see a classroom filled with so many different talents come together to promote this film.

“Hot Coffee” heats up Samford campus

Movie Poster
"Hot Coffee" is now available for purchase on DVD.

Years ago, when I first became aware of the McDonalds coffee burning situation I rolled my eyes annoyed at public America. I was annoyed that people fabricated and exaggerated the truth just to receive a payback.

And then I watched a documentary, “Hot Coffee.” The images shown of coffee burns from McDonalds looked like they should have killed someone. It seemed as if coffee could not possibly do anything of the sort—actually eating through Stella Liebeck’s skin.

For years the media had led me to believe that Americans, like Liebeck, will manipulate anything for money. Instead, it is the PR companies that agree to work alongside large corporations to cover up crisis.

Tort reform, which protects companies for getting sued for frivolous matters, is the focus of the movie “Hot Coffee.” The law has made it so difficult to sue large companies for problems of which they should be sued.

More than anything, watching this film made me realize the ethical dilemma for public relations firms. They have to ask, should we represent this large company and mask their wrongdoings? In return making a large amount of money. That choice I am sure is something they are faced with on a daily basis. A PR company must set their own standards for who and what they will represent. It is hard to stick to your word when you are presented a large amount of money, but is it right to cover up someone’s mistakes?

Hot Coffee
Jenna Young hangs posters in the University Center to advertise movie to students.

Notifying students about the event on Samford’s campus is similar to raising awareness in a community. Our class distributed posters, spoke to organizations, advertised to teachers and specific majors, and used social media to reach potential viewers. PR requires knowledge in many outlets on how to successfully reach people. It was great having a team of students, with various talents and abilities, to reach the Samford community.

Sean Wright speaks to PR class

Sean Wright, director of venue management at Samford University, talked to Dr. Martin’s Principles of PR class March 14th. His main responsibility is scheduling events for the Leslie Wright Center and Pete Hanna Center on Samford’s campus.

Here are a few take-aways from Wright’s talk:

  • The biggest change that Wright deals with is the fact that the calendar year never ends.  Summer used to be slow, but not anymore.  They are constantly booking before and after the academic year.
  • Every day is different.  No day is the same.
  • “Product remains the key.”  You have to know your venue and market.  You have to know that your product is profitable.  Develop a marketing strategy before the event; otherwise you will not be prepared.