More crisis communications

In what is shaping up to be the year of crisis communications efforts, the latest one to take center stage were Mattel's recent recall...

In what is shaping up to be the year of crisis communications efforts, the latest one to take center stage were Mattel's recent recall efforts.

This week, I did an article on the extensive communications efforts put forward by Mattel, after speaking with Lisa Marie Bongiovanni, VP of corporate communications for Mattel. Here are some excerpts that I was unable to include.
These recalls don’t really come out of the blue, when you make a billion toys a year, at any time there’s some investigation going on somewhere about some quality issue and that’s just the nature of making that many toys. So for all I know our quality assurance team is looking into issues right now that may or may not turn in to anything. We’re only brought into the loop when we know for sure there’s an issue and we’re reporting that issue to the CPSC.

I’m not sure it was the biggest recall [in Mattel's history] but to put it in perspective, 19 million toys sounds like a lot but we produce about one billion toys a year. And those 19 million toys being recalled date back to 2002, so you have to put it in perspective just how many you think that really is. And we were applying a new safety standard for magnet play, we were applying it retroactively to toys dating back to when we started using those small very powerful magnets.

The fact that we retroactively recalled all of those magnet toys that made the number very high. We were applying a new standard to toys that were built four years ago and we wanted to make sure that parents understood that concept. And not make them think that all of those toys were in their toy chest because they probably weren’t.

I have been here for seven years and we have had communications challenges in the past but from a personal perspective this is one of the largest communications challenges I have had with the company. That's because we had to move very quickly and there were a lot of moving parts. There was quite a bit of detail to get out to parents at one time.

Mattel is one of the most trusted brands out there and will continue to be one of the most trusted brands out there, which is why we were so proactive in talking to parents directly and making sure that people knew that at the very highest levels of our organization that there was great concern over this. Our CEO used the words “I apologize” and he meant that.

We will dispose of them in an environmentally friendly manner.

Tim Tinker, SVP at Widmeyer Communications and a risk communications expert, also spoke to me for this article and he also had additional input that was not included in the story:
They had a messaging strategy of keeping it simple enough and telling people what they need to know, what they can do and where they can go for more information. It was a simple yet understandable messaging strategy.

The CEO, Bob Eckert, followed that old Roy Rogers dictum: People want to know that you care, before they care about what you know. He’s been pretty consistent with the empathy and the caring and that was pretty clear in the emphasis in his and the company's messaging around what matters to parents--safety and trust.

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