From Jensen Karp’s large Twitter following, to his high profile connections, to his last name being Karp, to his famous wife’s last name being Fishel (we could go on…), the Cinnamon Crunch Shrimp fiasco was poised with potential to be the perfect storm.

The Back Story

If you need the full run-down on this situation, you can find that here.

But basically, Jensen Karp took to Twitter in March claiming that he found shrimp tails and what *looked* like mouse droppings in his Family-Pack of Cinnamon Toast Crunch from a local Costco. ????

Quick note to brands before we get into the nitty gritty: Of course, every customer is important. But… well… famous customers with large Twitter followings may warrant an extra bit of thought and planning. After all, every brand longs for celebrities to tweet about them and for the chance to “go viral” on social media, but not like this!

When any customer—but especially a celebrity—shares a shockingly negative experience online, there’s potential for a PR nightmare. Perhaps the most shocking part of this story, though, is that a brand as large as General Mills didn’t have a PR crisis team prepared.

In 2021, people expect prompt responses to their messages and questions. And we get it— the last thing a brand should do is respond too quickly to a negative review, with risk of emotions flaring. But there’s a fine line between taking the time to think of a professional response and well… taking so long that people become angry.

In this case, it’s not that the brand didn’t respond quickly, because they did. However, the replies were sent by lower-level employees who clearly didn’t have the tools necessary to properly handle the delicate situation. Higher-ups, on the other hand, seemed disconnected and unconcerned for far too long, allowing the whole issue to spiral out of control.

Let’s look at a few lessons from this event.

What Exactly Went Wrong?

It was obvious by the messages that this whole situation was initially (and poorly) handled by social media managers. So for many people, it was too little too late, when General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening finally appeared on CNBC later and said, ‘Based on the information we have right now, it is highly unlikely this occurred at a General Mills facility… So right now, we’re in the process of working with that consumer to try to figure out, kind of, what happened between when it left our docks and when he opened it.”

Here are the biggest mistakes:

1. The Brand Voice & Tone

Tone is a very big deal. This is true across the board in life but especially on social media. And the tone of all the replies to Karp was just… not right for the situation.

It seemed the Cinnamon Toast Crunch employees used the same exact tone and response to someone finding shrimp parts in their breakfast cereal as they would to someone upset that there wasn’t enough cinnamon for their taste. The response was definitely too light-hearted and the resolution they provided (another free box of cereal) was definitely not appropriate here either.

2. They Minimized Karp’s Complaint

At many points the employee(s) seemed to minimize Karp’s concerns, even telling him that they decided it was not shrimp. Do we even have to elaborate on how this was a mistake? ???? Probably not–and the result was exactly what you would expect. Karp was so upset that he continued to further investigate the box, and that’s when he found the alleged rat droppings. If they would have handled his complaint with care, he may not have kept digging (and posting). As a small business, how can you apply that? Always take complaints seriously even if you suspect they aren’t valid.

3. Social Media Managers Were Made to Act as Crisis Managers

One of the biggest lessons here is that social media managers should not be required to handle high-level complaints. And one of the biggest mistakes in this case was the amount of communication that happened before the situation was properly escalated. It’s important to train and empower your social media managers to quickly escalate cases that are clearly out of the ordinary or more serious, and then create a clear pathway and line of communication for them to do that. It seems like even Jensen Karp intuitively knew this:

How to Get it Right

1. Have Brand Voice Guidelines & Protocols for Different Situations

The last thing you want when you just ate rat poop is someone to seem super aloof or light-hearted in their response. The same is true for all sorts of situations your customers could be messaging your company about via email or social media. So, set guidelines for how your customer service or social media teams should respond to certain concerns. Or, have a plan in place to quickly handle more complicated situations from a higher level. Which brings us to…

2. Have a Plan to Quickly Escalate Emergency Situations

We recommend establishing a detailed crisis plan that is well-known to anyone who works on your company’s social media platforms. There needs to be a quick and clear pathway for employees to take when needing to alert the right people higher up in the organization who are poised to handle more potentially serious PR problems.

3. Have a PR Expert On Staff or On Call

PR can be expensive, but so is a PR nightmare. We think it’s a good idea to do your research and create a relationship with a good PR person/team, so you can utilize them quickly on an as-needed basis. Even if you don’t regularly need PR, have someone on call for times of crisis, and be ready to listen to and implement their expertise. Team Tangible loves that all of our ongoing clients feel comfortable to message us the minute they have a concern, so we can provide professional PR guidance on a small business level.

Brands Who Got it Right

To end on a positive note, we’re sharing our favorite potential PR fiasco that we think was handled quickly and immaculately: Enter CrockPot.

We don’t know if CrockPot had the PR team of the century on-hand or if they just had someone on staff who was smart enough to act as quickly as possible, but when (spoiler alert) what looked like a Crock Pot caught on fire and ultimately led to the death of one of television’s most beloved fathers on This is Us, the brand acted quickly on Twitter.

While this situation had the potential to crack even well-resourced brands, and most companies when faced with something like this could have been tempted to take a defensive stand (much like Cinnamon Toast Crunch), Crock Pot created a #CrockPotIsInnocent hashtag campaign that was handled extremely well. It was serious, but also fun. The brand also shared real statistics and safety information about their products, assuring their audience that:

  1. That no CrockPot has ever caught fire in the history of the company
  2. They perform extensive safety testing to ensure that they will not catch on fire
  3. That they will continue to test to make sure that it never does happen

They got their loyal CrockPot fans (and we all know some CrockPot enthusiasts…) to fight on their behalf using the hashtag. It was extremely well done and just fun enough, because after all, it’s television, and as a brand you don’t want to come across as TOO serious or TOO out of touch.

In fact, we did some research and it turns out that the Shorty Awards agree with us and even awarded them with first place for “Best Hashtag, Real Time Response.”

Final Thoughts

Every company needs a PR plan, even if you don’t have a PR team. And if you have the money, hire a good PR team. Otherwise, employees may be left winging it in a crisis and well, we’ve seen how that turns out.

In the age of the internet, even if something like this is a hoax, it still has the potential to ruin a brand depending on their response to it. When brands fail to be calm or empathetic, they can violate the trust of their followers and the price they pay can be big. This goes for both large and small businesses.

Your business may not be as large-scaled as General Mills, so maybe you think you don’t have to worry about something going viral… until a local influencer or a well-connected mom has something negative to say. Trust us. And make a plan!

If you need help, we’ve got you covered.

Press release pet peeves, press release pet peeves, press release pet peeves… try saying that out loud 3 times fast. For most people, writing a successful and poignant press release can be… well, even harder than saying “press release pet peeves” 3 times fast.

But that’s why we’re here! We’re going to tell you some concrete and easy (although we may be using that word lightly here…) ways to make your press release more effective.

If you’ve been stumped trying to get your big event, grand opening, or new product noticed by your local press, a lot of people can relate. It’s kind of a whole thing.

Thankfully over the years, we’ve learned (the hard way a few times) how to write a killer press release that gets your business noticed and, well, doesn’t peeve the people you’re sending it to.

So, here are the top five biggest press release mistakes (according to us) and what to do instead to catch that journalist’s eye:

1. Not Prioritizing the Title of Your Press Release

It’s easy to discount the importance of a title when you feel the press release speaks for itself, but journalists sift through hundreds of press releases every single day. So it’s SUPER important to grab their attention as soon as possible to avoid being tossed in the “not-newsworthy” pile. Basically, you want to click-bait them, without the click-baity-ness. (Is that a word????? )

The goal of your title should be to make it immediately obvious what audience you’re wanting to reach and why they need this information. PRO TIP: it can be extremely beneficial to update your title depending on the news outlet or audience you’re reaching out to. Your information might be useful to people of all ages, but the title needs to cater to the type of outlet that you’re hoping will share your story.

2. Including the Wrong Amount or Wrong Type of Links

Alright, this is where it gets tricky. You don’t want too many links… or not enough links… or links that don’t further your narrative. (How many times can we say, “links”?) Links are where a lot of people seem to either take it too far or just not put any at all. We’re here to save you from this blunder!

In 2021, press releases should no longer be written as though they’re going to be read off a sheet of printed paper. They’re going to be read digitally, so make them interactive! A great press release will be an interactive experience where the reader can move between reliable links embedded in the document, along with photos and videos that help in educating them.

We suggest using 2-4 links depending on the length and subject matter of your press release. Any more than that, and your hard work begins to look like spam, and your readers no longer take the time to follow any of the links. ????????‍♀️ It’s also important to be intentional when choosing your links. Before adding any link, make sure it’s relevant to your topic and your target audience, and that it adds value to your story.

When used correctly, links will boost audience engagement AND push more people to your website. (Yay!)

3. Only Using a Distribution Service

There’s definitely value in distribution services. Basically, distribution services work to distribute your press release for you. They allow your press release to end up in the inbox of hundreds of journalists and can lead to tons of backlinks for your website.


Distribution services are becoming less beneficial for small brands because they can get buried in a sea of PR from huge companies.

Instead, try to build relationships with journalists! Send personalized messages to offer product samples, interview quotes, and attached photos with your press release. Journalists love when you give them a story and all the elements they’d need to run with it right away. Try to make their job as easy as possible, and we promise it’ll pay off.

4. Lack of Focus

People often feel rushed when working on a press release, because as we all know, “time is money.” But in reality, a rushed, unfocused press release can be a huge waste of your time because it’s unlikely to ever gain any traction.

Many business owners can struggle to be direct and stay focused on the main goal of the press release. We get it. You’re not a writer, you’re a business owner! That’s ok. Here’s what we suggest: start with an outline that creates a story. The business, product, or event you’re promoting should be secondary to the main goal of creating something that people want to read. You need to have one subject, one idea, and one goal that you’re striving for with every sentence.

If there are multiple aspects that you need to promote, we suggest writing different press releases for optimal results.

5. Not Making it Topical

Is it NEWSWORTHY? Ask yourself this question at every stage of the writing process, because that is the question every journalist is trying to answer before they invest their time. The goal is to step back and look at it from the readers’ eyes. If you weren’t involved in the project or company, what would make you want to read about this topic? What do you think will get people really talking? Your press release must be valuable beyond just your own interests, because if it’s not, you risk damaging your reputation and even blacklisting yourself to journalists. (???? ) This might sound harsh, but they may not ever spend their time reading any of your future press releases as well once you’ve let them down.

So, our best advice is to spend some time reading topical news and try to find a new angle that people aren’t talking about yet. This automatically puts you a few steps ahead of the other 100 press releases in the journalist’s inbox. If you aren’t able to do this, show how a popular industry trend is related (even in a small way) to what you’re doing. There are lots of ways to make something mundane become newsworthy—celebrity endorsement, human interest, novelty/rarity, proximity, and more.

For example, the event at your business might not be newsworthy, so why not give a percentage of proceeds to an organization to a local organization with a great cause? Voilà! NOW people want to learn more about what you’re doing. Plus, you get to help people in the process.

Pro tip: Make sure to give to an organization you genuinely care about and want to support.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, our BIGGEST pet peeve is a press release that goes out before it’s ready. A good press release takes tons of time and energy, but when done correctly, they’re more than worth it!

And hey, if this is way over your head or if you need to stay focused on big picture business decisions, we can always help with PR for your next big adventure.

When it comes to owning a small business, you have to be good at wearing multiple hats and juggling multiple job titles. And oftentimes in a small business, your employees also get thrown into the exciting world of owning multiple roles. It’s great to have people on your team who can jump in wherever it’s needed, especially when it comes to marketing and social media! But, there are also challenges that come with having employees step into multiple roles.

If more than one person is writing your social media captions, blogs, and email marketing content, it’s important to establish content guidelines to make sure all of your content has a cohesive voice.

Why is a Cohesive Brand Voice Important?

If your content lacks a cohesive voice, you may be creating brand confusion or unintentionally coming across as inauthentic to readers. People want to connect to a brand in a personal way, so if your content feels disjointed or fragmented, your audience may not be able to figure out how to really connect to the “face behind the screen” and fully get on board.

Enter: Content Marketing Guidelines

A great brand feels like a friend you can connect with, and every brand wants to connect with their audience in a meaningful way! So if the person writing your brand content is inconsistent, don’t worry; this can be easily fixed with content guidelines!

Content marketing guidelines may be extensive for certain brands, while for others, it could simply be a one-page reference sheet. The depth of your brand content guidelines will depend on your content and your brand goals.

The 8 Elements Of Great Content Guidelines

1. Audience— The first and most important step when creating content guidelines is establishing who your target audience/market is. What do they like? How do they speak? How do they want to be spoken to?
2. Tone— Do you want your content written in first or third person? Would you like your blog posts, captions, and articles more fun and playful, authoritative, professional, or conversational?
3. Style— Do you follow AP or MLA style? List all of your grammatical preferences. (Oxford comma, anyone?)
4. Keywords— Create a list of main brand keywords and/or ideas that should be included or pulled from for content inspiration and overall brand voice.
5. Headlines— Make sure your content writers know the end result you desire and the action steps you want readers to take so they can include it within their blog titles or email headlines.
6. Copy Organization— Your readers are busy and have short attention spans, so it’s important to teach your writers how to create multiple section headlines in the copy for your audience to keep interested. Set guidelines for section titles, bullets, numbered lists, emojis, and paragraph headers that will keep re-engaging the reader on each platform.
7. Calls to Action— Make a list of go-to CTAs that can be dropped at the end of blogs, emails, or captions to inform your readers of next steps.
8. Internal Approval Process— Detail deadlines, timelines, how writers should submit their content, and what the process is for editing and approval.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that nothing you create is set in stone— and it shouldn’t be! If things aren’t working, or you aren’t getting any engagement on what you keep putting out, switch it up. Just like any good brand, your content marketing guidelines will (and should) evolve over time.

And as always, we’re here to help! If you want help with creating your brand content guidelines, consulting with your writers, or even managing your content creation, we’d love to talk!