product liability public relations

Like much of what works best in social media and public relations, having a good story and telling it well is almost always the first step to a strategy for confronting a crisis or launching a new product. If you offer a product you to the public, start building your story even before your product launch. If the worst happens, and product liability becomes an issue, the story will need adjustments, but it is still necessary.

In general, the company making or selling the product is viewed as being wrong. That means to win in the court of public opinion you have to first own that label. Admit to the problem immediately. Express concern and sympathy for those who have suffered because of whatever problem was caused, and do what you can to alleviate that suffering. Don’t drag your feet while formulating a full-blown plan. Waiting costs companies untold damage – and much of it may not be reversible. Getting out there immediately can save the company. If this sounds like a broken record, it’s because the point is Just That Important!

Okay, the acknowledgment has been made, The first step to making things better for those wronged is in place, now what? There are a few things to face at this point. Start with a meeting bringing all the internal people in for a strategy and brainstorming session. Look at what caused the problem and what other factors outside the company play a role in the problem. What are some ways suffering can be alleviated for those impacted by the malfunctioning product? What ways can sympathy and empathy be offered without admitting culpability for areas not the fault of your company?

If the product is good but has specific instructions that need to be followed or problems arise. Ensure those instructions are in bold face print more than once on your product, packaging, and advertisements. Saying your product is safe doesn’t meet the test, but saying, “when properly used according to directions on the package, our products are safe,” removes the possibility of many potential claims.

If other companies in your industry are seeing product liability issues arise, get ahead of the game. Don’t allow your company to be lumped into the group just because you offer similar products. Hasbro did this in 2007 when other toy manufacturers were facing class action lawsuits about lead paint used in toys. Hasbro became proactive creating a safety plan for toy manufacturing and then made the gist of it available to their competitors, setting themselves above the fray, and to some extent becoming the hero in that story.

In short, tell your story and make it good, be prepared, respond quickly and compassionately, find ways to assist without admitting culpability, enact proactive approaches, and provide for situations where your company won’t be blamed when others are at fault.