Last week Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the makers of what the beef industry calls “lean, finely-textured beef,” notoriously known to most of the public as Pink Slime, filed a major anti-defamation lawsuit against ABC News. The implications of their beef with the news network go far beyond the $1.2 billion in reparation and damages that BPI seeks.
BPI claims that ABC “knowingly” engaged in a “disinformation campaign” that cost the company as much as 80% of its business, put it into bankruptcy, and forced it to shut three plants and lay off hundreds of workers. BPI has hired a high profile former US Attorney who has defended the likes of GE, Microsoft and Phillip Morris. ABC News plans to vigorously defend itself against what it sees as an attack on its reputation and freedom of the press.
Legalities aside, food industry experts are divided on whether the suit — which faces huge legal hurdles — was filed in part to support a PR agenda that includes a website campaign.
Some, like Marion Nestle of Food Politics, say the suit is a bad PR move – “absurd” and “the company deserves a prize for chutzpah.” Others agree with Chris Gidez of PR firm Hill & Knowlton who says in a case like this a firm’s PR considerations are based on the facts and how important they are to their business.
At CommCore the situation reminds us of what we advise our crisis communications clients:
• Always make your crisis response decisions based on inputs from ALL parts of the organization – communications, investor relations, finance, legal, safety, HR, etc
• Don’t let one area’s decisions unwittingly cause major headaches for another division of the enterprise.
• Have a crisis response and communications plan prepared in advance. The emergence of a crisis is not the time to start creating check lists and decision trees.
• Run simulations and have key spokespeople trained in crisis communications.
Think short term and long term on your crisis planning and response.