THE BIG PITCH: How can Coca-Cola use PR to weather the tough times it is currently facing?

JAMES O’ROURKE, The Eugene D. Fanning Center, University of Notre Dame.

JAMES O’ROURKE, The Eugene D. Fanning Center, University of Notre Dame.

JAMES O’ROURKE, The Eugene D. Fanning Center, University of Notre


The Coca-Cola Company faces a different crisis from those encountered by

other companies in recent years. Unlike Johnson & Johnson, this isn’t a

product-tampering crisis. Unlike Sara Lee, this isn’t a

product-contamination crisis. And, unlike Microsoft, this isn’t a

business practices crisis.

The dilemma facing Coca-Cola is really a crisis of confidence, and PR

will have an important role to play in the company’s recovery

Fortunately for Coke, the most important element in making the strategy

work is already in place: a confident, capable senior team. The real

problem at Coca-Cola is that the directors of the company have no

confidence in Douglas Ivester’s leadership or strategic vision. Doug

Daft won’t become CEO until April, but he’s already reorganized his

executive team, slashed jobs and renegotiated relationships with key

players in the company. If Daft can convince the best of his people to

stay on board, control costs, reformulate the growth strategy and regain

the confidence of the market, things will be fine.

The publics that he must communicate with early and often include the

board and his executive team. Industry analysts will take their cue from

Allen & Co. and Berkshire Hathaway - if they retain confidence in

Coca-Cola’s stock, so will Wall Street. At Coca-Cola, brand image is

crucial to the company’s success. PR’s task is to help Daft show his

most important constituents that he’s in control, has a plan that works,

and is taking decisive action. The rest will follow, just as it has for

more than a hundred years at the world’s best-known brand.

TERRY T. BROWN, J. Walter Thompson, Detroit

Coca-Cola is the most recognizable brand name in the world, with loyal

customers numbering billions. Die-hard Coke drinkers will not


Top management changes show a willingness to be aggressive, bolstering

confidence among investors and market analysts. The European debacle of

1999 needs to be addressed (as it should have been at the time) in the

affected countries by top officials in a very visible, public


US consumers don’t know about these problems, so why confuse them by

raising the issue? Also, promotions in Europe, such as the popular ’cap

contests’ and in-store tastings, will help to woo back temporarily lost

customers and generate additional sales. The product continues to be of

excellent quality and customer loyalty will certainly follow.

STEPHANIE RABINOWITZ, SR Public Relations, New York

Coca-Cola is one of the most potent icons of the American


The best ways to combat the rotating dessert tray of crises plaguing

this brand are manifold: the first thing any organization needs to do in

a crisis management situation is maintain open, consistent communication

with the press. Coke also needs to customize its marketing and PR

efforts to different communities, and it is crucial to establish

partnerships with cutting-edge marketers, thereby increasing the right

kind of visibility.

It needs to step up the pace on its philanthropic endeavors and promote

them aggressively. Advertising efforts must incorporate traditional and

state-of-the-art themes: the concept of being an integral part of the

American landscape paired with the voice of a modern American celebrity

like Jim Carrey or Clint Eastwood. The company has weathered a

horrendous year, both domestically and internationally. There’s only one

way to go, and that’s up. During the next year, Coke needs to be

emphasizing its identity as the undisputed soft drink of choice. And if

all else fails, re-introduce the secret ingredient and call in Tony

Soprano to handle distribution.

NICKI GLADNEY, RLM Public Relations, New York

It seems that both the business community and the city of Atlanta are

looking to Coca-Cola with two major questions. Is the company in


What does this mean for the city of Atlanta? Coca-Cola will have to wage

valiant PR efforts on at least two fronts. Some might say that

Coca-Cola’s troubles abroad over the past year contributed heavily to

its declining numbers. Others deduced that a changing public palate is


There are probably a hundred contributing factors, but the key for

Coca-Cola now is consistency. Coca-Cola would serve itself well not to

try to dress up the truth anymore than that. The company’s standing as a

community leader will now be severely tested. Now is the time for

Coca-Cola to really demonstrate that commitment by continuing its

outreach initiatives - not necessarily in the form of a grand financial

gesture, but as a demonstration of the company’s stability. It’s not

time for a New Coke. It is time for the company to stay the course and

not let the exigencies of the business cycle distract it from being an

important corporate citizen, in its hometown and throughout the world.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in