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What We Can Learn About Product Recalls from Mike Tyson

When boxing legend Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit,” he meant it literally. But he could have just as easily been talking about product recalls.

When a company “gets hit” with word of a serious issue that requires a recall, they will hopefully have a detailed plan to turn to. But if they haven’t experienced a recall before – or haven’t dealt with the specific issue they are now facing – they are essentially getting hit for the first time and have no way of knowing how they will really react in the moment. So what’s a smart business leader to do? Essentially, the same thing Tyson himself did: practice and train. In this case, that means holding mock recalls.

Plans can have gaps that are only discovered when a recall occurs. Some common ones include:

  • Regulatory knowledge – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and a myriad of global regulators all have their own specific mandates and priorities. And they are constantly changing. Some companies have staff dedicated to understanding and following these changes, but they may focus primarily on go-to-market requirements – not the rules for pulling product off the market. This leaves companies vulnerable.
  • Large-scale/high-profile recall readiness – Some companies are well-versed in smaller recalls or those involving a relatively low risk. But they are likely vulnerable to one that is bigger in both scope and hazard level. These often bear little resemblance to their low-profile counterparts in terms of consumer response and infrastructure needs, so even experienced companies can’t be complacent.
  • Coordination issues – If different aspects of recall execution are assigned to various team members, they have to communicate closely with one another. That can be more challenging than it sounds, especially once the pressure of a recall is underway. And if multiple outside vendors are utilized, there can be serious issues with coordination that can cause delays, regulatory pushback, and increased legal liability.  
  • Customer communication missteps – Just as internal teams and vendors must be aligned, the messaging to customers must be clear, easy-to-follow, and delivered with an eye toward customer loyalty. Too often, companies provide incorrect contact information, rely on understaffed call centers, set up websites that crash, and send mixed signals to customers. These issues often play out in traditional and social media – causing serious brand damage along the way.

Unlike Mike Tyson, no company deliberately enters the recall “ring.” But product recalls happen to everyone, and eventually they will be forced to fight. Having a robust plan is a good first step – but practicing the plan is the key to being truly prepared.

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