Smithfield’s in NC, not Smithfield’s in VA, but Deen fans don’t care


This is a tale of how a modern crisis can strike your company at any time, with no warning, and without you having any responsibility or even tangential relationship to the stuff hitting the fan.

Thanks to my partner Rick Lyke in EMA’s Charlotte office for flagging this one.

It seems that Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q is a popular chain of restaurants based in Smithfield, NC., not far from the great burgh of Wilson. The company never endorsed chef-turned-castoff Paula Deen. She may have eaten at a Smithfield’s, and promoted its food genre generally, but she was never the company’s spokesperson.

That was Smithfield Foods, the pork producer in Smithfield, VA, which recently dropped that sponsorship after she admitted flights of racist joke telling and using ethnic epithets.

Holy Switchup, Batman, they think you’re me!

As Lauren K. Ohnesorge wrote in The Charlotte Business Journal, angry Deen fans didn’t pause or pull their posts to make the distinction. The restaurant chain suddenly faced a negative social media frenzy caused by Deenatics that it had no role in.

Richard Averitte, operations director for the casual eatery, wants to make that clear, Ohnesorge reported.

“It’s funny — I guess people have really embraced her, because these messages are a lot more … I don’t want to say venomous, but a lot more intense,” Averitte said.

This is not a crisis anyone could prepare for, but you should plan for it generically. “What ifs” have legitimacy in the crisis management context. Airlines know planes will crash; car companies know recalls will occur; doctors know patients will sue them for malpractice. They may not know when or why or by whom, but preparation for the inevitable is only smart.

And, like the NC Smithfield’s, it’s possible to turn a negative positive. Averitte is personally responding to each individual who erroneously linked the company to Deen’s exit.

CBJ reported that his clarification on Facebook is the most-shared and most-liked Facebook post in the company’s history. And to think I was just in North Carolina and didn’t stop at a Smithfield’s. Next time.

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.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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