Subway’s terse tweet yesterday — “we no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment” — looks to definitively disassociate the company and its franchises from its longtime spokesman but Fogle’s expected guilty plea to possession of child pornography today in Indianapolis inevitably puts it back into the headlines.
“It also calls into question whether companies are taking big risks when they feature real people, whether they be average folks or celebrities, at the center of their ad campaigns,” writes Chris Woodyard for USA Today.
So much for George M. Cohan’s jaunty observation that he didn’t care what you said about him as long as you spelled his name right. Those were the days of hot type and telegraph messages, and Western Union wasn’t much of a medium for social shaming.
The reactions to Subway’s statement on Twitter, which was retweeted nearly 12,000 times within 12 hours, predictably ran the gamut from snide to forgiving to helpful. “How about donating what you were going to pay #Jared in 2015 to a non-profit organization dealing with child-abuse victims?” was one suggestion.
Fox59 in Indianapolis broke the story of Fogle’s expected plea and a planned press conference by the U.S. Attorney’s office to discuss the deal and charges Wednesday afternoon.
“Fogle’s attorney, Ron Elberger, had no comment in regards to the plea deal. He said any information regarding the charges would come from the [U.S.] attorney’s office,” report Amanda Rakes and Shannon Houser on the station’s website. “Elberger did say Fogle’s suspension with Subway continues.”
Bernstein Crisis Management president Jonathan Bernstein “credits Subway for yanking their sponsorship of Fogle in July when search warrants were served by federal agents” but tells USA Today’s Woodyard that “they probably didn't do it soon enough.”
It should have acted, he feels, when his friend Russell Taylor, the former director of the Jared Foundation, was arrested in April on child exploitation, possession of child pornography, and voyeurism.
In July, after a May suicide attempt in prison, Taylor was formally charged with seven counts of production of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.
Subway had announced that Fogle was “suspended” within hours of the FBI’s raid of his residence in early July but even then some crisis communications experts felt that it had not responded with sufficient speed.
Meanwhile, “Business Insider reported on July 31 that the FBI had subpoenaed an affidavit containing alleged texts between Fogle and a former female Subway franchisee in which Fogle says he paid for sex with a 16-year-old girl, according to the former franchisee's attorney,” Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson reminds us.
“The former franchisee shared the texts and her concerns about Fogle with Subway management at the time, her lawyer says, but Subway did nothing. Subway says it has no record of the woman's complaint.”
After that story broke, Bill Jasso, a professor of public relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, wrote for The Drum: “Whenever one of these stories surface, I receive emails and texts from friends and colleagues all asking the same question: ‘This guy is “toast” reputation-wise, right?’ My reply is usually the same: ‘Probably, but it doesn’t have to be.’”
Jasso observes that “Americans are an extremely forgiving public (see Bill Clinton)” and says his advice to “a well-known person in reputation crisis is to do the exact opposite of what your instincts tell you. Instead of denials, dances and departures, you should 1) own up; 2) open up; and 3) offer a new story.”
Indeed, marketing consultant Denise Lee Yohn tellsAd Age’s Maureen Morrison that the public has, for the most part, “already moved on,” and that the news shouldn’t have much impact on Subway’s business.
“Even without the Jared situation, tumult is afoot in the company's marketing department,” points out Morrison. “Longtime chief marketing officer Tony Pace departed the company this summer. Ad Age reported the day after the departure news that the company was reviewing its creative account, and that it had brought in marketer Chris Carroll, who, according to people familiar with the matter, is likely to be named the new CMO, though Subway has not confirmed that.”
Moving on will probably work for Subway. Not for Fogle.