Papa John’s ubiquitous CEO and Founder John Schnatter apparently damaged his company’s reputation when he said costs he associated with the Affordable Care Act would lead franchise owners to lay off employees or cut back on various services. The implication he left was that Obamacare will lose people their jobs.
The results of that recipe for disaster are out of the oven and this pizza’s half-baked.
According to a Huffington Post:
The national pizza chain’s YouGov BrandIndex Buzz score — which the site uses as an indication of brand favorability — dropped to four at the end of November, down from 32 on Election Day.
The story goes on to include Papa John’s response that, while somewhat convoluted, indicates that the BrandIndex didn’t follow its own formula in reaching this conclusion.
But here’s the pepperoni on top of all this: Whether the score is 10 or 20 or 30 and whether it’s up or down, Schnatter’s comments and the continuation of the debate he now personifies, hurts his company.
We argue that the damage from a crisis is not measured in sales lost or drops in the brand favorability index, but in duration. The longer a crisis goes, the more it hurts. The more prolonged the controversy, the harder it is to come back. The more enduring the negative, the more downward pressure you exert on your reputation. Pretty soon, you’re the Catholic priesthood or Iran.
Papa John’s waited two weeks to respond to the initial reports of Schnatter’s comments. This is usually symptomatic of hiding in a storeroom and hoping the crisis will evaporate on its own. Seldom happens. Now the company is fighting over how badly the CEO’s comments hurt its reputation. You miss the point. Stop the damage.
End it. Apologize to the customers you offended, take responsibility for saying what you said and move on. You don’t have to renege on your opinions or your right to hold them. But at least show enough consumer savvy to realize that you screwed up. Say so, clearly and forcefully, and people’s mouths will resume watering at the thought — and maybe the purchase — of your pizza.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.