I’m still someone who holds out hope that in time, the furor over pink slime might die down enough so the company that developed and marketed the product might have a chance to regain some of its lost customers.
But I won’t be holding my breath.
That’s because even a cursory analysis of how the controversy arose, how the media portrayed it and how the manufacturer and the industry responded reveals a series of blunders—to put it mildly—that scuttled whatever chance there might have been to rehab (and possibly reverse) the smear campaign against pink slime.
For starters, there is the matter of timing. I know it takes time to mobilize one’s allies, but to wait a week while the media positively erupted with stories slamming pink slime before arranging for several meat-state governors to attempt some damage control was about as ineffective as it gets.
In marketing, you need to be ahead of the curve, not attempting to catch up to your competitors. And in public relations, you have to get out in front of the story, not spend days scrambling to rally your troops while the public is solidifying its disgust for your business and its product.
Easier said than done, I realize, but it’s Rule No. 1 in media relations.
Second, regarding the so-called re-branding strategy: An effort cobbled together like a B-team spring training lineup was doomed from the start. Having a less-than credible presidential dropout heading up your big fight-back news conference is simply bizarre. Gov. Rick Perry might be the leader of a very large and very populous state—and one with enough cattle on feed to provide critics with a gift-wrapped disclaimer—but choosing somebody who was embarrassed during the Republican debates with his inability to articulate the basics of his campaign strategy does not make for an effective spokesperson.
In the end it’s a shame that for years a perfectly acceptable product was marketed with a less-than-appealing name simply because it was being sold through B2B channels. “Pink slime” is awful, but “lean,finely textured beef” isn’t far behind, at least not as something a celebrity chef or even a discerning consumer might embrace.
One wag suggested that the manufacturer should have replaced LFTB with something like “meat smoothie” or “hamburger slurpee.” That’s not the answer, but neither is the lame “Dude, it’s beef” slogan that Perry and the other governors tried to roll out at a news conference at the BPI plant in South Sioux City, Neb., last week.