Acknowledge. Atone. Take Action.

If you look at the headlines today, you can trace any issue back to communications: Either something went right, or something went wrong. With all the issues facing companies today, those stories emphasize the importance of strategic communications. Whether you are a small business owner or the President of a major corporation, whatever your communication goals are, communication is all about making connections with a consistent message that tells your story, your way.

One of the biggest issues in the headlines outside of the Ukraine/Russia war and gas prices, is the baby formula shortage, due to several factors including a recall by Abbott Laboratories in February of this year. Abbott CEO, Robert Ford’s opinion piece in The Washington Post addressed the crisis and what Abbott is doing to fix it.

In a crisis, telling your own story is crucial. The last thing you want is to have the media, a competitor, or someone inside your organization leak an internal email or document that creates a narrative that is inconsistent with your message. During a crisis, remember: you must acknowledge, atone, and take action. It can be the difference between winning and losing credibility with existing customers, future partners, and potential clients.

Ford’s guest opinion piece in the Washington Post (Abbott CEO: We’re sorry about the formula shortage. Here’s what we’re doing to fix it.) hit all three components in crisis communications, including

a full-throated apology to families faced with baby formula shortages. He set the tone by hitting the first two A’s: acknowledging the impact his company’s recall had on families who are dependent on his product and apologizing. In the first paragraph, which ended with, “But the past few months have distressed us as they have you, and so I want to say: We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage.

The critical piece of addressing a crisis is the “action” being taken to address the issue in tangible terms for your customers, to rebuild trust by demonstrating that not only are you in control of the situation but you can and will fix the problem. In his position as chairman and chief executive of Abbott, Ford wrote, “Our customers want to know when shelves will be full again, whether the product they’re buying is safe, what will prevent this from happening again, and what we’re doing to help parents now. So, here’s what we’re doing.

Ford’s Washington Post Op-Ed resulted in headlines from news outlets across the country which included the term "apology" and the action being taken by the company. NPR (Abbott CEO apologizes for the formula shortage as the first overseas shipment arrives); The Wall Street Journal (Abbott CEO Apologizes for Company’s Role in Baby Formula Shortage); Crain’s Chicago Business (Abbott CEO: Here's what we're doing to fix the baby formula shortage); and the New York Post (Abbott CEO Robert Ford ‘sorry,’ vows to supply ‘more baby formula than before recall’).

At some point, we can debate the timing of this piece, in terms of how long it took for Abbott to address the company’s recall, and whether the company should have gotten out in front of this well before it happened. For now, it appears the decision to pen the Post opinion piece has resulted in the headlines the strategists hoped for: to reset the narrative.

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