What PR Lessons Can Businesses Learn From The Papa John’s Scandal?

Over the last few months, US pizza chain Papa John’s has come under intense scrutiny, thanks to the poor behavior of CEO and brand ambassador John Schnatter. His choice to use inflammatory language in the workplace (amongst other charges) has cost the company dearly in both sponsorship deals and consumer trust. Sales are down, the share price is down and even Schnatter’s resignation in July has done little to buoy the company’s bottom line. There are plenty of things businesses can learn from this debacle, to proactively avoid or manage a PR disaster.

HR should be front and center

If you treat your staff poorly a hostile and sometimes toxic working environment can form. Remember that everything you say at work could be recorded, quoted and shared on social media. Create a positive work environment and be sure to jump on any discriminatory behavior as soon as it’s noticed or reported. There should be a zero-tolerance bullying and harassment policy in place. Ensure staff knows it’s safe to report instances of problematic behavior.

Work the company exit plan

If you identify individual staff members as repeat offenders, work swiftly to remove them from the workplace. If their actions are linked to your company online, they have the potential to do serious damage to your brand, even if they don’t represent the company ethos or position. Look out for any form of harassment, discriminatory language or practices. Have clear policies in place that all staff must acknowledge and agree to – this will help to strengthen your position should you need to act.

Check your history

Once something exists in digital form it’s impossible to retrieve. Screenshots, recordings, and forwarded emails are uncontrollable. While you can’t undo any previous documentation, it may be wise to review your company and personal social media and email accounts for any potentially inflammatory content. There are people who deliberately seek out old posts to check for this kind of content, even if it’s years old. This level of screening may also need to extend to potential hires public social media accounts.

Hire a PR firm to clean up the mess

If the horse has already bolted, you may need to rescue your brand. If you are unsure about how to do it, or previous efforts have backfired don’t hesitate to bring experts on board. Depending on your budgets you may be able to release new branding, advertising and other public communications that refresh your public position. Handling poor staff positions or negative company culture can be a delicate matter, so it would be wise to seek out expert advice. Brand recovery is possible but understand it will take time to rebuild consumer confidence.

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