A Brand with Great Crisis Management

Photograph by Meenu Bhardwaj—The New York Times/Redux

By: Jieun Lee

Crisis Management is the main task for PR professionals when they work in an agency. There are many good and bad cases of crisis management, and I want to share one of the great crisis management cases with future PR professionals of Texas PRSSA.

After Blue Bell was in controversy because of a listeria outbreak, there have been several challenges that the company has had to confront. Blue Bell has a long history of 108 years, and it is also considered a Southwestern favorite. That means the brand has a number of loyal fans. If their love turns to disappointment, the brand gets a bigger damage. Because the brand has been in people’s lives in more than 20 states of the United States for a long period of time, people could get shocked and nervous with their health much more than other brands’ crisis.

Blue Bell’s crisis management was great to keep many of its loyal fans. Blue Bell did not make excuses, but it ‘owned’ its problems. The brand started to recall its products before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the company to do it. If Blue Bell did not start recall until FDA asked them, customers could think the brand tried to delay to solve the problem on its own. However, it took one more month to recall all of its products after the listeria test results came out. Blue Bell ice creams are sold at many important places like schools and hospitals; therefore, they must recall all products first quickly not depending on the test results.

During the crisis, Blue Bell tried hard to contact its customers via social media, like Twitter and Facebook, and its mailing list. The brand kept updating the information as they figured out what really caused the outbreak. Blue Bell also informed customers their current actions like cleaning plants and future safety plans. Because the customer kept getting Blue Bell’s updated posts or email, they could trust they are working really hard to solve the problem, and wait for their return.

In my opinion, Blue Bell’s public relations strategy was the best part to make their fans too loyal to lose their love towards Blue Bell. Over a hundred years, Blue Bell has donated its products to charity events and sponsored worthy communities. People and the communities who witnessed the warm moments of Blue Bell could become supportive even when the company is in a crisis.

Also, Blue Bell’s CEO, Paul Kruse, uploaded a video apology on its website. Kruse apologized for the recall, and the apology seemed really authentic. However, I did not like one thing. He did not mention the deaths of victims or apologize to the victims and their families who lost their loved ones because of Blue Bell’s ice cream. What can be more important than one’s life? Blue Bell should focus more on its serious apology and compensation for the victims.

Overall, Blue Bell did great crisis management to keep its positive brand image and loyal customers. Their quick, clear and sincere process for resolution made people excited for Blue Bell’s return to the public. After they started to resell the products, a lot of people posted pictures with hashtags like #BlueBellisback. Some people posted pictures of their happy faces holding Blue Bell ice cream, and some posted pictures of a long line at market to grab Blue Bell ice cream. By the new trending on social media after their return, Blue Bell could prove its fame and loyalty once more to the nation.