The Bodam Bottling Company, based in Sheffield, is the principal bottler of Fresh-Light drinks. Founded by Richard H. Bodam in 1956, Bodam was a family-owned business until last year, when the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange. In the first six months Bodam shares rose 24%; afterwards, the price levelled off. Since the beginning of the month, Bodam shares have skyrocketed after it was disclosed that Fresh-Light is now in the final stages of acquiring Bodam. Bodam produces 1.3 million beverage cans a day for the British market. It has 312 employees, including 48 on the production line. If the deal goes through, some 75 staff may lose their jobs.

You are Marilyn Simpson, director of public affairs at Bodam. You only joined the company in September after completing a postgraduate programme in Business Communication at the University of Durham. This is your first job.

On Thursday, June 10, at about noon, you get a call from Channel 4: the station has heard that customers have found a syringe in a can Fresh-Light Micro Diet and they want a Bodam spokesperson to be interviewed by reporter John Williams, on camera, in about 2 hours.

Apparently, Sarah and Francis David have said they have found what appeared to be a used hypodermic syringe in a Fresh-Light Micro Diet can after drinking its contents. The can was part of a twelve-pack. They are afraid that the needle might have been contaminated and believe that it is important to warn the public that 'somebody' may be intentionally placing syringes into the soft-drink cans. The can that the Davids possess was bottled on April 7.

The Davids, in their 80s and said to be very devout Christians, are especially credible: neighbours have compared them to the Pope. In their first televised interview on breakfast TV the same morning they said the presence of the syringe in the can made them worry about AIDS.

You assemble a crisis team. Since your CEO Leona Syferd is away on a business trip in Los Angeles, you have to chair the meeting.

Here are a number of important points that are made during the crisis team meeting:

  • Bodam's production manager, Hilaire Vandevelde, feels very strongly that the tampering did not take place at his plant. The company reviews its quality control procedures every 3 months and no problems have been found so far. The discovery of dust is the worst that has ever happened, and even that is rare. Bodam has an excellent safety record and the company has hardly received any consumer complaints.
  • Vandevelde adds that even if there is contamination in Sheffield, no Fresh-Light products distributed in Scotland can be affected because they are canned in Aberdeen.
  • It is agreed that the company will work together with the National Health Agency (NHA) in ordering instant laboratory analysis to assess whether the syringe was contaminated.
  • The Marketing Manager, Sue Campbell, will issue an advisory to all Bodam distribution areas. In addition, consumers have to be notified directly. She is worried about the fact that it's June: soft-drink sales are starting to soar for the summer months. Fresh-Light may suffer greatly.
  • HR Manager Michael Mills has scheduled a staff meeting for 1 o'clock. He will advise all employees not to speak with the media. This is done to comply with NHA's position of not revealing any information until the investigation is completed.
  • There are rumours that a second syringe-in-a-can has come directly to a reporter of the Independent.
  • Financial Director Robert Fish is worried about the impact of the crisis on the financial community. He wants to reassure shareholders that the incident will not affect Bodam's books.
  • Some other possible courses of action:
    • no communication with the media for the next 24 hours (Mills)
    • contact Adam Bryant, retired bottling inspector in London and a personal friend, and ask him to confirm that Bodam production is safe (Vandevelde)
    • set up a consumer hotline (Campbell)
    • attack the credibility of the 80-year-old Davids: it's a hoax (Mills)
    • apologize for any inconvenience that may be caused (Campbell)
    • order an instant nation-wide product recall (Campbell)
    • call (and wake up) your boss in LA (Simpson)

The meeting ends at 12.30. You will now prepare a press release to be issued to the nation-wide media before the Channel 4 interview. That means you've got 90 minutes left to take further action. Select those moves which you believe are appropriate. Feel free to add any details whatsoever.