Make sure you focus on solving the real problem–Coke in India

November 17, 2006

Some of the best thinking and information around about crisis management and crisis communications comes from Jonathan Bernstein’s “Crisis Manager” email newsletter. The issue I just received is no exception. An excellent article by Dr. Ram Baliga (Wake Forest University) and Rick Amme of Amme and Associates. It talks about the attacks on Coke and Pepsi in India by India’s Centre for Science and Environment. The Centre said the products were unsafe–laced with pesticide. Sales plummeted and one region banned the products. Coke and Pepsi responded by trying to convince everyone that their drinks were safe. As the authors point out, they missed the point. This is about politics. It was a political attack on government reform and attempting to place blame for the pain of reform on foreign companies.

How do you fight back in such a situation? You need to subscribe to the newsletter to read it.

The underlying point is that if you don’t understand the culture, and you don’t understand the underpinnings of the attack, you can’t effectively respond. I believe the same is true of Shell’s megaproject on Sakahlin island which is now being attacked by Russia’s environment regulatory department. It’s a very tough and very expensive spot to be in. But to try to defend the project as meeting environmental regulations is probably pointless. President Putin has made it clear he wants oil and energy revenues to be controlled by him and his administration–and he’s willing to brave the accusations of the free world to make that happen. He did it to Yukos. Why not Shell? It is a horrible situation to be in, but the crisis will not be changed by convincing the world of environmental responsibility. It will be by bringing world attention to the dictatorial instincts of this government. Not sure Shell is in the best position to do this.

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