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As oily pelicans from BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill captured worldwide attention in April 2010 and sparked black humor about tainted seafood in the comic strip Doonesbury, fifth-generation Wood’s Fisheries in distant Port St. Joe, Fla., took a financial hit. The company’s shrimp was safe to eat—harvested outside the contaminated area—but consumers didn’t necessarily know that.
“Our sales dropped off dramatically,” recalls Reese Antley, director of business development for the mid-sized shrimp company, whose seafood comes not only from the Gulf but also from around the world. While the sales drop-off didn’t imperil the company’s existence, it spelled a crisis that needed attention.
Solution: Fight bad P.R. with good P.R. Wood's Fisheries boosted its advertising budget by about 30 percent, Reese says, as negative perceptions were particularly bad from June through August after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. “We were on several radio programs in the Seattle region and across the country” providing interviews, Reese says. Customers who marketed and sold the shrimp also helped get the word out. Mark Johnson, owner of Better Protein Marketing, in Renton, Wash., created a poster and brochures to display in stores with website references explaining why the shrimp was safe. “Obviously, nobody was going to let tainted seafood in the marketplace,” Johnson says. Shrimpers were able to fish in other parts of the vast Gulf of Mexico unaffected by the spill. Wood’s began selling a lot more shrimp from the East Coast and Honduras; it also continued to raise shrimp in its own former catfish farm.
Lesson: Speak to the consumer. Don’t back away. Just explain the situation. Consumers just want to be educated, but if all the information they get is off the news, it may be superficial.