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Did Pink Slime Need Better PR?

Lean Finely Textured Beef. Pink Slime. No matter the name of this recently famous beef by-product, the mere mention of the stuff makes people’s stomachs turn. While I can’t say that there’s anything appetizing about pink slime, as a strategic communications professional – and as a Jersey girl who has enjoyed scrapple, pork roll, sausages and hot dogs throughout the course of my life – I can’t help but wonder whether pink slime just needed better PR.

Musings of a hot dog, scrapple, pork roll and sausage lover

Lean Finely Textured Beef. Pink Slime. No matter the name of this recently famous beef by-product, the mere mention of the stuff makes people’s stomachs turn. While I can’t say that there’s anything appetizing about pink slime, as a strategic communications professional – and as a Jersey girl who has enjoyed scrapple, pork roll, sausages and hot dogs throughout the course of my life – I can’t help but wonder whether pink slime just needed better PR.

Public relations itself, as a profession, often gets a bad rap. Some think PR is a bit slimy and that PR professionals manipulate the truth – we’re sometimes referred to as “Spin Doctors.” But as a 20-year industry devotee and proud member of the profession, I strongly disagree with such assessments.

Public relations is the art and the science of strategic communications and public engagement – whoever those publics may be. Part of a PR professional’s daily challenge is to develop well-thought-out strategy for how information is packaged and presented. So I couldn’t help but consider, as the media feeding frenzy began to circle and attack pink slime, how a well-thought-out public relations (or crisis communications) strategy could have helped the beef industry’s (and the USDA’s) handling of the situation.

Let me be clear – I am in no way condoning or advocating the inclusion of harmful ingredients into our country’s food supply. I believe that we deserve transparency and that we should be well informed consumers. But let’s also consider consumer choice. Those of us who grew up in this area of the country probably had scrapple for breakfast and pork roll sandwiches for lunch and consumed more sausages and hot dogs (there’s nothing more American – right?) than we probably care to admit. Did we ever stop to think about what’s REALLY in those foods that are a “regular” part of our diet? Do we care to know what’s inside? Probably not. All were prepared and served in our homes, schools, restaurants and ballparks and all were thoroughly enjoyed. So is it all in the presentation?

Consider this: pink slime has been around since 2001, and has been a component of most ground beef produced in the United States since that time. We’ve probably all consumed quite a bit of it unknowingly, and I dare say we’ve lived to tell about it. It was really not until the media got hold of the story in recent weeks that the American public first heard about pink slime and the frenzy began. With the help of social media, the public outcry grew louder. In response to the tidal wave of negative media coverage and consumer hype, restaurants, schools and supermarket chains agreed to pull ground beef containing the USDA-approved pink slime from their shelves and menus. Almost overnight, processing plants declared bankruptcy and closed their doors, and now people are out of work.

There’s a part of me that can’t help but believe that, had the beef industry been more forthcoming, had the processors and advocates of Lean Finely Textured Beef better demonstrated the safety of their product and had the industry been better prepared to discuss pink slime with the media and allay consumers’ fears, this may have been less volatile, less frantic and less devastating to the industry. That same part of me suggests that skilled public relations counselors could have been a part of that team to help mitigate the damages and calm the sea of bad publicity surrounding pink slime.

Love it or loathe it, I think pink slime could have used better PR!

Amy Whilldin is an Account Director at Domus, Inc., a marketing communications agency based in Philadelphia. For more information, visit http://www.domusinc.com/. For new business inquiries, please contact CEO and founder of Domus, Inc. Betty Tuppeny at betty.tuppeny@domusinc.com or 215-772-2805.

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