Avoiding the 'Pink Slime'

Managing an issue is a lot easier if you rely on your peripheral vision instead of tunnel vision.In sight, the loss of peripheral vision can result in tunnel vision. The same is true in managing a sensitive public issue.

Glaucoma is a common cause of peripheral vision loss.  In some cases, glaucoma creates pressure that prevents the iris and cornea from opening fully. Glaucoma also can cause blurred vision. Does that sound like the way some organizations manage the issues they face? Some organizations are so sold on their own messages, they fail to hear contrary viewpoints or, worse, cannot see how issues can be reframed.

A good recent example is the "pink slime" issue.  

As described by a USA Today editorial, a savvy Midwest entrepreneur named Eldon Roth figured out how to turn meat trimmings into a profit. "He heated them, spun them in a centrifuge to separate tiny particles of meat from fat, then treated the product with a puff of ammonium gas to kill bacteria." Violå, lean, finely textured beef (known in meat industry parlance as LFTB) was born.

What once was intended for dog food became a thrifty filler to hold down ground beef prices for dog's best friend. 

If you didn't know any differently, the phrase "lean, finely textured beef" sounds like a gourmet product. However, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist, who was inspecting the product a number of years ago, coined the phrase, "pink slime" in one of his emails. The scientist's phrase didn't surface until a reporter for The New York Times spotted and used it in a critical 2009 story. Suddenly, "lean, finely textured beef" didn't sound very appetizing.

Seeing Crisis as a Teachable Moment

McDonald's media relations director advises getting out of the bunker and viewing a crisis as an opportunity to educate your audience.Too many corporate officials and PR professionals recoil in the face of a crisis. The director of media relations for McDonald's, who is no stranger to crisis, sees it as an opportunity "to educate."

To earn a teachable moment, Danya Proud tells Ragan's PR Daily, you must "acknowledge you're not perfect."

"If you made a mistake," Proud says, "own up to it. Let people know you're listening to them."

The temptation many succumb to when facing a crisis is to dissemble or head for the bunker, hoping the storm will blow over.

Proud's advice: "A crisis can be an opportunity to set the record straight. I seize every opportunity to educate."

"It's not about what you want to say," Proud adds. “It's about what your audience wants to hear."