Kudos to Michelin for their handling of the PR mayhem created June 19 at the Formua One U.S. Grand Prix race. For those who aren't aware, here's the quick background:
Formula One racing has forever been the racing sport of Europe (and Asia). However, it has never really broken into the U.S. market - especially now with the mythical proportions of NASCAR. The Formula One U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis was being positioned as a major thrust to boost the popularity of the sport in the U.S. - and thereby bring huge buckets of sponsorship dollars. And even though it was not going to be anywhere near a NASCAR event, they had sold over 100,000 tickets.
Then, in the days before the race, several of the drivers experiences problems with their Michelin tires going around a specific turn. Michelin made a last minute plea to Formula One to allow the drivers to switch tires. Formula One refused since it's rules do not allow drivers to race on any tires other than what they qualified with. Michelin and the drivers pleaded to Formula One to modify the turn to decrease speeds. Formula One refused.
When all avenues were exhauseted, Michelin advised it's drivers not to race due to safety concerns. Subsequently, 14 of the 20 drivers in the race boycotted - starting the race and then quickly pulling off the track - leaving only 6 racers. The 100,000+ fans in the stands were horrified! Thank G-d there wasn't a riot.
Now, we have all found ourselves in positions before where things have gone horribly wrong (maybe not this bad - but none of us are perfect). Anybody out there from Snapple? Got a huge 20ft popsicle? Middle of summer in Manhattan? Oops. "cleanup on aisle 7th avenue".
This is the critical moment, though. What's happened has happened. What matters most is WHAT YOU DO NEXT. And this Formula One incident has examples of both the right and wrong way to respond.
The response of the folks at Formula One left much to be desired. They basically hung their heads low, sighed, and threw in the towel. In essence, their comment was that they were sorry it happened and are resigned to the fact that Americans will now forever hate the sport. They then packed up their Ferraris, champagne and cheese and headed back to Europe.
Michelin, on the other hand, has turned this disaster into a win. As reported on adage.com (Michelin Responds To PR Disaster), Michelin has offered refunds to every one of the 100,000+ ticket holders who were forced to watch this debacle unfold. At an average price of $100/ticket, that's over $12 million liability to Michelin. I'd like to shake the hand of the Michelin exec who had the nerves to suggest that. It couldn't have been an easy sell.
But now Michelin comes out of this as clean as one could hope for. As the only one willing to step up and address the concerns of the consumer, Michelin gets to shape the story however they want. The consumer will forget that this whole thing started because Michelin tires were failing where others were not. There would have been no concern over safety if the Michelin tires could handle the stress. Instead, the consumer will remember Michelin as the only one who was willing to stick themselves on the line in the name of safety. And not only were they willing to talk the safety talk and walk the safety walk (now I have that song "Safety Dance" going through my head), they were also willing to back it up with their wallets.
The net-net for the consumer: "Michelin would never let me put my family on unsafe tires, and they are not all about the almighty dollar" and "Boo to the European sport of Formula One Racing. Us Americans will stick to good old American NASCAR and American tires like Michelin" (even though Michelin is a French company).
Moral of the story: Sometimes a really big screw-up is really just an opportunity for a really big win.