Syrians and Skittles: How Do You Handle a Crisis You Didn’t Cause?

Regardless of your political views, most people can agree the last presidential election felt especially long and stressful due to the circumstances surrounding it, from all the controversies, bickering, personal attacks and non-stop coverage on all forms of media. One aspect of this non-stop media onslaught of the election was various news outlets constant monitoring and reports on President Donald Trumps and families twitter accounts. Never before had this been a “thing”, but Donald Trump is known for posting often and for commenting on the issues, whether or not his commentary is accurate. Either way, it generated views and traffic. One of the biggest debate points during this time period (and today) was how we should deal with the Syrian Refugee Crisis. While many had their own opinions, the general consensus was that Trumps campaign wanted to discontinue President Obama’s refugee program and Clinton’s campaign wanted to continue it and perhaps look to expand it; this was but one of the many points both campaigns had complete opposite opinions on. In mid-September, Skittles began trending after the image below was posted by Donald Trump Jr in regards to the Syrian Refugee crisis.

donaldtrumpjr.(2016, September 19). This image says it all.retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37416457
Original photograph by David Kittos.Kittos, David(Flickr). Skittles. 15 January 2010, retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26085433@N05/4276832395

 After Trump Jr shared the image on Twitter, this  analogy became a rally cry/ arguing point against  bringing in more Syrian refugees. The tweet was also met with criticism as well, drawing in thousands of Tweets and Facebook posts berating this analogy for simplifying the issue to comparing humans to candy. Besides the overall ignorance and fighting over the issue, the Wrigley Company, who is owned by Mars, suddenly had a crisis on their hands that, quite frankly, they had no hand in starting; they were being associated with the Syrian refugee crisis, arguably the biggest humanitarian crisis of this century so far and poison, something a candy brand isn’t normally associated with. How in the world did this happen? How did they handle it? Well, we are going to take a look into this crisis and discover how the Wrigley Company handled this crisis with poise and came out with relatively little damage(McMillan 2016).

Crisis management is an important aspect of public relations that deals with, as the name suggest, managing crisis as it arises. According to the 2013 edition  Think: Public Relations( Wilcox 2013), the four steps of the conflict management life cycle are proactive, strategic, reactive and recovery phases(Wilcox 2013). The proactive phase is associated with preventing crises from occurring, the strategic phases is associated with dealing with an emerging crisis, the reactive phase is associated with dealing with an issue on an external level  as the issue reaches a critical level and the recovery phase is associated with repairing and recovering from a crisis(Wilcox 2003).

When we analyze this crisis, to me it is clear that the Wrigley Company began in the reactive phase. though to no fault of their own. Someone decided to use their product in an analogy where their product was being compared to refugees and poison and they had to deal with the consequences. Wrigley’s response was swift, clear and to the point. Within hours of the original post by Donald Trump Jr, Denise Young, Vice President of Corporate Affairs sent out the message below to concerned users. This message also made it to Wrigley’s official Twitter page, which is what is shown below.

Image result for skittles twitter response
 

marsglobal.(2016 September 20). Skittles are candy;.refugees are people.retrieved from http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/donald-trump-jr-s-poisonous-skittles-tweet-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-draws-reactions-on-twitter-1.12341785

 

 

This response was met with praise. In the article 3 Crisis Lessons from Skittles’ Refugee Tweet Response the author, Beki Winchel pointed out three lessons learned from how Wrigley handled this crisis. First, the author points  out it is important to act fast in our world of social media, but it is also just as important to think before you say/ type something(Winchel 2016 ). The next point the author brings up is that while being witty can help in some situations, sometimes just being serious and addressing the situation is the perfect response(Winchel 2016). The final point the author makes is that sometimes it is really easy to get caught up in marketing ploys and sometimes it is best to be aware of this and avoid it; the Wrigley company made the choice to take itself completely out of the situation in this instance much to its benefit(Winchel 2016).

Another part of the controversy was that the bowl of Skittles image in the original picture was taken by David Kittos, who himself was a refugee from when the Turkish government occupied Cyprus in 1974, in which Kittos was 6 at the time(Shalby 2016).  He never gave permission to use the image, nor was he given credit for the photograph, which is kind of ironic, considering the overall message Donald Trump Jr was trying to put out(Ponte 2016).

In the article Fall and redemption: Monitoring and engaging in social media conversations during a crisis by Ana Isabel Conhoto, she explores how social media is actually used during a crisis. In her research paper, she states that, “It is well established in  the crisis management literature that once a crisis occurs, rapid and effective communication is crucial to reduce uncertainty and insecurity of consumers(Conhoto 2016 paragraph 8).” When we compare this statement to what the Wrigley Company did during their crisis, it seems they followed this model. Later on her paper, she makes a proposition that pr teams must,”Respond quickly through the channels that social media users are aware of (Conhoto 2016 Para 22).” When applying this to the Wrigley company crisis, they used Twitter to spread their message. While it isn’t the biggest social media platform per se, it is large enough for their message to spread and it also matched the medium where the original public relations crisis began, so I feel it was fitting. The last point I will bring up from her paper is when she states that(in reference to when she is discussing her the results of her studies),” First, companies’ reputations are subject to the content of online conversations about their products and services.(Conhoto 2016 paragraph 64).” The Wrigley company could have chosen to ignore Donald Trump Jr’s tweet. But, as Conhoto pointed out, the Wrigley company knows reputation is everything, so they chose to address the issue before it got out of hand.

Despite your political views, this election was hard for us all. Out of it came controversy, inflammatory statements and plenty of public relations blunders, among them, the one caused by Donald Trump Jr in regards to comparing refugees to poisoned Skittles. We explored how the Wrigley company handled this situation diligently and professionally and even explored some of the mechanisms behind what they may have been thinking. Despite your own personal political views, please know that the Syrian Refugee crisis is far more complicated than a bowl of potentially poisoned Skittles.

 


References

Canhoto, A. I. (2015, September 14). Fall and redemption: Monitoring and engaging in social media conversations during a crisis. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311975.2015.1084978

Donald Trump Jr compares Syrian refugees to Skittles. (2016, September 20). Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37416457

Kittos, D. (2010, January 15). Skittles. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26085433@N05/4276832395

McLysaght, E. (2016, September 20). Skittles gave the best response to the Trump campaign’s ‘poisonous’ refugee comparison. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.dailyedge.ie/skittles-donald-trump-junior-2988087-Sep2016

McMillan, G. (2016, September 23). While You Were Offline: Skittles PR Faces Its Biggest Crisis Ever. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from https://www.wired.com/2016/09/internet-week-89/

Newsday. (2016, September 20). Twitter reacts to Trump Jr.’s poisonous Skittles tweet. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/donald-trump-jr-s-poisonous-skittles-tweet-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-draws-reactions-on-twitter-1.12341785

Ponte, L. D. (2016, December 14). Representing Your Brand in a Crisis: A Lesson from Skittles. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from https://www.lizdaponte.ca/representing-your-brand-crisis-lesson-skittles/

Shalby, C. (2016, September 20). The photographer behind that ‘bowl of Skittles’ photo says he’s a refugee. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/trailguide/la-na-trailguide-updates-the-photographer-behind-that-bowl-of-1474394785-htmlstory.html

Wilcox. (2013) Think Public Relations.Upper Saddle River,New Jersey:Pearson.

Winchel, B. (2016, September 23). 3 crisis lessons from Skittles’ refugee tweet response. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from https://www.prdaily.com/crisiscommunications/Articles/3_crisis_lessons_from_Skittles_refugee_tweet_respo_21440.aspx

 

 

 

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