I'm a big fan of NBC's This Is Us, my slow cooker, and good PR. And, wow, how they've all melded together since last Tuesday night, when the family drama revealed just how beloved husband and father Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) dies.
Since the hit show first aired in fall 2016, fans have known that Jack dies before his three kids graduate high school. But it wasn't until the last episode that they found out exactly how. Turns out that on the night of the Super Bowl, a slow cooker--one that resembles my mom's 1970s Crock-Pot--sparks a fire that burns down the family's Pittsburgh home, killing Jack. Thousands of the show's fans immediately took to Twitter to express their sorrow and their intentions to throw out their Crock-Pots. How Crock-Pot responded is one for the PR playbook. Here are four PR lessons to take away from Crock-Pot's response to the tragic TV reveal.
1. Speed is key in a PR crisis.
Crock-Pot acted fast, taking to social media and creating its first-ever Twitter account--@CrockPotCares. The company, owned by Newell Brands, posted this message to Facebook, complete with broken heart emojis and a photo of a Pittsburgh Steelers-branded Crock-Pot:
THIS IS US SPOILER ALERT. We're still trying to mend our heart after watching This Is Us on Tuesday night. America's favorite dad and husband deserved a better exit and Crock-Pot shares in your devastation. Don't further add to this tragedy by throwing your Crock-Pot Slow Cooker away. It's hard to pass something down from generation to generation if you throw it away (grandma won't be too happy). Spending time with his family while enjoying comfort food from his Crock-Pot was one of his favorite things to do. Let's all do our part and honor his legacy in the kitchen with Crock-Pot.
2. Lead with empathy.
It's been a week, and Jack's fans are still stewing. And Crock-Pot is listening and responding. Crock-Pot begins its messages by expressing empathy and concern and incorporating a pinch of levity (#CrockPotIsInnocent), making its message of safety easier--hopefully--for fans to swallow. Here are some of its Twitter responses:
Hannah, We totally get it! Last night's episode was [heart-breaking emoji], & we're still not over it either! We want to assure you that we're committed to safety & you can continue to use our products with confidence. We test our #CROCKPOT rigorously before they hit the shelves. Pls DM us with an ??
Congrats on your upcoming nuptials! Let us be a part of your special moment. Check your DM for a surprise treat. [heart emoji, diamond ring emoji] #CrockPotIsInnocent #CrockPot
3. Follow up quickly with the facts.
Crock-Pot's communications pros might not have ever thought the company's old-school kitchen appliance would face a crisis. But the team was armed with the facts and got them out fast. Here's the statement it sent the media:
For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night's episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.
In addition, and most relevant to the concerns consumers are having after watching the recent This Is Us episode, our Crock-Pot slow cookers are low current, low wattage (typically no more than 200 or 300 watts) appliances with self-regulating, heating elements.
I checked in with two of my PR colleagues here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Impressive, said Christina Thigpen, vice president of marketing and communications at Northwood Office, a commercial real estate management company.
"Kudos to them. I don't think they could have handled it any better," said Thigpen, who also served as my mentor when I was working toward my Accreditation in Public Relations from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). "They responded quickly and with empathy, which is so important. And they continue to actively listen, which is big in crisis management. You need to be proactive and present facts and correct misinformation, which they have done as well."
4. Every company needs a crisis PR plan.
If something as functional yet ordinary as Crock-Pot can land in hot water, anyone or anything can. You have to be prepared with a crisis PR plan.
"You've got to be prepared for anything," said Peter Smolowitz, president of the Charlotte chapter of PRSA. "The way you should do that is know that a potential crisis could emerge at any point and have teams appointed so they are already prepared for it."
Your PR team, along with division chiefs who oversee product, safety, operations, sales, and so forth, must imagine the worst-case scenarios and together devise a plan for how your company will respond. What are your key messages? What are the different audiences you need to communicate with and how will you reach them? Who is authorized to speak to the press or give interviews? What's your safety record?
And don't forget to include internal communications in your PR plan. You will want to arm employees--even those who don't speak directly with reporters or consumers--with information to help diffuse the situation and stand up for your brand.
"Otherwise, employees are winging it," Smolowitz said.
Think of all of the Crock-Pot employees standing around the nachos at Sunday's Super Bowl parties and being asked by friends about the fall-out at their work. Keep in mind that after the big game, This Is Us is airing the episode in which the audience will see Jack die. If the company has done its PR job as well as it appears, those people are going to know exactly what to say. Heck, they might even come to the party bearing a Crock-Pot of cheese dip.