One company’s spectacular public failure to live up to a central social promise of its brand offers a stark example of why companies should ensure their crisis management and communications plans include ESG matters. CNN.com reported baby clothing company Kyte Baby – founded on the idea of making products for babies with certain health challenges and being “mother friendly” – fired one of their staff for requesting to work remotely while staying at the NICU with her newly adopted, severely premature infant. That news made it to social media, which of course went viral. The company’s CEO posted two separate apologies on social media, the second one “acknowledging that the first video was scripted and that she was deciding to go ‘off script and tell you exactly what happened.’”
Choice comments from crisis communications experts quoted in the article include:
“‘When you have a situation where consumers no longer see your brand for what (it) claimed to stand for, you almost always need to approach your crisis strategy with an abundance of vulnerability, ownership and humanity’ [said Lauren Jennings, executive vice president and crisis communications strategist for Alison Brod Marketing and Communications]…
‘I am forever amazed at the tendency of corporate America to want to strip the humanity out of their communications, whether it be an apology or any other public statement,’ crisis PR expert James Haggerty told CNN. ‘It could be that the lawyers get too involved, and have final say too often. More likely, though, it’s that everyone in the corporate environment is just so used to falling back on corporate-speak, banal cliches, legalese and muddied equivocation. What works in a corporate board meeting doesn’t often fly with the public…and it sure doesn’t work on social media.’
‘…this is a brand that promises to understand motherhood and be there to support moms, especially new moms,’ Jennings added. ‘The weight of breaking that promise to moms is much more serious than what brands outside the parenting category might encounter.'”
It could be easy to put this just in an HR bucket, but that is missing the bigger picture – and risks – concerning corporate ESG communications and actions. The more you communicate about ESG, the more consumers link that to your brand. When something goes wrong, not only should you consider legal elements of a response, but also the humanistic side and consistency with your company’s ESG promises. Legal advisors may want to keep that in mind as well. It would be prudent to review crisis management and communications plans to ensure they align with public ESG statements, disclosures and commitments.
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