Mattel shows that reputation management is becoming routine

August 15, 2007

First, let me say that Mattel seems to be handling the potentially organization-threatening recalls and reputation damage very well. And their response seems like the well rehearsed response of messaging, key executive media training, and crisis management response that many of us in this business have been advocating for a long time. Get your CEO out there. Tell the truth, even when it hurts the worst. Be the bearer of bad news yourself. Accept responsibility. Personalize your pain. Tell what you are going to do about it so the problem doesn’t happen again.

Key highlights:

The letter from CEO Eckert starts: Dear Fellow Parents. That’s good. Make common cause with your most important customers and those most concerned–and personalize. Which is exactly how he starts the video.

Video–yes, with CEO Eckert carrying all the key messages.

Key message Q&A–short, precise, to the point.

Web site and search–I could quickly find (about 6 down) the important message from Mattel about safety with a web page that took me directly to the information–which means it doesn’t have to clutter their existing site, but also avoids them looking like they are oblivious or it doesn’t matter.

Pretty text book I say. We will see how it plays out longer term. What I am seeing though is that there have been an increasing number of companies and organizations in crisis that seem to have it figured out. So much that now there emerges another problem. When does it start to look like it is too practiced, too routine, too slick? Not sure, but I expect there to start to be snide comments from media commentators about this kind of schtick–in fact, I heard one comment about “the normal round of mea culpas,” so I think it is starting. The question is–if you can’t do this and protect your reputation, what do you do?

One more thing. Lead poisoning is no doubt a great concern and parents ought to be alarmed. But some of the expert doctors suggesting almost that if your child had any contact with a Mattel toy need to get in and get tested seems overkill. The media loves to scare, no doubt about that as John Stossel effectively pointed out a while back on 20/20. How about some useful information now about the level of lead necessary to trigger brain damage and just how much of one of those toys would someone have to suck down in order to accumulate that much lead. That would be useful and might work to relieve some worried minds–including those at Mattel, whose CEO is a parent too.


6 Responses to “Mattel shows that reputation management is becoming routine”

  1. Jen White Says:

    Interesting post, especially the “normal rounds of mea culpas” point. I think in any case similar to this one, where there is a potential for legal action by someone, somewhere down the line, there will always be an element of the answers sounding “too practiced, too routine, too slick.”

    That’s because this has likely all been run by legal, as it should be. While I think it’s great (and necessary) that companies are embracing crisis comms as you’ve outlined above, I think it’s asking the impossible to not have it sound rehearsed when they do have to be careful about what they say.


  2. […] Crisisblogger does an assessment on Mattel’s handling of the recall announced earlier this week.  It seems […]

  3. gbaron Says:

    In response to Jen White–one of the things I find interesting in the widespread adoption of crisis communication dogma, as I see at work in Mattel, is the readiness with which CEOs are willing and able to say “I’m sorry.” That is a big change from a few years ago. It shows either that attorneys are getting the picture about what it means to operate in the court of public opinion, or more likely, that CEO’s are recognizing more the folly of simply turning the messaging over to attorneys in order to protect their legal position. At any rate, I see a major change for the better in this direction. It makes the world a better place when people are not stopped by legal concerns from apologizing–providing it is sincere and followed up by real action.

  4. stephen askins Says:

    The trite response of “regret” is becoming something that everyone needs to guard against. In an interview in the UK with our home secretary (and I appreciate politicians are in a different boat) following the shooting of an 11 year old the journalist began by saying “lets assume you echo the expressions of regret and sadness” and moved onto the first question. It is indicative of how these trite openings are now brushed aside. Crisis communication cannot become like painting by numbers….

  5. mickeyscott Says:

    Perhaps Media Training needs to get better, and message delivery will sound less staged? I think a bit of creativity will work in cases like this, i.e. send CEO to China and have him deliver the message in the plant, where the safety review is occurring.

  6. Alan Says:

    Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your info and will be back to view further posts.

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