British baby buggy manufacturer Maclaren are recalling some 1 million of their umbrella strollers from the US market following reports of children having fingertips amputated by the closure mechanism. Hopefully this will be a lesson on handling brand communications properly, to preserve the brand values of a long-established organization – but I have an uneasy feeling it may be a masterclass in how NOT to handle them.
In the US, Maclaren have been quick to respond – the recall, issuing a safety kit, information on the website, a hotline for worried consumers, and a joint press release with the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).
In the UK, the story so far is somewhat different. Indeed there seem to have been no similar injuries reported so far and we understand there are no plans to recall the product in the UK. But the response from the company has been more tight-lipped in their home market. When the story was featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Maclaren declined to put up a spokesperson.
Okay, it’s early days, but it is here that brand damage is often most critical. They advice in this area is well known and I cannot believe that Maclaren’s corporate communications team are not fully aware of the proper ‘spill drill’. Any delay and hint of a ‘no comment’ response is the public’s first perception of the organization’s attitude – and as we know, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Brief the team, have your spokesperson ready, be proactive in supplying information and let your brand ambassadors do their work.
Any product or service that impacts upon children is particularly sensitive. Maclaren has a good brand reputation for its products – my own kids were pushed around much of Europe in them. But the values we expect such a company to encompass and communicate must include consideration and empathy for children and parents. Importantly, we live in a global communications arena: we can’t adopt different standards in different market even though we have to adapt culturally. Cynics may suggest that one approach is applied in the US because of the actions of the CPSC and an intrinsically more litigious culture, while another strategy used in the UK because we don’t.
Damage to sales figures is painful – damage to brands can be terminal.