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The Maple Leaf Foods Crisis: One Month Later

It’s been a month since the Listeria outbreak at a Maple Leaf Foods’ meat packing plant so it’s a good time to take stock of how the company handled the ultimate public relations nightmare.

Soft facts-a noticeable lack of outrage at Maple Leaf itself and a greater public focus on the virus instead-suggest that the company’s efforts are beginning to work.

The campaign is becoming effective thanks to a combination to taking preventative measures and expressing genuine sorrow for the illnesses and deaths the outbreak has caused.

The company’s PR response to the recall was immediate and Maple Leaf is lucky that it was-with all the communication pathways available to the public now, delaying a press conference or full-page apology ads would have been disastrous.

Fortunately for the company, the abundance of communication portals works in their favour as well. Probably the best tool Maple Leaf has available that didn’t exist 15 years ago is the web. The company launched to outline the steps the company has taken and, will take, in the wake of the outbreak.

The site features a message from Maple Leaf president Michael McCain, the company’s action plan for decontamination and prevention, FAQs, links to the newsroom and food safety steps Maple Leaf is taking to prevent future outbreaks. It also appears as a Flash pop-up when Maple Leaf’s home page is accessed and is a sponsored link on Google, so it’s almost impossible to miss it.

The campaign has been careful to use words that separate Maple Leaf from Listeria itself in an effort to suggest the two are mutually exclusive.

I would take steps even further-perhaps have Maple Leaf head a food safety task force-but we are still just four weeks after the outbreak and the company may have some proactive measures up its sleeve.

Their efforts seem to be working. While a search reveals 238,000 hits for “Maple Leaf Foods” and “Listeria”, searching for “Maple Leaf Foods” alone results in nearly 130,000 more hits-363,000 in all.

The company has a ways to go-it’s still underperforming on the stock market and lawsuits may be looming-but it’s done its best with a bad situation.

Thoughts on what else Maple Leaf could do to restore the public’s faith in the brand?