Mattel and the PR War over Product Safety
Mattel says it was simply repeating in Beijing what the company had already said in Europe and the U.S. — that it was sorry for the recall and the company was doing everything it could to prevent further problems. (While the bulk of Mattel’s recalls resulted from its own design flaws — small magnets that were a choking hazard — another 2 million or so toys were recalled because they were coated with lead paint.) The Chinese press reported it as an apology for the design flaws that led to recall and for harming the reputation of Chinese firms. The U.S. translation of the Chinese translation of the apology sounded as if Mattel were apologizing for any blame placed on China, but the toy company said in a statement that those reports were “mischaracterized”.
Ouch! Mattel apologizes to the Chinese? Inexplicable! Haven’t we all heard the stories about tainted pet food, poisoned toothpaste, contaminated seafood and defective tires? As Senator Charles Schumer of New York said, “It's like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice instead of to the person who was robbed!”
But wait a minute. The issue of the safety of their children is uppermost in all parents’ minds. Where was Mattel’s much-vaunted commitment to safety in the design and manufacturing process?
“For all of our import-bashing, it's worth keeping in mind that we are capable of screwing up here, too,” says U.S. News & World Report’s Rick Newman.
Michigan Representative John Dingell agrees. “It would be far too easy to attribute this summer's recalls to China's poorly regulated export manufacturers,” he said recently. “Regulatory deficiencies, shoddy business practices, and the forces of globalization all play a substantial role in this catastrophe. There is enough blame to go around.”
If there were ever a public relations problem, this one certainly qualifies … with customers, the U.S. government, U.S. consumers, suppliers, investors, politicians and the list goes on.
Mattel Chairman & CEO Robert A. Eckert has written, “When I was a young man growing up in suburban Chicago, my father encouraged me to earn his trust through my actions rather than just talk about what I was going to do. Today, I tell my children ‘deeds, not words.’”
As a communicator, I would agree that words are not enough. Mattel must earn back the trust of its customers with deeds. Every company has an obligation to its customers, employees and shareholders to ensure that all of its products — wherever they are manufactured — reflect the reputation and standards of the company whose name they wear.
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