Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can Pork Producers Win Their ‘H1N1’ vs. ‘Swine Flu’ Crisis Communications Quest?

Let’s take a quick break from all our hand washing and cough covering to note the crisis communications case study in action that is the swine flu outbreak.

Excuse me, I mean the “H1N1 virus,” as industry groups for the other white meat would greatly prefer we call it. In one of the most interesting aspects of this saga from a marketing perspective, pork producers are struggling to save their products from panic and misinformation.

No, pork producers didn’t cause this crisis. But they certainly risk taking a sales hit due to the fast-spreading bug’s potentially misleading common name. So the National Pork Board is wise to be tackling the problem aggressively.

We’ll go ahead and call it H1N1 here, but the odds may be against them winning this name game (although the Obama administration appears to be on board). Today, the chatter about the outbreak is spreading incredibly fast through social media, Internet searches and 3G phones. The virtual masses are guiding that conversation, and ultimately, they’ll call it what they call it. Swine flu.

It’s just another cautionary tale demonstrating why crisis communications planning is more important and more complicated than ever.

And since we have a client that makes some of the finest swine products in the world, we want to help the pork people out. To set the record straight, you can’t get H1N1 from eating pork. In fact, I just enjoyed a hot dog for lunch. Then, because President Obama and the CDC reminded me to do so, I washed my hands.

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