Six crisis communication lessons from Krešimir Macan using the example of Coca-Cola

Krešimir Macan as a guest in Bloomberg Adria

Do you remember the bottle poisoning scandal? To recap, on November 4, 2023, a 19-year-old suffered injuries in Rijeka while consuming a non-alcoholic drink and was taken to KBC Rijeka, where he received adequate medical care. Crisis communication began around November 6, 2023, following the rapid spread of messages on WhatsApp which was vigorously covered by all Croatian media.

At one point, the public was unclear about what was happening, how many people were at risk, and who was responsible. During this period, marked by fear and suspicion, everyone could agree on one thing: avoid carbonated drinks, especially Coca-Cola. Why did we all think this way? What went wrong in Coca-Cola’s crisis communication? Here’s what this situation could teach us, explained through the comments of Krešimir Macan, owner and director of PR agency Manjgura.

  1. Timely reaction is crucial

“In crisis communication, it is important to establish the facts and take the initiative. This wasn’t done by the media, not even social networks; instead, information spread through communication channels presented as a secret that then spread like wildfire,” Krešimir Macan explained for In this case, Coca-Cola should have taken the initiative. Social media users have their own perception, but only Coca-Cola knew the actual facts and their crisis team should have reacted immediately to soothe public reactions.

  1. Clear message and transparency

Even after Coca-Cola’s statement on Tuesday, November 7, the public didn’t know exactly what was happening, which is bad for a multinational company. Their communication arose suspicion. Therefore, the coordination and speed of their PR team are extremely important so they could promptly declare whether it is safe to consume their products. “While everyone else was talking, they were silent. After that they had spoken, mentioned one case of poisoning, when it turned out there were more. What Coca-Cola missed was saying whether we could trust their products.. In the end, the minister had to say it,” Macan concluded for 24 sata.

  1. Danger of fake news and disinformation

If fake news is packed with a dose of fear and a bit of truth, it spreads quickly. “WhatsApp introduced a safety mechanism, so when a message is marked as forwarded many times, it stops the spread and can only be forwarded to one person. This signals the person mentioned in the message that it had already flooded a region, in this case, Croatia, indicating a problem,” Macan explained for Dnevnik 2 HRT-a.

When Coca-Cola received a message marked as “forwarded many times,” it could have anticipated it would continue to spread and become a headline news. If there are safety mechanisms like WhatsApp’s “forwarded many times,” they should always be considered.

  1. Social networks do not wait

This is an important lesson for everyone, Macan commented for N1. “Inspectors and the police must understand that they can be exposed to manipulation, and they must realize that today, manipulation is omnipresent. We must determine when to react, when to react preventively, and when we react poorly. We simply need to be faster in some assessments because social networks are alive, they don’t wait for you to decide.”

Several main actors delayed their reactions, including KBC Rijeka, the police, the Ministry of Health, and of course, Coca-Cola. What particularly fueled public suspicion was the police reaction, which confirmed receiving a report of possible poisoning on November 4, after rumors spread through various communication channels. Additionally, the Ministry stated that they were not responsible, but rather the sanitary inspection and the state inspectorate. Such ambiguities allowed new doubts to arise, resulting in numerous theories circulating online.

  1. Lack of determination

Coca-Cola made a mistake by indecisively stating that it wasn’t their fault on the first day. The same was said by the Austrian bottling plant. All of this indicated they had no evidence in their system of any error. However, it actually pointed to the indecisiveness of Coca-Cola’s communication team. Macan identified Coca-Cola’s shortcomings for Bloomberg Adria: “They should have created an impression of transparency, not secrecy and panic. If Coca-Cola is panicking, people think there’s something going on. Media should have been managed by taking over the communication in the morning and actively participating in it.”

  1. Importance of perception

“In a crisis, it’s necessary to respond to perception; if people think it’s poison, you can’t explain that it’s an alkali,” Macan clarified on the show Kod nas doma. Perception is extremely important because individuals can read content they dislike and unconsciously perceive it as inaccurate. They are more likely to perceive content they like as accurate. Although the official information confirmed it was an alkali, the public didn’t care, as it had already perceived it as poison.

Epilogue in April 2024

Let’s note that this story finally got an epilogue in April 2024, when the police filed criminal charges against the restaurant owners, a 38-year-old and a 39-year-old woman, for committing a serious criminal offense against public safety. They had poured alkaline liquid – dishwashing detergent – into a bottle of non-alcoholic drink and carelessly left it in the establishment’s storage. “The disputed bottle was returned unopened to the distribution company in late October and sent to the Rijeka restaurant, where it was served to a guest who was injured after consuming it” (Source:

What’s the conclusion of this story? Ultimately, we live in a digital age where everyone creates their news, while traditional media that verify sources are becoming scarce. Public distrust of the media and state institutions is growing. This case showed the danger of unverified information, especially concerning health. The communication crisis occurred because official channels delayed a response, so citizens chose whom to trust on their own.

Also read following…
Search the blog using keywords
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 1 2 3