Jon Michaeli’s Blog

Maclaren: crisis management gone wrong

Posted in Uncategorized by Jon Michaeli on November 9, 2009
Tags: , , , , , ,

Your products, 1 million of them produced since 1999 (that’s right, a 10-year time span), have been blamed for amputating fingers of infants and toddlers. You “do the right thing” by undertaking a massive recall and setting up a dedicated phone line and web landing page, where customers can self-educate and order replacement parts. The message spreads like wildfire through the web, propelled by engaged and vocal moms via social media channels.

Recalls are never welcome news, especially ones that imply our children were in harm’s way. But, unless flaws were the result of gross negligence and/or led to numerous fatalities or serious injuries, people are forgiving and don’t abandon companies with an otherwise solid track record. After all, product design is an imperfect science. This of course assumes the company works diligently to resolve the problem.


The scenario: a fairly typical case study in corporate crisis management. Your goal: to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and minimize damage to the brand’s reputation. Handled effectively, the incident is a mere hiccup in the company’s history. Have a miscue in your disaster management plan? You add fuel to the fire, resulting in negative word-of-mouth and bad will…and quite possibly customer disloyalty that impacts earnings for years.

Following Maclaren USA’s announcement this morning, the company made perhaps the most fundamental oversight prior to going public with the news. The most obvious and supposedly reliable place to obtain detailed information on the recall (its website) was flooded with traffic and has been down ever since (as of 5pm EST).

I have no idea what a recall of 1mm strollers will cost Maclaren, but I do know a dedicated server capable of supporting the surge in bandwidth would add nominally to the final bill. Instead of what should have been a 10-minute exercise learning about the recall and ordering the appropriate kit for their models (nine models in total are affected), moms and dads (and grandmas and grandpas) everywhere were shut out and instead relied on the media to accurately relay the message. In my experience, it won’t take much for the broken communication over this non-trivial safety matter to translate to loss of trust and business, especially amongst Type A, educated consumers in a market increasingly crowded by trendy strollers.

Am I over-dramatizing? I encourage loving parents and communications professionals everywhere to share their thoughts…


12 Responses to 'Maclaren: crisis management gone wrong'

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  1. Larry Lytle said,

    From what I’ve seen/heard thus far, Maclaren has done a horrible job of PR and crisis management. Whenever babies and toddlers are hurt by a product – even if the numbers are relatively small – it sends shivers up the spine of anyone with an ounce of compassion. It deserves – NO, DEMANDS – immediate response.

    The CEO should be personally appearing on television or at least making a strong public statement in a press conference, acknowledging the problem and explaining corrective actions that are underway. I would bet that Maclaren’s attorneys have advised against that, saying that it would be an admission of guilt/liability.
    If so, that’s absolutely the wrong approach. It takes courage and integrity to do the right thing… and that is incumbent on the President/CEO.

    If this isn’t handled well, Maclaren may never recover. This is that crucial decision point where a company can either step up to its moral and financial responsibility… or fold up the tent.

    • Jon Michaeli said,

      Thank you for your comments, Larry. There is a debate brewing in the blogosphere – some say we are overreacting, that we have become a soft society now that we have 24/7 channels readily available for every rant and an ever present audience. Others argue the same issues exist with other strollers, and if we want to eliminate the risk of finger amputation, we should remove all hinged doors.

      I agree with you. When it comes to our kids, it’s a serious matter…and my main point is that Maclaren neglected to do Crisis Management 101. To me this shows a real failure to understand the demographic, psychographic and behavioral profile of its core customer base.

  2. Hilary Wilkenfeld said,

    I am a PR professional and a Maclaren-strollering mom. From a comms perspective, Maclaren completely dropped the ball. I couldn’t get on their website and the dedicated recall toll-free number didn’t work. Shame on their PR team! This is a good example of what not to do in a crisis.

    However, I’m not dumping my Mac anytime soon. I love the stroller. It’s good to know about the hinge problem and I’ll be glad to have the repair kit … better safe than sorry. All in all, it was a comms screw up. I don’t think the recall will hurt the brand long term.

    • Jon Michaeli said,

      I appreciate your point of view, Hilary. Maybe I am too harsh…or perhaps exemplary leadership in times of crisis is rare, so we forgive and forget quite easily, rather than raising our expectations and gravitating to those companies that really get it and earn our trust.

  3. Amy Wilson said,

    Hi Jon- thanks for your comments on my site. I think you are spot on. Of course there are dangers to our children everywhere– but this is a product designed FOR children. And these weren’t boo-boos. These were amputated fingers. TWENTY of them. I agree that the CEO of Maclaren should make a statement, but I think it would be hard for him or her to justify why Maclaren waited so long to react.

    • Jon Michaeli said,

      Thank you for your comment, Amy. I agree when a product is designed FOR children, it sets a higher standard. By holding companies accountable to make the safest products possible, we lower environmental risk and help keep our kids safe. In my mind, it’s never an acceptable argument to say “There are other strollers out there that have the same issue” or “Stroller hinges aren’t the only ones that can amputate a finger.”

      By making replacement parts available, Maclaren acknowledges the strollers could have been designed to reduce the chance of injury.

  4. Sonicblu said,

    Yea, it sucks. Am I allowed to say that Europeans entities just don’t have a knack for anticipating these kinds of needs… particularly when the words ‘server’ and ‘million’ are put in the same sentence? Just my past professional experience.

    I still think they make a good stroller. I went online just now, no issues, and ordered the hinge cover. Got a confirmation # and the whole process took less than two minutes.

    I really do wish they take some key learnings and make the needed improvements. Enjoy the Quest stroller we have, and planning to be a repeat customer in the future.

    • Jon Michaeli said,

      I agree Maclaren makes a good stroller – I have been happy with mine, as have most parents to my knowledge. But especially in an era of social media that has emboldened the consumer voice, the bar has been raised; a good product is merely a prerequisite, and how companies communicate with consumers (esp. in times of crisis) will distinguish average/good companies from great ones.

  5. As a communications professional, I wanted to reinforce what Jon said about a good crisis plan–there is no aspect or “detail” that is too small to be included, and assuring that you have the capacity on your web site to support the follow-up response is not a small detail; it’s essential. So, when assembling the team to develop your crisis plan it’s vital to include both your web content manager and your IT staff.

    • Jon Michaeli said,

      Sandra – Thank you for your comment, and mentioning the specific action item implied by but not specifically stated in my post. A good crisis plan is not just communicated throughout an organization, it requires cross-functional collaboration and execution.

  6. […] has been written about this issue–which involves sharp hinges that have amputated children's fingers–ranging from the mechanical […]

  7. […] I have no idea what a recall of 1mm strollers will cost Maclaren , but I do know a dedicated server capable of supporting the surge in bandwidth would add nominally to the final bill. Instead of what should have been a 10-minute exercise …This Post […]

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