When news broke this week that former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle would plead guilty to multiple child sexual abuse and child porn charges, Subway had almost no comment.
That stance persisted this week. Here’s why that’s a really bad idea, poor crisis management and will only serve to prolong the questions about what Subway knew, when it knew it, and whether it ignored information about Fogle so it would continue to make money from his brand.
CNN reports today that the FBI had a woman work undercover to record Fogle comments and requests after she first heard him reference his sexual desire for middle school girls in 2007.
It’s hard to believe that since an FBI investigation started more than eight years ago that Subway heard nothing about Fogle during that time. But let’s give the franchise sandwich company the benefit of the doubt and grant that no one heard anything about Fogle’s sexual proclivities.
Subway officials still have to answer the questions of what did they know and when did they know it? And, walking a media tightrope, they’d better be certain their answers are 100 percent accurate.
This whole situation screams to me that there is a mid-level vice-president or franchisee somewhere in the Subway system who is going to come forward and say something like, “As far back as 2010, I warned so and so about Fogle.”
That’s just how these things roll.
But even if that’s not the case, the company invested so much brand power and advertising dollars in Fogle’s healthy eating that it owes the American public answers to these and other questions.
No comment is not an option, even when your attorneys are concerned about the near-certain lawsuits that will be filed by Fogle’s victims against Subway. You can comment carefully and honestly without risking liability.
Plaintiffs will claim Subway knew, or should have known, what Fogle was doing. That’s what happens when your pitchman is so tightly bound to the company. It’s hard to plead ignorance when he seems one of you.
Until all the questions are answered, Subway is going to have a huge stain on its reputation.
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 and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.