About three years ago, two different companies saw themselves thrown into crisis. The first – the explosion at Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases that killed one worker and later took the life of a fire fighter – took the say nothing approach. They never spoke, never issued a statement. Instead, and probably at the advice of legal counsel, they stayed silent.
The second – the listeriosis outbreak linked to a processing plant of Maple Leaf Foods that led to the deaths of several people – saw the opposite approach taken; over communicate. The CEO gave press conferences, issued statements and provided regular updates. At one point, he even admitted that his communications activity was against the advice of his lawyers.
Granted, both issues have complexities that will lead to different decisions being made. Both companies were sued. Maple Leaf Foods negotiated a settlement for a class action lawsuit; Sunrise continues to battle in the courts.
In the other court – the court of public opinion – Maple Leaf Foods has been granted parole and are forgiven. The public is buying Maple Leaf products without hesitation and the communications efforts taken by the CEO and the company are largely looked at as a best practice. Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases, however, never recovered. While we no longer remember the names of the owners or directors, the public sentiment remains that they did something wrong (or did not do what they were supposed to do) and they cannot be trusted.
Two different approaches. Two different image and reputation results.