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Angela MasciarelliNovember 12, 20145 min read

The Truth Prevails: Transparency in Crisis Communications

SorryTell the truth.”   

Say you’re sorry.”

They’re both lessons we’ve all been taught since a very young age—yet, they’re also lessons that are often forgotten as we get older.

For PR and marketing professionals, transparency and accountability are not options; they are absolutes. This means learning the art of transparent communication that addresses issues, and defuses the situation with an action plan.

 So, when a crisis strikes, what separates the good from the bad (and the downright ugly)?

  • Preparation: Develop a crisis communication plan before you need it. Brainstorm the variety of disasters that could eventually arise, and put together a plan that encompasses all forms of communication and can be easily adjusted based on specific scenarios.
  • Honesty: The truth will always emerge, so try to beat it to the punch. In order to maintain your brand’s integrity, you must be proactive in your communications, and admit fault where needed. Most importantly, be sincere.  Saying you have done something wrong is never easy, but it is a sign of strength and leadership that will help you recover faster.
  • Action: Outline what you have learned from the situation, and recap the steps your company will take in order to correct the situation. Following through with an action plan is critical to regaining customer confidence.

Below, we’ve highlighted three companies who are shining examples of how to recover from crisis situations.

3 Role Model Companies for Crisis Communications

1. FedEx: The Box Thrown ‘Round the World

Recap of the Crisis

In December 2011, a not-so-gentle FedEx (@FedEx) employee threw a computer monitor over the fence of someone’s house. To make matters worse, the crime scene was caught on film, uploaded to YouTube and instantly caught the attention of disgruntled customers (the video now has nearly 9.4 million views).

Talk about a whoopsies.


Rather than deny the allegations, point fingers or make excuses, FedEx apologized and shared the steps the company planned to correct the issue. The company created a video and wrote a blog post in response to the incident. The message was delivered by Matthew Thornton III, senior vice president of U.S. operations at FedEx Express, which humanized the brand and increased the sincerity of the apology.

The Lessons

  • Act fast. This was a point Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) stressed at this year’s Content Marketing World, saying, “The speed at which we reply is as important as the reply itself.” FedEx responded with the blog post and video apology two days after the customer’s video was uploaded to YouTube. This speedy recovery defused the situation before things became out of control. 
  • Be transparent and divulge the steps your company is taking to correct the issue. FedEx shared the details of the employee’s future at the company, and revealed that the video would be used in future training programs to help prevent similar incidences from happening again.

2. Taco Bell: Mystery Meat Surprise 

Recap of the Crisis 

In January 2011, an Alabama-based law firm sued Taco Bell (@TacoBell) for allegedly misleading customers by claiming that its menu included “seasoned beef.” The law firm claimed that Taco Bell should not be allowed to use the phrases “seasoned beef” or “seasoned ground beef” because they believed the fast food chain did not meet federal requirements to label its food as “beef.”

Sounds gross, right?


Taco Bell did not apologize for anything. The company maintained its innocence throughout the trial, and used the lawsuit as an opportunity to showcase the quality ingredients used in its menu items.

To spread the word, Taco Bell spent between $3 million and $4 million in advertising with the message: “Thank you for suing us. Here's the truth about seasoned beef. The claims made against Taco Bell and our seasoned beef are absolutely false. The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. So here are the REAL percentages. 88% Beef and 12% Secret Recipe.”

Taco Bell also released a video entitled “Of Course We Use Real Beef,” featuring Greg Creed, president of Taco Bell, to debunk the myths from the lawsuit. To further promote its stance of using 88% beef, Taco Bell offered its Crunchwrap Supreme for $0.88 (regularly $2.39).

The Lessons

  • Admit fault when you are at fault, but don’t apologize if you have done nothing wrong. The lawsuit was eventually withdrawn, but the outcome could have been different if Taco Bell had admitted any guilt. 
  • Get your message out. Taco Bell invested millions of dollars to set the record straight about the quality of its ingredients. While you may not have that type of budget, utilize available channels to transparently communicate your message to your audiences. Staying quiet looks suspicious and doesn’t stop others from talking about the situation, so make sure your voice is heard.

    Note: Make sure you identify a spokesperson to handle all media inquiries to keep messaging consistent. Make a list of talking points, and share them with employees if customers approach them with questions. Communication is key, but consistent communication is imperative.

3. The Red Cross: Getting #Slizzerd

Recap of the Crisis

A Red Cross (@RedCross) social media specialist accidentally tweeted from the brand’s Twitter account, “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer...when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd."

Hey, things could be worse, right? 


The tweet stayed up for roughly an hour before another social media specialist received phone calls that prompted her to delete the tweet. Instead of going into full-blown crisis mode, the Red Cross decided to use a bit of humor to overcome the situation and tweeted, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Brilliant. 

Dogfish Head (@dogfishbeer) also used the situation as an opportunity to encourage their followers to donate to the Red Cross: “RT @Michael_Hayek: #craftbeer @dogfishbeer fans, donate 2 @redcross 2day. Tweet with #gettingslizzerd. Donate here” Double brilliant.

The Lessons

  • Not every crisis should be treated as though it’s the end of the world. Since the rogue tweet wasn’t extremely scandalous, the company decided to play off the situation with humor. Everyone makes mistakes, and the tweet honestly wasn’t that bad.
  • Communicate via the channel where the issue arose. The issue revolved around Twitter, so the Red Cross used Twitter to resolve the problem.

For more information / tips about crisis communication, check out the articles below:

 How has your company survived a crisis situation? Share your tips and lessons learned in our comments section below!

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Image Credit: Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr


Angela Masciarelli

Angela Masciarelli is a senior consultant at PR 20/20. She joined the agency in October 2013, after spending two years as an Account Executive at a New York City PR firm. Angela is a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, with a focus in public relations. Full bio.