Spiderman Villain. (Ok not so much this)
The heroes of the household in helping control the fly and mosquito population, but falls into a category of pests when they decide to hop into a vat of frying fish skin.
Recently, we’ve been treated to a New Year saga featuring one of our little friends, dead, very much deep fried, seasoned with the finest salted egg yolk seasoning a company called IRVINS had to offer.
See, IRVINS Salted Egg Fish Skin has become a name synonymous with the avid snacker here in Singapore, and the familiar air seal bag has been a favourite of many eager travellers to bring back to their countries as souvenirs.
Bringing the name and fame of the bag of chips to regional heights, the company naturally began distribute the already popular product to other countries around the region, sounds like a fairytale product growth story.
But all that was about to change. Jeng jeng jeeennnggg.
An enthused customer that resides in Thailand began munching into the bag of fish skin and to their horror, they found the little four legged creature, dead and fried, in the bag. Oh, and they were already halfway through munching through the contents. Phew, at least they weren’t chugging the snack down in a dimly lit theatre.
A “WTF” post on Facebook later brought the virality hailstorm, with media outlets plastering photos of the Irvin’s fish skin bag and the poor dead lizard all over the interwebs. Social media comments and shares went ablaze.
But what happened next was brilliantly textbook.
Read their reply below:
Personally, I’m pretty impressed with the reply. Whether it was sifted through a PR filter or not, this is a textbook example/story of how a company should handle crisis management in this age. Let’s break it down.
Dear Customers, Fans, Friends & Partners of IRVINS Salted Egg,
Address all stakeholders.
This gives the reader, whether you’re a loyal IRVINS fan, or just a mild mannered paper salesman who have only tried the snack that “one time”, a little jolt, creating a sense that it is them you’re addressing towards.
All of us at IRVINS Salted Egg were very shocked and devastated to hear that one of our customers discovered a dead lizard in a snack pouch that she opened.
Context. Whether you’ve been following the whole situation, is well summarized in one sentence. Also, they immediately made their shock and devastation clear on the get-go.
Apology & explaining company practices
Quality control is one of the most important aspects of our company and we are always on our toes because our customers’ safety is everything to us. We really want to sincerely apologize to the customer and everyone who is affected by this incident directly or indirectly. We take full responsibility for the goods that we sell and everything in it. I have since personally contacted the customer and will continue to do so to make sure that she and her family is alright.
Here is where the apology comes in, first, they explain that quality control is something they take pride in. (But shit happens. Or in this case a lizard.) Apologize to anyone affected, because we tend to blow things out of proportion in this day and age, someone might get offended terribly by just the littlest of things even though the situation has nothing to do with them. But take it in stride, and assume responsibility, after all it’s their product that was involved. Addressing of what the action is to the person(s) affected by the situation also puts public questions at ease.
Next steps and actionables
We promise to investigate this further as we don’t have a full explanation on how the dead lizard ended up in our snack pouch and we promise to make the necessary changes in our production to ensure this will never happen again. The case has been reported to AVA and we will cooperate with them fully.
For all of our customers who still have our salted egg snacks at home, please kindly check on the back of the pouch for the expiry date. If you have a snack pouch that expires on 16 October 2019 or if you are uncomfortable with consuming our snacks, kindly email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that our Customer Experience team could assist you with the product recall and refunds required for the snacks. All recalled products would be disposed of.
Talk is cheap. You’re only as good as fart if you don’t shit. The next two paragraphs offer the readers closure, in what they will do following the incident. Being honest about not having a full explanation, but open to working with authorities to solve the issue.
And to minimise even more potential damage, product recall is imminent for the particular batch, with information on what customers should do if they are in possession of a possible dead fried mini reptile.
This is a major blow to us, however we promise that we will fix this issue and continue to be an honest and responsible company to all of you. Rest assured that we are doing the best we could to serve our customers with the best quality & service nonetheless.
This is a reiteration of how this is a horrid situation for everyone, especially the company. But further emphasizes that they are doing all they can to
reptilify rectify the situation.
IRVINS Salted Egg
“Regards, the CEO.” This is important, it shows that the bossman himself has
fishskin(ok i’ll stop after this) in the game. Again, whether the apology release was penned by him or not, it does give a little more confidence that the top guy himself is taking this seriously and looking very much into it.
Because i’m not a PR practitioner myself, I decided to ask my buddy Renhao, who is pretty ace at what he does when it comes to PR, what he thought about the whole situation. Here’s what he had to say about it:
After the initial customer post, IRVINS took about 80 hours to respond. It’s a tiny bit long, and personally I would have put out a holding statement to the effect of “we saw this and we’re looking into it, we’ll update soon”. Just to minimise accusations of ignoring the issue (they had a couple of normal marketing posts after Dec 29, before 2 Jan apology).
That said, the apology itself was solidly handled. The wording was great, and the next steps for both themselves, and customers, were clear. The most powerful bit about the apology, however, was the absolute humility in tone. This comes through with subtle choices of words – devastated, take full responsibility, personally contacted, major blow. Not only that, they volunteered info that the case is reported to AVA and that they are fully cooperating with them, and more importantly, plainly laid it out there that they could not find an explanation as to how the lizard could have ended up there. I kinda think that’s a masterstroke, because I’d interpret that as “gee that’s really unimaginable because our production floor is so clean we usually just eat off it.”
One of the biggest things that I think PR professionals need to make their stakeholders understand during a crisis situation is that the ball has already dropped. The milk has already spilled. Crisis management should not be an issue of protecting corporate reputation, it is about repairing the already damaged reputation. People don’t want to hear about your robust infrastructures or processes, or how this may or may not have been your fault, or how perhaps a vendor slacked off along the way. They want to see that you are fully invested in making things right with whoever was affected, and taking steps to right the wrongs that made this happen.
The negative comments can be minimized, but they will still be there. No amount of PR expertise can protect you from that, because you already messed up. What your crisis management strategy should focus more on doing is treating the incident with every last bit of transparency you can afford, and letting your customers know that above anything else, you have their needs and feelings, not your standing or reputation, at heart.
Now again, this may not be the ultimate and best way to handle a crisis like this. But it should be the least that a company should do in addressing the situation. We’ve seen similar oopsies with creepy crawlies happen to other F&B companies here in Singapore, and those were definitely handled poorly compared to this. Here’s an example, Old Chang Kee cockroach in curry puff, and a pretty good breakdown of how it was handled by SBR.
In any case, here are quick points to remember from the whole situation:
- Shit happens, bugs happens, take more care in quality control and be ready for such a crisis happening
- Address the situation, if it happens to your product, take responsibility
- No one else should front the problem but the leader/CEO/boss – at least towards the public
- Writing a good press release is just step one, walk the talk, and show action as well, everyone will be watching closely from here on
- Learn and grow from this, unlike some who never seem to, complacency will draw you into another whirlwind you don’t want to be in