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The Coca-Cola Company’s Ethical Communication Plan

As the communication analysis of Coca-Cola has demonstrated, the company has often been subject to criticism and has yet to tackle its ethical controversies. One way to go about the issues with brand reputation and communication is to devise a comprehensive ethical framework. This is a necessity for a corporation as big as Coca-Cola, and ideally, the framework should tie all its values together and be not only descriptive but also prescriptive. It means that the proclaimed mission and vision cannot and should not stay inclusively on paper. Instead, they need to be seamlessly translated into practice, using an established set of rules. This paper describes a possible ethical framework that would suit Coca-Cola and help it with building and developing more efficient communication channels.

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Key Values for the Ethical Framework

On its official website, Coca-Cola states that its key values include serving the customer by providing a high-quality product and applying sustainable business practices. On top of that, the company claims that it is interested in building a brighter future together with diverse communities and strives for the prosperity of humankind (Purpose and vision, n.d.). Based on what the corporation’s mission and vision include already, one may presume which values would also fit the renewed agenda and the ethical framework. First and foremost, Coca-Cola needs to work on its integrity. Integrity may be defined as having a clear set of principles and being consistent in one’s actions. A company whose key characteristic is integrity does not betray its philosophy for the sake of making a profit or doing what feels right at the moment. In the case of Coca-Cola, this may mean caring about each particular case where it might have done something wrong or did not practice what it preached. For instance, capitalizing on diversity in advertising and treating people of color unfairly in the same breath is nothing close to having integrity. Therefore, it would only be reasonable if Coca-Cola kept it in check.

Another value that could transform the existing mission and vision for the best is accountability. Coca-Cola already states that it takes responsibility for the future of the affected communities. The concept of accountability has the potential of strengthening the company’s intentions. Accountability can be defined as the ability to hold oneself responsible and not fleeing the situation with a response or well-timed action. Both integrity and accountability should be used when developing an ethical framework as they have practical implications as to what ethical communication entails.

Steps to Crisis Communication

Now that the key values for the ethical framework are outlined, it is essential to describe exactly what the company needs to do to make its communication more ethical, especially when it comes to forcing Majeure events and crises. First and foremost, Coca-Cola needs to always provide some kind of response. Responsiveness is one of the key pillars of brand management whereas silence can be interpreted as agreement. In other words, if something critical happens and Coca-Cola withdraws from commenting, it may look as if the company does not care enough or even encourages such behavior (Le, Teo, Pang, Li & Goh, 2019). Evidently, in no time, Coca-Cola can entire the so-called silence loop. The more time passes after an incident, the more ground it will lose in the argument, which will make further rectification nigh on impossible. Instead, this is a plan built upon the new ethical framework that should guide the company:

  1. anticipate and be ready for an incident to happen even if nothing hints at it at present;
  2. create a plan customized for Coca Cola and test it multiple times before the official launch;
  3. identify the crisis communication team that consists of people who are specifically trained to handle critical situations;
  4. establish notification and monitoring systems. In the case of Coca Cola, it may take the form of social media management to make sure that concerned customers always have the most relevant information;
  5. communicate. Companies are often hesitant to respond out of the fear of a backlash. However, silence may be way worse in this situation because it allows other people and organizations to control the narrative. They get the freedom of presenting the situation from a particular angle while the company to which it directly relates remains in the shadow;
  6. post-crisis analysis. Each particular accident needs to be thoroughly analyzed so that the company could learn valuable lessons from the past.

Conclusion

Coca-Cola Company has a history of successful communication cases as well as total failures when it comes to handling critical situations. This paper argues that to improve communication, Coca-Cola needs to renew its ethical framework and build it around such key values as integrity and accountability. Integrity in this context would mean being consistent with sticking to one’s ethical principles while accountability implies taking responsibility for one’s actions. These two values should translate into a feasible plan that would involve being responsive as well as proactive and reflective towards past incidents and potential risks.

References

Le, P. D., Teo, H. X., Pang, A., Li, Y., & Goh, C. Q. (2019). When is silence golden? The use of strategic silence in crisis communication. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 24(1), 162-178.

Purpose and company vision. (n.d.). Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, August 9). The Coca-Cola Company’s Ethical Communication Plan. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-coca-cola-companys-ethical-communication-plan/

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Coca-Cola Company’s Ethical Communication Plan'. 9 August.

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