Mattel — A PR Fiasco?

Like many around the world, I grew up being familiar with Mattel toys. It’s a brand that communicates oodles of fun, loads of creativity, and implicit in all these, are that its products are safe even for young children. The nightmare the company has faced with product recalls and a string of apologies has been well-documented.

How did Mattel fare? In China, certainly the state-owned media seem to have injected their own take on the issue. Michael Netzley of Singapore Management University shared his view that Mattel may have lost some control of its message in that market.

That aside, my own view is that on Mattel’s own communication platform–it’s corporate website–it has done a rather laudable job. On the front page is a link to a message from Bob Eckert, its Chairman and CEO, communicating his empathy and commitment to earn back its customers’ trust. More importantly, there is a prominently displayed link to a website–updated in more than 15 languages–explaining what Mattel is doing to assure the safety of its products, an FAQ, a link to media statements, and a videocast from Eckert apologizing for the situation and reiterating his personal commitment to product safety and getting customers to trust Mattel again. A link to Mattel’s customer service portal brings the public to media and consumer relations contacts in key markets around the world.

How did you think Mattel handled the situation in terms of issues and crisis management? And as far as Mattel’s own website is concerned, how do you think it fared in terms of getting the message out and being transparent?


3 Responses to “Mattel — A PR Fiasco?”

  1. 1 Michael October 4, 2007 at 4:57 am

    From what little I know about crisis communication, I think Mattel did a pretty excellent job. This is in comparison to what they *could* have done.

    They could have ignored the media, stonewalled, blamed someone else, and sent spokespeople to deliver ambiguous messages.

    Instead, they put their CEO front and centre, took responsibility, and have begun the process of correcting their problems. They even apologized to Chinese officials.

    So, to me, it looks like a pretty decent job.

  2. 2 sojourneys October 4, 2007 at 8:37 am

    Hi Michael,

    I would tend to agree. I guess the aspect that could be more controversial was whether Mattel had enough of an understanding of the dynamics of state-owned media in the mainland Chinese market to be able to anticipate that their message there might be “hijacked.”

    For a while–before Mattel issued its own “clarification” the issue–many were stunned that Mattel was seen as dowing kowtows to the Chinese authorities that it was their own design process that was at fault, not the local contract manufacturers.


  3. 3 SkySky January 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    I think the company exercised good pr tactics based on this definition of public relations: public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans, executes and evaluates a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance. They did what was necessary to earn back their customer’s acceptance, understanding, and trust.

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