Crisis Management Case Study: Exploding Fireplace Recall

Jonathan Bernstein crisis management, public relations, recall, recall crisis management


[Author’s Note: The general public seldom gets to see what goes on behind the scenes of a significant product recall.  It ain’t always easy!]

The Crisis

Home Products manufacturing (name disguised), based in the Midwest with operations throughout North America, received reports from distributor showrooms that some of the gas fireplaces it marketed were blowing up when used, sending glass flying.  Two distributor employees had been injured to date, but no known consumers.

While the CPSC was in the process of formally demanding a Class I recall, Home Products reached out to Bernstein Crisis Management for assistance with all relevant internal and external communications.

The Response

The Bernstein Crisis Management team quickly learned that one of the challenges of this recall was that the product involved could only be tracked as far as the first-level buyer, typically a distributor such as one of the large hardware chains or major homebuilders.  Tracking thereafter was at the whim of whatever record keeping was done by the first-level buyer.

This meant that widespread public communication was particularly important to alerting consumers ASAP.

The Bernstein team recommended specific strategies and messaging, which it helped draft.  Realizing the CPSC announcement were (a) very dry and (b) only gave facts, never considered the feelings of those impacted (a critical consideration in crisis communications), a CPSC-compliant press release was created factoring in compassionate messaging, and distributed as far as possible using relevant wire services and online publication opportunities.

End result:  No further injuries.  Product mostly recalled.  No hit to company’s reputation in terms of lost customers.


Jonathan Bernstein