When meat processor Cargill recently found itself in the middle of one of the largest recalls in U.S. history, the company’s VP-corporate affairs, Mike Fernandez, picked up the phone to call Margery Kraus, CEO of crisis firm APCO Worldwide.
But he didn’t ask APCO to help stem the mounting tide of negative blog mentions about salmonella-tainted turkey, or craft a company line for Cargill to deliver to media. Rather, Mr. Fernandez told Ms. Kraus he wanted the communications consulting giant to train press-shy staffers at various levels within the company, with one focus being manufacturing employees.
“I needed them to help us prepare individuals who had not normally stood before a camera and weren’t used to being interviewed by reporters,” he said.
While empowering employees to speak up in the midst of a media firestorm is the opposite of most large companies’ knee-jerk reaction — telling staff to zip their lips is a more likely standard response — more firms are coming around to this approach. “What’s new is that more manufacturing companies, whether in food processing or auto and steel, are having their foremen and other people media trained,” observed Gene Grabowski, senior VP and crisis expert at Levick Strategic Communications.
Two key reasons to offer non-marketing employees media training? To make sure they are prepared in the event reporters circumvent established media-relations channels, and to put a human face on the brand in the midst of a crisis.