How you are seen to respond to a crisis matters, and with the internet a critical source of information, especially in a crisis, both your offline and online communication must be credible and consistent. McDonald’s handling of the ongoing meat expiry scandal in Hong Kong shows all too clearly what happens when the two channels get out of sync.
The backstory: The Shanghai Husi Food Co is found to be selling meat past its expiry date to its customers, including Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut), McDonald’s and Starbucks. Systematically. And condoned by management. Customers on the mainland quickly suspend sales of relevant products. McDonald’s Japan, also a customer, suspends sales of chicken products.
Meantime, McDonald’s Hong Kong denies it has a relationship with Shanghai Husi to the Hong Kong government, which launches an investigation that quickly establishes otherwise. McDonald’s then argues with the local health authority about who should make a statement and when it finally does so itself, issues a ‘sincere’ apology and refuses to answer any questions.
The burger chain subsequently publishes the message below to its local website. A textbook guide to poor crisis communications could hardly put it any better.
Some brief observations:
- The message is not addressed to anyone
- It appears selectively misleading (‘…we have proactively suspended relevant food ingredients’)
- There is no hint of remorse, let alone an apology
- It provides no hint of how it is going to stop a similar incident happening in the future
- It is unhelpful, providing no additional information or ability to ask questions online or via a hotline
- It is unclear who owns the statement – the local CEO?
- The English is badly mangled and the paragraphing awkward (at best).
In the final analysis, McDonald’s appears both evasive and incompetent.
All is not lost. Nobody has (yet) fallen ill and Ronald and his companions have plenty of goodwill in the tank – even weddings are held between the hallowed yellow arches here.
To re-build trust they will need to take concrete actions to ensure this cannot happen again, and communicate these actions simply and clearly. While bearing in mind that what is said online is consistent with what is said offline.