A Board's Reactive Preparedness Benefits The Company It Serves
With my new book, 'Across The Board: The Modern Architecture Behind an Effective Board of Directors' launched this past week, I felt it would be great to include an excerpt touching on an interesting scenario recently encountered by a Board of Directors for this month's second newsletter. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 15, page 193:
"As a rule of thumb, Boards should equally dedicate time to proactive as well as reactive preparedness. Creating mock ‘what if’ scenarios may seem like a waste of time, but these are very simple exercises that can be undertaken to practice strategic and well-orchestrated crisis responses. An increasing percentage of Boards now receive consistent reports containing not only top risks currently facing their organization, but also summaries of emerging risks internal and external to their overall industry as a way of staying more widely informed on potential reactive scenarios. This is a great Board practice to abide by and will most definitely save precious time if and when a reactive situation is encountered.
Let’s expand on this reactive preparation approach through an interesting, yet unexpected, example relating to a PR crisis instance. I will start by admitting that I am not a big TV watcher, however, during a dinner meeting conversation, a popular TV episode was being discussed. A dinner guest referenced the show ‘This Is Us,’ specifically the episode that aired following the 2018 Super Bowl. The dinner conversation was interesting enough to make me watch the episode a few days later – but not for the need of drama or to get hooked on a TV series, but more so to specifically see a scene in which I was told a Crock-Pot slow cooker, given to the father, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia), by a neighbor, ignites a fire that burns down the home. Jack, a beloved character on the show, is killed.
Now, it is safe to say that most folks would want to see the fire scene simply for the suspense, camera work and final outcome. Not me. The only thing that I could think of was, “…what company owns Crock-Pot and what a PR nightmare for them! I wonder what their Board was doing right at that moment?”
The next day, I decided to do some research on the company’s response – and I was both shocked and impressed by the chain of events."
"Turns out, approximately 27 million people tuned in to watch the ‘This Is Us’ episode following the Super Bowl. This level of viewership was incredible for the show, but absolutely terrible for Newell Brands, the makers of Crock-Pot. It should be mentioned that although the term and brand ‘Crock-Pot’ was not directly mentioned in the episode, such a kitchen legend required no introduction – and it subsequently became an instant victim of its own success. During the episode’s airing, and continuing after the end of the episode, thousands of fans of the show voiced their dismay on Twitter regarding Jack’s death… and also their intent (and request of others) to throw out their Crock-Pots!
This turned into an instantaneous and national outcry against Crock-Pot, igniting in less than 30 seconds – all following a fictitious and scripted scene that had nothing to do with any actual actions of Newell Brands. A seemingly harmless scene on a popular TV show plunged Newell Brands into an immediate and full-fledged PR crisis.
Newell Brands, as if on cue, immediately took to social media, created the Twitter account @CrockPotCares, and posted a thoughtful and compassionate response:
“THIS IS US SPOILER ALERT. We're still trying to mend our heart after watching This Is Us on Tuesday night. America's favorite dad and husband deserved a better exit and Crock-Pot shares in your devastation. Don't further add to this tragedy by throwing your Crock-Pot Slow Cooker away. It's hard to pass something down from generation to generation if you throw it away (grandma won't be too happy). Spending time with his family while enjoying comfort food from his Crock-Pot was one of his favorite things to do. Let's all do our part and honor his legacy in the kitchen with Crock-Pot.”
In addition to social media channels, Newell Brands quickly engaged mainstream media with the following statement:
“'For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night's episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible. In addition, and most relevant to the concerns consumers are having after watching the recent This Is Us episode, our Crock-Pot slow cookers are low current, low wattage (typically no more than 200 or 300 watts) appliances with self-regulating heating elements.'”
A week later, Newell Brands was still at it with supportive messages, showing empathy towards fans of the show, and also injecting a little humor with the hashtag, #CrockPotIsInnocent.
Newell Brand’s Board likely never saw this type of exposure coming from a seemingly unrelated TV scene. In fairness, how could any company or Board prepare for an ‘instance’ such as this? Truth is, they can’t. However, what companies and Boards can absolutely do is be prepared for a ‘scenario’ such as this. Practicing ‘what if’ scenarios relating to potential crises are key. Although not verified, I would like to believe after witnessing a flawless crisis response, Newell Brands’ Board was most definitely prepared for this type of ‘scenario.’ " (Get a copy of the book here to read more...)