Franchise Storytellers

Clean Up in the Pizza Aisle: A Few Crisis and Media Training Takeaways from the Papa John’s Mess

As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” The sound of Papa John’s billionaire founder John Schnatter falling after his latest PR gaff was loudly heard in the media, on social media and on Wall Street. While the long-term effects are hard to predict, the brand is already recovering, at least based on its stock price.

Takeaway #1: Don’t wait for Pandora’s Pizza Box to open

Based on its rapid response, I’m guessing Papa John’s leadership expected that Schnatter’s offensive statements (reported in Forbes) would eventually get out and prepared for the inevitable. The brand’s crisis response was notable in a number of ways. The company immediately responded on behalf of Schnatter with a statement confirming the incident and apologizing for it. There was no attempt to spin or justify what was said. Bloomberg reported CEO Steve Ritchie quickly sent an internal memo to employees, franchisees and operators stating, “racism has no place at Papa John’s… We’ve got to own up and take the hit for our missteps and refocus on the constant pursuit of better that is the DNA of our brand.”

Takeaway #2: Be empathetic

Ritchie posted an apology letter to customers on the Papa John’s home page. It was personal, sincere and laid out clear actions he and the company are taking to rebuild relationships.

More takeaways: Read this excellent article by Shelly Whitehead in Pizza Marketplace, which includes my perspectives on how spokesperson training – except in this rare instance – prevents media crises.