Stephen Waddington is partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor at Newcastle University.
The number of product recalls in the UK has reached an all-time high as brands fear threats to safety, public health and lasting damage to their reputation sales.
High-profile cases have rocked the food and motor vehicle industries.
Recalls jumped by more than a quarter to 310 over the period November 2014 to October 2015 according to law firm RPC.
Social media, traditional media, and legal scrutiny is leading brands to act in the public interest more quickly than ever before.
My view is public relations practitioners are recognising the opportunity to take an assertive position within management teams alongside finance and legal, so that organisations respond proportionately to issues with speed and grace.
That’s got to be a good thing for both consumers and brands.
Back to the garage
RPC reported that the number of vehicle recalls rose dramatically in the last year after several high profile incidents within the motor industry.
The scandal over General Motors’ failure to promptly recall cars with a potentially faulty ignition switch shone a harsh spotlight on the sector.
The car manufacturer recently agreed to pay $900m in criminal damages to settle the case and eventually recalled 800,000 vehicles.
Volkswagen’s emissions testing scandal has led to further investigations. Renault recently recalled 15,000 cars after questions were raised over emissions testing of its cars.
Food and drink
The number of recalls relating to food and drink has also significantly increased by 50 per cent this year from 56 to 84, according to RPC.
The National Food Crime Unit was established in 2014 following the horsemeat scandal. It works to uncover incidents of food fraud in the UK and has led to supermarkets placing a high level of scrutiny on their supply chain.
Consumers that have a problem with a product or service can quickly discover if other people are in a similar situation by searching Google or Twitter.
Any gap between people’s expectation of a product or service because of the way it’s been sold and the reality will result in a conversation on the internet.
You’ll find the results on sites such as blogs, review websites and Twitter. If there is sufficient volume the issue will spill over into mainstream media and attract the attention of regulators.
Dealing with a recall
Crisis planning should be part of an organisation’s risk register, and should be properly identified as a risk and addressed through an insurance or reserve policy.
The quality of products should be tracked at all stages of the supply chain through manufacture, sales and after sales.
If a product recall situation does arise make sure you have a qualified public relations person in your management team.
Public relations practitioners should use this growing trend to reinforce their advisory position at the board and act as the eyes, ears and conscience of an organisation, helping it to serve its publics ethically and appropriately.
Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum. Follow him on Twitter @wadds
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