27 Sep 2016

Taking Notes: What Can PR Learn From The Samsung recall?

When planning the next big product launch there’s a natural tendency to focus on delivering the perfect result, with little thought of what to do if things go awry.

That’s a mistake because things sometimes go wrong at the worst possible moment. If disaster strikes we need to think fast and rely on previous experience to get us by.

Samsung makes a great case study: After selling 2.5million Note7 smartphones in two weeks, it became apparent a defect in a tiny proportion of the handsets led to battery issues. Downright spectacular, explosive, headline-grabbing, battery issues. Few of us will get to experience a disaster on this scale in our careers, but there’re a few things that can be learned from Samsung’s response and applied at smaller scale:

  1. Know your objective, and have a clear message: What must be conveyed to your stakeholders? If they need to take action, tell them how, when and why.
  1. Get everyone involved: If you have channel partners, involve and equip them to share the message (strong relationships here will be key).
  1. Show you care: Make sure senior leaders in the business are seen and heard conveying the message.
  1. Accept that criticism is inevitable, do not panic: In the long run, it will be forgotten and forgiven if the response is appropriate to the situation – if you attempt to ‘spin’ or ignore an aspect of the issue, this is far more likely to stick in stakeholder’s minds than a direct and clear response.

Samsung’s response to the crisis ticked all of these boxes. The recall was announced by head of mobile business Koh Dong-Jin. Samsung’s objective was clear – to get the devices back to reduce its legal liability should a faulty device cause injury. It stuck to its core message of a recall and did not attempt to save face by communicating how likely or unlikely it was that your Note7 is defective. Channel partners in each region were mobilised to push the message directly to Note7 purchasers.

In turn, the channel partners recognised the relationship between them and Samsung and made sure the how to recall was as clear as the when and the why. Finally, Samsung wasn’t goaded into panic by the many social media videos. Should another issue arise in the next few weeks, Samsung hasn’t made a rod for its own back with a defensive statement.

Sure, there are some criticisms that can be levelled at the Korean tech giant’s response, the failure to pull TV advertisements for the Note7 in certain regions during the recall being the most notable, but there’s a lot communications professionals can learn from Samsung to save them having to learn it the hard way.


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