It began in Britain and, in two weeks time, fingers were being pointed all across Europe. “How could horse meat get into our ground beef!” Consumers, meat packers and distributors from Ireland to Romania were demanding answers, and, all over Europe, phones were ringing in the offices of crisis communications PR firms. The top PR firms knew the questions they would have to answer, and quickly got to work creating press releases and sound bites in anticipation of the inevitable international media barrage. Tesco, one of the companies involved, was forced to make a very public apology. Tesco admitted fault and took responsibility, a good first step and one I recommend.
But admitting the mistake cannot be the only step. While the public need not know all the details, it does need to know what the companies involved plan to do about the system that created the problem and how it will be fixed so it does not happen again, or at least is highly unlikely. Being very public in taking these steps will go a long way toward repairing damaged consumer confidence. But one final aspect of this issue that must be considered is the impact on tourism. While it is true that only a relatively small amount of horsemeat was found in a relatively small number of places, the resulting media coverage repeatedly put the tainted meat center stage in any discussions about European food. Now travelers who may have never even considered it, were wondering what was “really” in their burgers. So, even though travel public relations may not be the first thing that comes to mind in a situation such as this, it is an important aspect of any crisis PR plan in any place where tourism plays an important economic role.