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The 4 R’s of Crisis Communications

Weslie Oeftering
The 4 R’s of Crisis Communications

When a company is facing a crisis, the situation often gets much worse before it gets better. Sometimes, an organization will dig themselves a deeper hole to climb out of by not handling the situation properly. They become defensive, claim ignorance, and/or just refuse to take responsibility for what has happened in a timely manner. Having a crisis plan that includes the 4 R’s helps avoid this phenomenon.


The organization must express remorse for what has happened. The CEO often releases a statement expressing regret on behalf of the whole organization. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an individual, as long as it looks like the issue is receiving executive-level attention.

For example, when Odwalla recalled its apple juice in 1996 due to an eventually deadly E.coli outbreak, they released a statement saying, “The serious nature of the recent cases of E. coli 0157:H7-related illness associated with our fresh apple juice has shaken all of us at Odwalla. We are deeply sorry for any illness or suffering associated with our products.” They also created an entire website dedicated to information about the recall (impressive for 1996, considering only a third of Americans had a computer in their household).

Did the company still have to pay $1.5 million in fines? Yes, that’s what happens when organizations make fatal mistakes. However, because they did not play the “things will only get worse if we seem like we’re sorry” game, they are still a thriving brand under their parent company, Coca-Cola.


Saying sorry is an excellent start, now what are you going to do to make it better? If you are the CEO of Starbucks and two African-American men have just been removed by police from a location in Philadelphia for no discernable reason except the color of their skin, you can meet with them in person to “really understand the situation and show some compassion and empathy for what they went through.”


Now that it’s better, what are you gonna do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? With Odwalla’s recall, they established a Nourishment & Food Safety Council within the organization that was led by scientists and health officials. Less than 24 hours after the Philadelphia incident, Starbucks decided it would close all of it’s U.S. locations on May 29 to train employees on implicit biases. Reforms help customers feel comfortable using your product or service again.


Crises are generally expensive – even when handled correctly. All of the steps above will probably cost you a pretty penny. There are fines, the costs of setting up websites, and closing stores nationwide. But that’s not what restitution is; Restitution is helping the people you have harmed get back on their feet. In the case of Odwalla, they could pay the medical bills of the 66 people sickened in Odwalla’s E.coli crisis or donating to an organization that studies the prevention of foodborne illnesses.

A crisis can strike any organization at any time. It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, sometimes things just happen. Having a crisis plan that includes The 4 R’s can help your company maintain its positive perception amongst the public.

About Weslie Oeftering: Weslie is a student at The University of Texas at Austin and Swyft’s resident PR and marketing intern. She supports clients with social media, blogging, and tech PR activities. Swyft is a tech PR agency in Austin with offices in Denver, Houston and Antwerp that provides PR services and trade show PR support for tech companies around the world. Some of their services include media relations, content and inbound marketing, CPC campaigns, and marketing automation consulting.

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