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While there is no way to know when an emergency communications plan will be needed or in what way, it is still imperative that public relations practitioners develop a plan in the case that one is necessary.

There are several case studies involving disasters in which the a company has not planned ahead and those are perhaps more memorable than the crises that were dealt with immediately and appropriately.

The most important aspect is communication between the company and its various audiences.

The Syringe Scare
Pepsi-Cola Company with Robert Chang Productions

When two separate reports of syringes found in Pepsi cans prompted the FDA to issue an advisory recommending that Pepsi drinkers empty their cans into cups before drinking in 1993, Pepsi-Cola Co. sprang into action.

Utilizing public relations principles to develop a four-step plan of action, Pepsi communicated with its publics and the FDA as new facts were discovered.  First, the company granted on-site interviews and brought camera crews into the canning line to rule out the possibility of sabotage.  To counteract the inevitable spreading of a local story to national news, the company develop several methods of dispersing information including news releases, video releases, trade letters, still photos, graphs and interviews.

Then, the Pepsi CEO appeared on every major network to share the message that the contamination was virtually impossible in the plants.  Advisories were sent out twice daily while six media relations personnel were stationed to answer phone calls and inquiries from various media. 

Throughout the crisis, FDA officials concentrated on finding the source of the contamination, while Pepsi focused on the safety and reliability of its packaging process.  As a result, the scare ended in less than seven days. A very large crisis for the company was diverted by adhering the plan developed and being upfront about the situation.

Pepsi was able to return to normal sales within two months and in fact ended the season with an increase of seven percent in sales.  In addition, 94 percent of consumers reported that Pepsi had handled the crisis responsibly and 75 percent said they felt confident in Pepsi products as a result.

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