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Vivian Li/李雯雯

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How Coca-Cola's op-ed hit the 3 O's of crisis management

Coca-Cola is embroiled in a slow-moving but nevertheless monumental corporate crisis.

The seller of sugary drinks has increasingly come under fire for not only fueling America’s obesity woes, but also attempting via Coke-backed research to shift the debate away from its products and toward topics such as exercise.

So it was refreshing—and even a bit surprising—to read Thursday’s op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal by Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent titled “Coca-Cola: We’ll Do Better.” The article appealed to me as a consumer, but more as a crisis communicator.

That’s because the column covered what I call the three O's of crisis management. They are:

1. Own Up to It. A company should take responsibility at some level for the problem or issue it has been confronted with. Litigation often clouds corporate response to criticisms and allegations, but in most cases owning up to some part of it helps a company’s reputation in the long run. Kent writes: “I know our company can do a better job engaging both the public-health and scientific communities—and we will.” He goes on to say, “In the future, we will act with even more transparency as we refocus our investments and our efforts on well-being.”

2. Put the CEO out Front. In any corporate crisis, the best spokesperson is the chief executive officer. The CEO’s public appearances and statements show that the company is taking the issue seriously and dealing with it from the very top. Most PR disasters happen when companies shield the CEO, or the CEO appears to have little interest in the problem (as in the BP Horizon oil spill). Any number of Coca-Cola executives could have placed their byline on the Op-ed, but CEO Kent chose wisely to use his.

3. Make An outsized Response. Overreact rather take small measures or, worse, ignore the problem. Organizations should adopt an action plan that seems to outweigh the issue or criticism. In Coca-Cola’s case, Kent writes that he’s directed the company’s president of Coca-Cola North America to create an oversight committee of independent experts to provide governance on company investments in academic research, and engage leading experts to “explore future opportunities for our academic research investment and health and well-being initiatives.”

The best practices that result from these steps, Kent writes, “will be implemented internationally.”

I give Coca-Cola an A for using the 3 O's.


Vivian Li

PR Manager

Tel: +86 010 8390 7451

Mobile: +86 13041030670