Sigg, the Swiss water bottle company, built a PR and marketing machine out of a consumer scare about the chemical BPA in plastic water bottles. Seeing and capitalizing on an opportunity to prove that Sigg was a viable alternative to plastic bottles, the company made a huge mistake in failing to disclose that the lining in its own bottles contained BPA. Now the company is in major damage control mode, after the CEO posted a public letter on the company website in August about the presence of trace amounts of the chemical in bottle liners produced before 2008. The tone of this letter was very matter-of-fact and unapologetic, which put Sigg’s customers on the defensive.
It’s easy in hindsight to advise Sigg that they should have been transparent, or they shouldn’t have jumped on the BPA-free bandwagon without full knowledge of the contents of their own product. Sadly, this kind of thing happens to companies all the time. As a PR person, I find it interesting how companies pick up the pieces – or fail to pick up the pieces – after a major crisis.
Besides the initial letter, what’s Sigg doing now? They’re offering consumers who purchased bottles before August 2008 a new, BPA-free bottle (a good move, other than consumers have to pay return shipping – ouch!). The Sigg CEO is personally responding to consumer emails (or at least offered his email address to hash out concerns), and wrote another letter on September 1 apologizing (after being attacked by the blog and media community). Otherwise, the company’s been silently handling the situation behind the scenes, as AdAge points out that the CEO’s Twitter account has been stagnant since August 16. They seem to be taking the, “let’s hope this blows over,” crisis PR tactic. Sometimes that works. This is not one of those times.
Although this situation may scar their brand image permanently, here are a few other things Sigg’s PR team could do right now to make this situation a little better.
1) Fess up openly. Publically respond to the environmental blogs and journalists that are attacking them now. Offer these people the opportunity to candidly talk with their CEO about why the contents of the liner were covered up. Talk about what the company’s been doing behind the scenes to fix it. Admit wrongdoings and offer a real solution.
2) Participate. Keep the CEO an active participant in social media (Twitter, corporate Facebook, company blog, responding to bloggers through the comment section, etc.). Allow for open dialogue that takes place online in front of everyone (instead of privately via email). Prepare him for the potential of being verbally attacked and encourage him to respond gracefully to negative comments (within reason – completely irrational or lewd comments are best left ignored).
3) Accentuate the positive. Work with the team that developed the new, BPA-free liner to do a media and blog tour about the science and innovation that went into the development of this product, and highlight the positive work the company has been doing over the past several years. This will be a tough sell to now-scorned bloggers, but training and utilizing spokespersons other than the CEO will highlight a different and undersold story angle.
What else can Sigg do to win back consumers’ trust? Or are they doomed for good?