Five Valuable Lessons from the Crock-Pot CrisisAt the end of the month, I will be at Social Media Marketing World, speaking on crisis communications.

It’s the same topic I do every year, but this year I wanted to take a new approach and show some “in the trenches” examples.

And what better way to start than to talk about the Crock-Pot crisis.


If you watch “This Is Us” and you are not caught up, I would stop reading.


Stop. Reading. Go somewhere else. Bookmark this and come back after you watch the Super Bowl Sunday episode.

(Are they gone?)


Did the Crock-Pot Kill Jack?

At the end of season two, episode 13, we finally get a glimpse of how Jack dies.

The Crock-Pot, er they’ve pointed out it’s actually a slow cooker not a Crock-Pot, catches on fire.

And the internet freaked out!

For the past week, Crock-Pot has been working 24/7 to reframe the conversation, protect their brand, do some serious damage control, and throw in some humor at the same time.

I mean, how often do you hear of homes burning down because the Crock-Pot was left on?

Oh right. Never. As they have pointed out.


It’s sort of the whole point. You can put your dinner in there when you leave for work, turn it on, and come home to delicious smells.

In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has not recorded any injuries or fatalities due to faulty slow cookers.

But that hasn’t stopped the whole world for blaming Crock-Pot for killing their favorite TV dad.

And then a the Crock-Pot crisis ensued.

An Issue Versus a Crisis

Let us remember that the difference between an issue and a crisis is the latter affects stock price, revenue, or reputation in a way that’s hard to come back from.

An issue:

  • Is not harmful to an organization’s reputation;
  • Does not affect the bottom line;
  • Can almost always be avoided;
  • Can escalate into a crisis, if not handled immediately; and
  • Is a blip in the 24/7 news cycle.

A crisis, on the other hand:

  • Has long-term repercussion on an organization’s reputation;
  • Generates a loss of money…generally lots of it; and
  • Can be managed if there is a swift response and quick action.

As people took to Twitter to knock the brand, their stock plummeted and they begged for “This Is Us” to work with them to properly educate their fans.

In a statement they released the very next day, they asked for help in spreading factual information about the product’s safety:

Our hope is that the team at NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ will help us spread factual information regarding our product’s safety. While we know their primary mission is to entertain—something they have continued to excel in—we also feel they have a responsibility to inform. Just like many fans, we will be watching next week’s episode to see how Jack’s story progresses and, regardless of the outcome, we want consumers first and foremost to know they are safe when using their Crock-Pot.

But that’s not the only thing they did well.

Here’s a look at what they’ve been doing since January 23 to protect their nearly 50-year-old brand.

A Swift Response and Quick Action

Though it’s awfully strange the brand didn’t already have a Twitter account, they quickly created one to respond to the concerns of crazed fans.

Using the hashtag #crockpotisinnocent, they were able to respond to people who were throwing out their Crock-Pots—and to those who had real concerns about the product’s safety.

They also posted this message to Facebook, complete with broken heart emojis and a photo of a Pittsburgh Steelers-branded Crock-Pot:

THIS IS US SPOILER ALERT. We’re still trying to mend our heart after watching This Is Us on Tuesday night. America’s favorite dad and husband deserved a better exit and Crock-Pot shares in your devastation. Don’t further add to this tragedy by throwing your Crock-Pot Slow Cooker away. It’s hard to pass something down from generation to generation if you throw it away (grandma won’t be too happy). Spending time with his family while enjoying comfort food from his Crock-Pot was one of his favorite things to do. Let’s all do our part and honor his legacy in the kitchen with Crock-Pot.

As communicators, you have to feel bad for what they’ve experienced in the past week.

But man, they have been right on point for the Crock-Pot crisis.

Empathy is Key

Whomever was in charge of responding to the masses both knows what they’re doing and watches the show.

It’d be hard to have someone talking with “This Is Us” fans and not be experiencing the same grief as the rest of us.

It’s what created the empathy they used in their responses.

Sympathy is great in a crisis; empathy is better.

In the Crock-Pot crisis, empathy is winning.

Follow-Up with the Facts

In the above responses, you can see they empathize and then follow-up with the facts.

Since the ’70s we’ve been providing families with quality & safe products.

We’re committed to safety & you can continue to use our products with confidence.

They also distributed a news release—combining both traditional and digital methods to make sure everyone knows the facts.

For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.

In addition, and most relevant to the concerns consumers are having after watching the recent This Is Us episode, our Crock-Pot slow cookers are low current, low wattage (typically no more than 200 or 300 watts) appliances with self-regulating, heating elements.

The fact is, a home has never burned down because of a faulty Crock-Pot.

So everyone ready to throw out their slow cooker (or those who have already done it) can chill out.

You house will not burn down.

Have a Plan and Assess Your Vulnerabilities

Though Crock-Pot did nothing wrong, it’s a great case study on what can happen when you’re caught in the middle of something you didn’t know was coming.

The Crock-Pot crisis was no fault of their own—it’s not like their executives were caught with high-school girls or they were falsifying accounting reports.

A fictional character on one of the best shows on television died…and they took the brunt of the blame.

But it goes to show that you must have a plan.

If anything, this provides you a great reason to speak with your leadership team or your clients about having a crisis planning meeting.

You must imagine the worst-case scenarios (and now you can add this as one of your examples) and devise a plan for how you’ll respond.

Are you already on social media and monitoring the conversations daily.

Or, like Crock-Pot, will you have to play catch-up when something unexpected happens?

I advise the former. Don’t play catch-up. Have a plan.

Know which audiences you’ll have to communicate with, including employees, and how you’ll reach them.

In the Crock-Pot crisis, they did a great job of combining the new and old to reach people everywhere.

Don’t ignore something just because you don’t get it or it’s not the way you communicate.

Call On Your Advocates

During the Crock-Pot crisis, they were not shy in talking with celebrities and asking for help from “This Is Us.”

Some of their biggest advocates have been Stephen Colbert, Milo Ventimiglia himself, and Dan Fogleman, the show’s creator.

They used Twitter to reach those people very quickly, and the results were late show mentions, including the facts, and a Super Bowl Sunday Crock-Pot promo.

Which, by-the-way, they did not pay for.

That was all PR. All the way. And it is priceless.

The Crock-Pot Crisis

If you have a crisis communications plan, you know what you need to do, and you can show empathy, you will always win in a crisis.

The Crock-Pot crisis has shown us that, while that poor communications team likely hasn’t slept in more than a week, they know what to do.

And the rest of us can watch and learn.

Though you may not have the most popular TV program and late-night show hosts on your side, there is a lot to be said for how they used advocates to communicate the facts.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich