How to Fix a PR Disaster
Imagine sitting down with your family at a fast food restaurant, taking a sip of iced tea, only to be poisoned by what feels like acid sliding down your throat.
Authorities have discovered it was all an honest mistake. A Dickey’s employee confused the heavy duty cleaner for sugar. The employee accidentally re-filled a tub of sugar with the industrial box of cleaner. Later the chemically laced sugar was accidentally dumped into the iced tea.
The industrial cleaning product is meant for degreasing deep fryers and contains the odorless chemical lye, the active ingredient in drain cleaners.
Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. came out and said it was an isolated incident, and nothing like it has happened in the 73 years the Dallas-based chain has operated.
“There’s nothing more important to us than the trust and safety of our guests,” the statement said. They also added the franchise owner, John Thomson, was deeply saddened and working with police.
So yes, they’ve made their initial statement, but what else can Dickey’s Barbeque do to try and fix this PR nightmare?
The answer is communication.
Bad publicity is never welcome, but how a company handles bad publicity can be the making, or breaking of their business. Dickey’s can take this opportunity to show its business in the best possible light under these horrible circumstances.
For example, silence is never good. Now that they’ve extended their condolences and admitted it was an honest mistake, their next move should be with effective content to reach their customers.
They can also continue to fully cooperate with both the police and the media. They will help their image by answering media questions fully and factually. Saying, “no comment” or withholding information never makes your company look good.
Once the initial panic died, Dickey’s could use their communication channels – social media, blog posts, etc. to make the public aware of the lengths they are going through to get to the bottom of the investigation and make sure Harding heals quickly.
In this, or any PR nightmare, the best thing a company can do is aim for transparency. The more the public knows about how a company operates, the less likely a consumer will go looking for dirt.
Companies also need to be patient after a PR nightmare. Everything takes time. Right now they need to focus on Harding’s injury and publicly show concern for her healing.
Once the entire story settles down, Dickey’s can emphasize positive stories. They can write content showing improved practices, better employee training, and even show how they’re giving back to their community.
At least police have determined Harding was the only victim. It appears she was the first to drink the tea, and Dickey’s employees disposed of it after she was burned.