Mumbai : The sources close to Nestle confirm that the Company has appointed American lobbying giant APCO Worldwide to help overcome the widespread backlash against its flagship Maggi brand of instant noodles in India and create a positive opinion among different stakeholders.
APCO, which doubles as a public relations agency and boasts of clients ranging from dictators to global investment banks, is best known in India for helping Gujarat change its post-2002 riots image to present itself as an investment hub, or “Indian Davos”, since 2009.
It was APCO that organised and ideated Nestle’s first media conference on Friday after the ‘lead in noodle’ controversy broke almost a fortnight ago, said the Company sources.
The Swiss food giant was under flak for not communicating enough with stakeholders and consumers even as several state governments started banning Maggi.
Nestle did not respond to a mail pertaining to its association with APCO and Sukanti Ghosh, managing director at APCO Worldwide’s India operations, said, “We do not talk about clients.”
From its headquarters in Washington, APCO has long influenced many hot-button political and economic debates that roiled the US and the world.
It fire-fought “medical” crisis for Merck & Co’s scandal involving Vioxx, the arthritis drug that killed thousands before it was withdrawn, and Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev hired it to extricate himself from a four-year-long dispute with his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev.
APCO stepped into India in 2006 and muscled out a raft of PR companies to win the contract to promote Vibrant Gujarat, the showpiece investment meeting of the then chief minister Narendra Modi, in 2009. Over the two successive summits it handled, APCO transformed Vibrant Gujarat from a modest show to a major event with the likes of the US, UK, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Singapore, South Africa and Japan coming in as partners.
In 2013, APCO Worldwide handled crisis for Johnson & Johnson when the brand faced flak for unacceptable contents in its baby powder in the Indian market. A year hence, the brand came out with advertisements in leading newspapers that even smelt of its distinctive baby powder. “That is how APCO firefights,” said a former APCO executive. It also serves Dow Corning, Walt Disney, Mastercard, Cairn, Welspun and Facebook in India.
On its website, APCO says, “Defending the brands, markets and reputations you have worked so hard to create is critical for continued business success. Let us show you how we can help protect your permission to operate by anticipating and mitigating risks while staying true to your values and brand.”
Nestle wants more than that as the firm took Maggi off the shelves in the country on Friday.