META, MO: Diamond Pet Foods put a crisis plan in action when it initiated a voluntary product recall in 21 Eastern states late last month after several dogs died, and the toxic fungus aflatoxin was found in one of the Diamond products they'd eaten.
Diamond was alerted to the potential problem on Friday, December 17 when a veterinarian from upstate New York contacted them about treating three dogs with symptoms associated with liver disease.
After identifying the plant where the food was made, the company, on December 20, issued a customer alert. The next day, it recalled products produced there.
Diamond also immediately posted information on its website and set up an on-site call center in Meta, MO. Calls were coming in at a rate of 1,500 an hour, said Jim Fallon, of Anderson Kisner Fallon (AKF), Diamond's PR agency since September. He said the five-person staff was swamped, but "consumers were patient, and we called them all back."
On December 22, Diamond issued a media release from its GM Mark Brinkmann stating the company was taking aggressive steps to resolve the issue.
Diamond's media statement was picked up by major and local dailies, the AP, ABC News and CNN's website, and the crawler underneath its TV broadcasts. Media inquiries "died down considerably" after the weekend.
Fallon said Diamond then also began alerting distributors, who contacted retailers carrying the products. Retailers were sent fact sheets showing them how to identify potentially contaminated packages and what to do with customers who had already purchased them.
For Diamond, the biggest challenge was staffing a customer information center during Christmas week. In just under 10 days, it set up a stand-alone call center in Columbia, SC, an hour away from its production plant. There, 10 to 15 veterinarians and veterinarian technicians operating 16 hours a day, seven days a week provided information to consumers and veterinarians.
AKF works with advertising agency Woodruff Sweitzer on marketing and PR efforts for Diamond.