CANTON, MA: Reebok issued a voluntary recall of 300,000 charm bracelets in the US last month when it was alerted there may be a connection between the bracelet and the lead-poisoning death of a four-year-old boy in Minnesota.
With the help of Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L), which Reebok hired days after the incident, the athletic-gear company launched an extensive internal and external crisis communications effort. The bracelets were a gift with purchase that came with several styles of children's shoes that went on sale in 2004. The company has three existing AORs: LaForce + Stevens, PMK/HBH, and Alan Taylor.
Denise Kaigler, head of global PR and communications at Reebok, said she was informed of the child's death on Friday, March 10 by one of the company's attorneys.
"Our response was immediate and our first thought was to recall the bracelets before we even knew there was a definitive connection between Reebok and this child's death," Kaigler said. "We just couldn't take the slightest chance that that link would be proven definitive and still have these bracelets in the market."
Reebok began its efforts internally. Kaigler first told Paul Harrington, Reebok's CEO, who then mobilized the Reebok sales force to begin research into finding out where the bracelets were distributed, and then put a plan in place to get them off the market. Harrington also sent a personal note to employees around the world alerting them to what had happened.
"We informed the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on March 13 and made a request that they put the recall on the 'fast track,'" Kaigler said. "We couldn't go public until the CPSC was ready to make an official recall."
Reebok did not wait for the CPSC to begin contacting retailers. "We started contacting our retailers... and requested they immediately take the product out of the box," Kaigler said. The CPSC issued the recall on March 23. Kaigler said she expects that half a million bracelets worldwide will be recalled. The company has rolled out individual voluntary recalls in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Asia and is currently completing its efforts in Latin America, though the company has still not yet received official documentation linking the cause of death to the bracelet.
"Our biggest concern at that point was how do we get word out to consumers," Kaigler said. "And we now had to see how much of it had sold through to the consumer, and that required a lot more investigating to see where the product was."
Reebok posted the CPSC's statement on its website along with a letter from Harrington. Harrington also did interviews with the Associated Press and The Boston Globe.
"Once the release went out we received a couple of hundred media calls and e-mails over the course of two days," Kaigler said. "They're still coming in because this is a worldwide recall. So as the recall is announced in each country outside the US it starts a whole other media frenzy."
Reebok sent out letters about the recall to consumers it knew had purchased the shoes from Reebok.com. "We also sent out, two days before the recall went public, another package to retailers who carried the shoe," Kaigler said. "It contained the CPSC press release and a poster for them to put up within their stores that detailed the recall."
It also highlighted its consumer hotline on the CPSC release and on the in-store posters.
Kaigler said this is the first recall of this kind that Reebok has had to make.
"We've never had any deaths and not even any injuries as a result of any product," she said. "Any recall we made was based mostly on quality issues but not health or injury-related issues."
Kaigler has been receiving e-mails from consumers. Some expressing their support for Reebok's quick response and proactive approach to the situation, while others "weren't so nice and expressed disappointment."
As a result of this incident, Reebok has formed a task force which includes MS&L.
"It will specifically address this issue and put in place steps that can prevent this from happening again," Kaigler said. "It's made up of a dozen people representing all key areas of the company worldwide that in any way shape or form touch our supply chain, product and marketing."