Recovering from a Plant Fire

Chicken producer emerges a stronger brand.

The Challenge

A recent fire at House of Raeford Farms‘ Wallace, NC processing plant left more than 600 citizens out of work in rural Duplin County. The fire—deemed an accident by officials—sparked within a single second-floor office at 11:30 pm on Saturday, February 25, and within minutes engulfed the entire plant. House of Raeford leadership suddenly found themselves faced with critical questions. Was anyone hurt? How did this happen? How will we help employees through this situation? How will this affect business?

Over the course of 48 hours, more than 30 emergency response teams successfully contained the fire. The fire was out, but the response had only just begun. A crisis of this magnitude had far-reaching implications and demanded a swift and decisive response from House of Raeford leadership. Residents and employees needed information on the full scope of the fire, the status of their jobs, and the safety of fellow co-workers and friends. Even before the fire was extinguished, the company quickly made two very important commitments to employees and the community: to pay the affected employees until further notice, and to rebuild the plant as soon as possible.

The Strategy

Eckel & Vaughan counseled House of Raeford leadership on the best course of action to reach all target audiences. It was essential to reach all audiences quickly and thoughtfully, and to get ahead of the situation in the media. In the earliest hours of Sunday, February 26, as soon as we learned of the fire, our team quickly shifted into crisis response mode, putting the crisis communications plan into action. After assessing the depth of the situation and gathering all available information related to the fire, Eckel & Vaughan issued a holding statement on the company’s behalf just before 9 am on Sunday morning.

Eckel & Vaughan presented House of Raeford with a plan of attack, beginning with a news conference. Simultaneously, House of Raeford launched an internal response with our assistance, starting with individual calls to all 675 employees affected. Our crisis team closely monitored the situation and quickly distributed information to the media before the public received information that might have led to unrest. Within 24 hours of the fire, company leadership agreed to a Monday news conference. Careful implementation allowed us to shift to proactive outreach and control the story in the media. Our crisis team and House of Raeford leadership stayed in regular contact, providing updates and tailoring our course of action as the crisis unfolded.


The Outcome

House of Raeford continues to receive praise—from employees, residents, surrounding towns, and even the media—for their timely and thoughtful response. On March 2, the crisis response itself headlined a major poultry trade outlet: House of Raeford exceeds expectations with fire updates.” Employees and their families, the greater community, and the media turned to House of Raeford. With the assistance of Eckel & Vaughan, House of Raeford established itself as the source of reliable updates. House of Raeford utilized Facebook for updating the community and to monitor and answer questions in real time, and as a result saw engagement increase exponentially:

  • Likes: 5,066% following the first statement (from 2/25 to 2/26); total increase of more than 1,100 within one month post-fire
  • Daily engagement: 6,883% following first statement (from 2/25 to 2/26)
  • Weekly engagement: 856% in week following fire

Because of the company’s strategic, thoughtful, and swift crisis response, House of Raeford emerged from this devastating plant fire an even stronger brand.

Rendering of new Wallace Plant, expected summer 2018