What the Zhu Zhu Pet Issue Teaches Us About Crisis Communications


In what some are calling a “PR nightmare,” the hottest toy of the holiday season is being reviewed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and could face a recall.

But is it really a PR nightmare, or just a test?

An issue first arose this past Friday, when consumer Web site GoodGuide published a product review claiming the Zhu Zhu Pet Hamster Mr. Squiggles contains high levels tin and antimony, “which may be linked to cancer, lung, and heart problems.”

The maker of the Mr. Squiggles, St. Louis-based Cepia, issued a statement denying the Good Guide report one day after it was published. “We are disputing the findings of GoodGuide and we are 100% confident that Mr. Squiggles, and all other Zhu Zhu Toys, are safe and compliant with all U.S. and European standards for consumer health and safety in toys,” said Russ Hornsby, CEO of Cepia LLC.

“If it’s a recall, it’s one path, if it’s not a recall then it’s a different path…it’s putting balance to the story,” Chris Gidez, US Director of Risk Management and Crisis Communication at Hill & Knowlton told PRNewser today. “This is a big test for retailers, for toy manufacturers, and for media. What this is, is a manifestation of the new world that we live in. Information can move so fast.”

Gidez said it was “interesting” that U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had a statement out and is reviewing the product. The organization is “reacting to all of the noise on the internet,” he said. “Is this the modern day version of yelling fire in a theater or is there a bona fide issue here?” he asked.

Also, as of this afternoon, GoodGuide issued a statement which read in part, “while GoodGuide considers the presence of any antimony on the surface of a toy to be a concern, we want to clarify that we used a testing methodology to evaluate the toys that is different from the testing methodology incorporated into the federal standards.” So far, Cepia executives are responding to the media today, while GoodGuide is not.

At least from this PRNewser’s standpoint, Cepia seems to be following the crisis communication handbook’s first rule: tell the truth and tell it fast.