The Voice of the Underdog®
If you found your restaurant in the middle of a PR disaster, what would you do? The way you react in the aftermath of a PR crisis can make all the difference in how quickly you recover and how effectively you maintain your loyal customer base. Let’s look at some examples of PR disaster masters and messes, then we’ll go over five ways to recover from bad publicity.
Taco Bell: In 2011, Yum! Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company, was slapped with a lawsuit alleging the quick service restaurant’s “seasoned beef” contained only 35 percent beef and that Taco Bell lied in its ads. Taco Bell quickly launched a PR campaign using traditional media, online ads, and a social media blitz, and even revealed its “secret recipe” to show the seasoned beef ratio is actually 88 percent beef, 12 percent secret recipe. The majority of customers responded positively on social media, and in less than four months, the lawsuit was dropped.
Chipotle: The company that touts “food with integrity” hasn’t quite made it through the PR nightmare that started in November 2015 with an E. coli outbreak, but the chain is making moves in the right direction. They voluntarily closed stores where the outbreaks occurred to investigate the issue.
“The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority,” said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, in a statement toUSA Today.
On February 8, the chain closed all stores nationwide for an all-employee meeting on food safety, and offered free burritos to customers via online coupons. Some customers were angry about the closure, but shutting down during lunch proved the company is committed to making things right again.
New Coke: In April 1985, Coca-Cola rolled out its first major marketing change in the company’s 99-year history. And all hell broke loose. When the reformulated “new Coke” hit the shelves, consumers began hording the old formula and staging protests against the company. Two months after the new formula rollout, the company was getting 1,500 calls a day on its consumer hotline compared with 400 a day before the change. By July of that same year, the company reversed course and brought back the original formula. “We set out to change the dynamics of sugar colas in the United States, and we did exactly that—albeit not in the way we had planned,” then chairman and chief executive officer Roberto Goizueta said in 1995 at an employee event at the 10-year anniversary mark of “new Coke.”
BP: In the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010, that killed 11 crew members and spilled an estimated 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, the company made just about every PR blunder imaginable. First, BP had no immediate response. In part, this could have been because then-CEO Tony Hayward had slashed the PR staff to save money. As spokesperson for the company, he was a greatyachtsman. On May 17, he downplayed the spill’s environmental impact calling it “relatively tiny” compared to the ocean, but flipped 10 days later, telling CNN the event was “an environmental disaster.” His most cringe-worthy moment was responding to a reporter’s question about the duration of the cleanup by saying, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.” Huh? BP gave him back his life with an ouster at the end of July. Too bad, really, considering a good PR team – and perhaps a muzzle for Hayward – could’ve done the trick.
The company eventually took steps in the right direction by investing in social media (they had no dedicated social media staff before the disaster—startling for a company with close to 80,000 employees). They now have a page on their website devoted to the accident and a response that includes an apology.
Well, that’s all we’ll give you of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are five ways restaurants can recover from bad publicity:
Takeaway message: Plan ahead. Much like a natural disaster, it’s better to have a disaster preparedness plan in place rather than risk knee-jerk responses a la Tony Hayward. If you don’t have your own PR pro on staff, talk to an agency about developing a plan of action.
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